If they do volunteer, what makes them stop? And why do so many organisations only have volunteers from a very narrow section of society?
Often, it’s because people have come up against something that puts them off or actively prevents them getting involved. If your organisation wants to recruit more volunteers, and keep them for longer, you need to know what these barriers are.
This booklet will show you why and how you might attract more volunteers, from a wider section of the community, and how you can overcome those barriers to involvement. It also suggests how you can support volunteers once they are with you, as well as ways of recognising and rewarding their contribution to your organisation.
Last year, the Prime Minister set the voluntary sector a challenge to achieve ‘a really diverse involvement of people with their organisations – a diversity that reflects the nation we live in’. This booklet will help you meet that challenge, by showing how your organisation can be more welcoming to potential volunteers. Diversity brings immense rewards – your organisation will present a more welcoming face to volunteers, client groups and the general public, and you will benefit from the new ideas and fresh approaches being generated by people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, cultures, genders, ages and outlooks.
What are perceived as the barriers to volunteering?
•Am I allowed to volunteer?
•Can I afford it?
•What will they ask me to do?
•How much time do they want me to give?
•Will I be treated well?
•Will I get on with the people?
These are just some of the questions people ask themselves when considering whether or not to offer their time. Some might be worried that volunteering could affect their benefits, others may wonder if they’re too young, or too old. Asylum seekers may be concerned about jeopardising their application, while some potential volunteers may be worried that paid staff will see them as a threat to their jobs.
In fact, there are very few restrictions that should prevent anyone from getting involved. Detailed here are some of the commonly perceived barriers to volunteering, and a few suggestions your organisation may want to consider to encourage more volunteers to come on board.
Perceptions about voluntary work and volunteers
Preconceptions about who volunteers and what’s involved may be a barrier to people coming forward and offering their time. They may have an image in their mind of the sort of people who volunteer, and possibly think that ‘volunteering’s not for me’.
So what sort of people do volunteer? The answer is ‘all sorts’! In a recent national survey, it was revealed that 48% of women in the UK, and coincidentally 48% of men, are regularly involved in formal volunteering. 74% of the population is involved in informal volunteering.
As for age, the survey found that 43% of people aged between 18 and 24 are actively involved in volunteering activities. Participation tends to peak in middle age, with 57% of people aged 45 to 54 actively involved, and the level for those over the age of 65 falling to 45%. Thirty-five per cent of people aged over 75 volunteer.
While the sample was small, the survey also found differing participation rates among ethnic minority groups. Forty one per cent of black and Asian people are actively involved in volunteering, and for people from other ethnic groups the figure is 36%.
The researchers asked those not involved in volunteering, why not? The key reasons given were: no time; don’t know any other volunteers; and don’t have the necessary skills and experience. Those who had expressed an interest in volunteering were asked what would make it easier for them to get involved.
Key encouragements noted were: being asked; if someone helped me get started; if family or friends were involved too; if I knew it would improve my skills; if I could do it from home; and if it led to a qualification.
With disabled people, those on lower incomes and people from ethnic minorities under-represented among volunteers, you may want to use these research results and key encouragements as a starting point to evaluate just who currently volunteers for you, and how you could attract those who don’t. How could you ‘tap into’ more young, unemployed people in your area? Does the ethnic mix of your volunteers reflect your local community? How could you attract more people with disabilities?
People receiving benefits are often uncertain of the rules around volunteering. Booklet WK4, Financial help if you are working or doing voluntary work (available from Jobcentres) states that volunteering should not affect Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Income Support, Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance. There are no restrictions on the amount of time people can volunteer. However, people receiving JSA should be aware that they have to remain both available for, and actively seeking work.
The Benefits Agency also states that volunteers receiving JSA should tell their Jobcentre if they do any voluntary work. Similarly, recipients of Income Support, Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance must tell their social security office of any voluntary activity. Other social security benefits are not usually affected by voluntary work. If in doubt, check.
Research shows that people on a low income are less likely to volunteer. This may be because they can’t afford to be left out of pocket. If at all possible, all reasonable expenses should be reimbursed. These include:
•travel to the place of volunteering
•travel undertaken as part of the voluntary work
•meals taken whilst volunteering
•special equipment such as safety boots
•cost of looking after children or other dependants (where feasible)
•postage and telephone costs (if working from home)
It is important to pay out-of-pocket expenses only, for which your volunteers give you receipts and bus/train tickets. Flat rate expenses (eg: giving volunteers a standard £2.50 for lunch) could be seen as income by the Benefits Agency and the Inland Revenue.
Children and other dependants
Having children or other dependants should not be a barrier to volunteering. If at all possible care expenses should be paid, or facilities provided. Think about other family-friendly policies too, such as flexibility over hours, volunteering from home and so on.
The ban on volunteering by asylum seekers (people in the process of applying for refugee status) was lifted in April 2000. The current guidance from the Home Office National Asylum Support Service is available on the National Centre for Volunteering’s website on www.volunteering.org.uk/asylum.htm or by sending an SAE, marked Info on Asylum Seekers and Volunteering .
Having a criminal record need not be a barrier to volunteering. Only in special cases, such as care of vulnerable clients or handling large sums of money, should relevant convictions be taken into account. The National Centre for Volunteering has two briefing papers, Screening Volunteers and Safe Involvement of Volunteers with Vulnerable Clients, which detail the considerations.
Bridging the barriers
Think ‘diversity’ when recruiting
Diversity means recognising and valuing variety among your volunteers. It means celebrating difference. There are numerous benefits of having a diverse volunteer ‘workforce’. For example, your organisation will:
•present a more welcoming face to volunteers, client groups and the general public
•be more representative of wider society
•be more able to respond to the needs of your local community
•benefit from the new ideas and fresh approaches being generated by people from differing backgrounds, cultures, genders, ages and outlooks
•attract more customers and service users.
For these reasons it is wise to cast your net as widely as possible when looking for new volunteers, taking the trouble not just to attract people from similar backgrounds.
Recruiting volunteers needs careful thought and planning – you need to consider who you want to involve and why. The reasons for involving volunteers should be clear at all levels of the organisation, and policies and support structures need to be in place before anyone is interviewed.
You may want to ask yourself “who isn’t volunteering with us at the moment?” If people from certain groups aren’t coming forward, look for the possible reasons. What message does your recruitment material send out? What kind of image does your organisation have in your local community?
Is the way you’re recruiting effective? Putting up posters asking for volunteers might seem a suitable approach, but they need to appeal to those you want to reach. If you’re looking to attract young people, for example, you may want to emphasise on your poster that volunteering can help them learn new skills, enhance their CV and improve their career prospects.
Similarly, your posters need to be put up where your target group will see them – you will want to display them in different places to attract older or disabled people, people from minority communities, working parents ... to name just a few.
Word of mouth is a very important recruitment tool. Volunteers who feel good about their time with your organisation are likely to tell their friends, and this can be one of the best ways to ensure a steady supply of new volunteers. But be careful not to rely too heavily on this method, as it can lead to recruiting from the same groups of people.
It can be very difficult to turn down people who want to volunteer, but if they don’t match the ‘vacancy’ you have then neither the volunteer nor your organisation will benefit. If you can’t offer a suitable opportunity to a willing volunteer, try to signpost them on to another organisation who may welcome their support – volunteer bureaux can be particularly helpful.
Keeping your volunteers
Prospective volunteers may worry about how they will be treated in your organisation. Your organisation needs to make an effort to be welcoming, and prepare properly for volunteers.
From Barriers to Bridges
It is very useful to have firm volunteer policies in place (though this may not be appropriate for all organisations). Policies enable both volunteers and others in the organisation to feel secure in their work as well as providing a framework for the relationship between volunteers and the organisation. A volunteer policy should include both an equal opportunities policy and a grievance and disciplinary procedure. This means volunteers have a standard by which they can expect to be treated, and a mechanism for addressing problems and taking up complaints. A volunteer policy may also help to allay certain concerns at an early stage, e.g. expenses, insurance, support mechanisms.
For more information, see http://www.volunteering.org.uk/