Rob Jackson: Playing at volunteer recruitment

Our columnist reports on how one charity approaches the problem of perceived time poverty as a barrier to volunteering

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

One of the challenges people have if they want to volunteer is finding the time to do it. People either have experience of not being able to fit volunteering into their busy lives, or their perception of volunteering is that it’s going to eat up large chunks of the precious few hours they have available.

Overcoming this barrier of actual or perceived time poverty is a challenge many organisations face. I was interested recently to learn about how the Charity for Civil Servants is trying to tackle it, by emphasising the connection to its mission over messages about the commitment required. Draw people in with the cause and half the battle is won.

As the second-largest occupational benevolent charity in the UK, the Charity for Civil Servants helps current, former and retired civil servants throughout their lives. Services range from financial assistance to advice and support on caring and relationships. The charity estimates that potentially 1.5 million people are eligible for its help, and volunteers are a key way to meet the demand. Without volunteers, the message of how the charity can help simply won’t reach a huge portion of the community it serves.

In response, the charity’s volunteer team has therefore taken the creative step of developing a "game" for volunteers to play with colleagues, thus helping to engage new volunteers and spread the word about what support is available.

"Have You Ever...?" is used with groups of up to 10 colleagues. Each participant is given a double-sided yes/no card and the volunteer asks 10 questions to the group about real-life situations: for example "have you or someone you know ever had a broken washing machine?" or "have you or someone you know ever felt so stressed you couldn't cope?"

The charity knows that a key motivator for its volunteers is to give back, having either received support in the past themselves or known someone who has been helped. As volunteers, they want to make a difference to someone else’s life, the way someone did for them.

Through the game the Charity for Civil Servants now has a communication tool its volunteers can use to raise awareness of the services it offers and to connect those who have been helped with the idea of giving their time in return.

As Carole, one of the charity’s long-standing volunteers, says: "The more people I can reach by volunteering, the better. If I can help just one person, it’s worth it."

How have you tackled the challenge of helping people who feel they don’t have the time to volunteer? Have you emphasised the cause above the commitment? How did you get on? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.

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