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Diversifying your volunteer base

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The Children’s Society shared with us how they have tried to diversify their volunteer base so they can be truly representative of their service users.


Volunteers have been at the heart of The Children’s Society since we were first established in 1881. Today we have over 10,000 volunteers in regular roles across our services, shops, local fundraising, and our offices and departments. They all play an integral role in our mission to support disadvantaged children and young people to have better lives.   

The issues we faced

As with many long standing national charities, the demographic of our volunteer base – particularly our fundraising and retail volunteers – is predominantly white, British and female. 

The National Volunteering Team was established two years ago and has consolidated a strong volunteering programme underpinned by best practice. We also now have a Diversity and Inclusion manager for the first time, and we are launching our new Single Equality Scheme which outlines our commitment to diversity and inclusion in everything that we do. 

We are committed to diversifying our volunteer and supporter base, and want our organisation to be truly representative of our service users, the communities in which we operate and society as a whole. We are now ready to evaluate our volunteering programme and review what we are already doing well in terms of actively encouraging and enabling diversity and inclusion, and also to identify what needs to be done to further embed it, and who needs to do it. 

The actions we took

On Tuesday 7th October 2014 we held our national Volunteering Forum with a special focus on ‘Embracing Diversity and Inclusion’ as the beginning of this journey. All our volunteer managers, a number of volunteers, and our central Volunteering and Diversity Team were invited. The aims of the day were:  

  1. To develop understanding of the trends and challenges of diversity and inclusion within the sector
  2. To develop awareness of the diversity of our volunteer base
  3. To introduce the Single Equality Scheme
  4. To explore examples of best practice within the sector and how we can build them into our work
  5. To understand unconscious bias, the impact it has and how we can mitigate it
  6. To share internal examples of effective practice in embedding diversity and inclusion in our work with volunteers
  7. To evaluate our plans and priorities for embedding diversity and inclusion within our volunteer programme
  8. To agree on what actions staff will take locally and what support is required centrally

We also invited a number of external experts to join a panel discussion on successes in this area. Speakers from The Children’s Society, Mencap, Barnardos and Guide Dogs joined the panel to discuss what has worked and to answer questions from the floor.  The aim of the panel was:

  • to focus on an operational level on the practicalities, challenges and benefits of diversity and inclusion initiatives within volunteering
  • to encourage managers to think about what they can do to engage a more diverse volunteer base and be more inclusive in their approach
  • to learn about the approaches other organisations are taking
  • an opportunity to ask questions and generate discussion around the topic

In addition, we included a presentation on unconscious bias with experts in the field Pearn Kandola to encourage us to identify our own assumptions. The day ended with a discussion to identify actions that we could take to promote diversity and inclusion in our approach to volunteering. 

Positive outcomes

The presentations and discussion were very well received and promoted much useful discussion on the actions we can take in this area. Attendees reported that they found the panel discussion with external experts and the unconscious bias presentation particularly inspiring. The external experts also joined in with the ensuing discussions and fed-back that they found the day very helpful. The final session on action planning ensured that positive outcomes were pinned-down for both our central team and our regionally based Volunteer Managers. 

Negative outcomes

More space and more time to continue the useful discussions would have been great – but people had homes to go to! However, we did continue the conversations on-line and identified further actions that will promote diversity and inclusion in our approach to volunteering.  

Lessons learnt

As a result of our day, we identified and a number of actions that included the following:

  • Making the most of local knowledge to engage with all communities and individuals
  • Promoting the excellent work that we are already doing in respect of diversity and inclusion on the ground
  • Being more flexible in considering what skills volunteers bring that can be used, not just what we think we need
  • Consider creating different volunteer role descriptions for the same role to attract a different audience – eg a specific role description for attracting young speakers
  • Updating all our support materials to include reference to the diversity agenda
  • Developing our links with other charities who are taking measures to address the same challenges


Page last edited Dec 16, 2020

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