Big Volunteer: Best practice in recruitment and retention

To mark the new year, the Big Lottery Fund is encouraging people to make a different kind of resolution and start volunteering in their local community with their Big Volunteer campaign. The Big Lottery Fund gives grants to help local communities, but it takes people, time and energy to make a big difference.

To help you make the most of the Big Volunteer campaign, we’ve got some guidance and resources to help you attract new volunteers, as well as keep those who give their time with you already. Plus, if you want to see what projects Big Lottery has been supporting in your area, take a look at our online data tool.

Are you volunteer-ready?

Before you recruit volunteers, you will need to get your house in order. Here are five top tips to get volunteer-ready:

  • Start by asking, why do we want to involve volunteers? We know that volunteers can add great value, but how can they help you achieve your mission and strategic objectives?
  • Commit pen to paper and write a volunteering policy. This should help you think through exactly how you will involve volunteers in your work. Don’t forget to consult widely with staff and volunteers in developing your policy.
  • Develop your volunteering offer and opportunities – be creative. Micro-volunteering, for example, is one way to engage new volunteers and increase the diversity of your volunteer-base.
  • Outline the role clearly by preparing volunteer roles descriptions to help staff and volunteers understand their roles. Volunteer roles can also help when it comes to recruitment, as in the case of One Westminster and St Georges’ Nursing Home in London.
  • Who will support and manage the volunteers? Volunteer coordinator or manager is an important role, crucial to the success of recruiting and retaining volunteers.

Generally, this is about preparing to give your volunteers a great experience and to make sure that your organisation is ready to reap the rewards of a vibrant and inclusive volunteering programme.

Recruiting volunteers

Now you’re ready to start recruitment. Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to recruit volunteers, but you should also advertise your volunteer vacancies through your local volunteer centre or online via databases like Do-it or CharityJOB. Other online brokers can help you reach specific groups of volunteers, for instance vInspired specialises in volunteering for young people and Reach can help you find skilled volunteers.

When it comes to the recruitment process, remember that people are offering a gift of time, not seeking paid employment. Keep the process clear, application forms simple and the interview informal.

Lengthy or complicated recruitment processes can be a barrier to volunteering, but organisations benefit from making their opportunities open to a range of people. Take a look at our guidance on involving different groups in volunteering:

Once you’ve found the right match, set out your commitment to the volunteer and your hopes from the volunteer with a volunteer agreement, complete relevant checks, references or DBS checks, if required and get started with volunteer inductions.

Retaining volunteers

If you’ve done everything above, chances are you are well set up to keep your volunteers with your organisation. Well-designed, clear roles that contribute to the organisation’s work are a good place to start, but we’ve revealed some of the other secrets to volunteer retention:

  • Recognise volunteers’ contributions, through formal events like Volunteers’ Week and small, everyday gestures – take a person centred approach to thanking volunteers and show appreciation in the right way for your volunteer
  • Value your volunteers by integrating them with your organisation, for example by involving them in organisational decisions or inviting them to staff meetings
  • Provide on-going support to volunteers and opportunities for regular communication. This will ensure you can check if they’re having a good experience and identify any issues or problems early.

If you would like to prove and improve your volunteer management at an organisational level, then take a look at Investing in Volunteers , the UK quality standard for all organisations which involve volunteers in their work.


New adventures in social action

Find out more about different approaches to social action and volunteering in our Annual Conference workshop where you can also see how to make initiatives work in your organisation.

Find out more about NCVO Annual Conference 2016


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Emily was NCVO’s trainee volunteering development policy officer. She is interested in policy around volunteering, particularly diversity in volunteering, employability, volunteering in public services, and employer supported volunteering.

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