Recruiting volunteers: how to manage the risks

To avoid problems for the charity further down the line, simple risk management measures should be a part of every volunteer recruitment process

It is important to carry our thorough background checks on new volunteers
It is important to carry our thorough background checks on new volunteers

This is a sponsored feature supplied by Markel

Recruiting volunteers is usually a challenge for every charity. Finding the right people, ensuring there is no under or over-resourcing and allocating each volunteer based on their strengths are all key factors in successful recruitment. However, there are a number of risks involved in recruiting volunteers that charities need to manage, and organisations should be prepared if things don’t go to plan.

To avoid problems for the charity further down the line, simple risk management measures should be a part of every volunteer recruitment process, even when recruiting for the most basic of roles. Here are some ways to minimise the chances of a volunteer recruitment drive going wrong.

Promoting the role

One of the biggest problems charities face is maintaining a consistent volunteer base. This problem often stems from a lack of understanding between the volunteer and the charity on the role's responsibilities, yet many of these problems can be solved from the outset. It's important to provide an accurate description of the responsibilities you expect the volunteer to take on - key details such as the location, time commitments required and any specific areas of ownership (e.g. event coordination, finance, or fundraiser) should be made clear. Failure to do so can result in high volunteer churn, which can be counter-productive.

Background checks

If your charity works in care, with children or vulnerable people, it is imperative that appropriate background checks are made on the candidate. DBS checks (formerly known as CRB checks) aid employers in making safer recruitment decisions and are free to undertake for volunteers. They take around two to four weeks to process, but if your charity operates in these sectors, don't be tempted to set them on early; the reputational damage that can be caused by recruiting someone that has a questionable background can destroy the public's confidence in a charity. More details about DBS checks for volunteers are available on the website. 

Inductions and training

A signed and dated volunteer agreement can give the volunteer a better idea of what is expected of them; setting boundaries, guidelines and parameters. It's the ideal place to put details about the volunteer's role, their supervisor, expenses procedures and your charity's equal opportunities policy. Volunteering England has a useful guide to volunteer agreements.

Holding an induction to run through health and safety procedures, introduce the volunteer to other charity staff members and hold training (if necessary) helps volunteer integration and can prevent issues further down the line.


If your charity is recruiting volunteers for the first time, it's vital it has adequate insurance. Employer’s liability insurance, in most cases, covers the costs of defending your organisation against allegations of illness or injury caused to a volunteer - for example, if they were to slip on a wet floor and injure themselves. A claim like this could cost your charity thousands of pounds to defend and settle, and without insurance cover, this could pose a serious financial risk. It's worth noting that some insurers cover volunteers under public liability insurance, so it's important to check your policy wording to ensure they are covered under one section or the other. Speak to your insurer or insurance broker if you are unsure.

Ongoing volunteer risk management

After recruiting volunteers, it can be easy to put risk management on the back burner, but it's important to put measures in place to reduce both the likelihood of something going wrong and the impact if it did. For example, if the volunteer is having difficulty in their role and it's affecting other areas of the charity, look at providing further training or, if it's a continuing problem, reallocating the volunteer to a different area that better suits their strengths. Such measures can help your charity's staff retention and make the most of its resources.

Wendy Cotton is a social welfare underwriter at Markel

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