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Community-made content which you can improve Case study from our community

Improving local volunteer recruitment and management as a volunteer centre

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Volunteer Centre Tower Hamlets share their experience of supporting local volunteer involving organisations to improve their recruitment and management of volunteers, by providing good practice training and advice.


Volunteer Centre Tower Hamlets (VCTH) is the independent volunteering infrastructure organisation for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Deprivation remains widespread in Tower Hamlets, with the highest rates of child and pensioner poverty in England (Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2015). Thirteen of the borough’s 20 wards are in the most deprived 10% of wards in England. This means that significant numbers of Tower Hamlets residents experience poverty, overcrowded housing, long-term unemployment and poor physical and/or mental health.

Enabling local people to find and sustain volunteering opportunities gives them access to personal and professional development opportunities, helping them to build their CV and move closer to finding paid employment or access further education.

There are many local voluntary and community organisations who involve volunteers to help deliver their services, and 480+ of them are registered with Volunteer Centre Tower Hamlets.

The issues we faced

While some of these volunteer involving organisations (VIOs) employ experienced volunteer managers, many volunteer programmes are led by volunteers or inexperienced workers. This creates an extensive need for advice and training on managing volunteer programmes. Volunteer managers and staff often lack confidence in being able to recruit and manage volunteers, particularly those volunteers with additional support needs. They are unsure about the legal requirements in areas such as safeguarding, health and safety, or carrying out criminal record (DBS) checks, as well as general good practice in terms of recruiting and retaining volunteers.

The actions we took

We started running a variety of good practice development activities, to help people working in VIOs better recruit and manage volunteers.

  • A training programme covering a wide range of volunteer management topics. Entry level courses included ‘introduction to managing volunteers’, ‘recruiting volunteers’, ‘retaining volunteers’, ‘DBS checks and safer recruitment’. More advanced topics included ‘dealing with difficult situations with volunteers’, ‘reviewing your volunteer policy’ and ‘managing risks in your volunteer programme’. Our training topics are based on needs assessment surveys of volunteer managers, suggestions for future topics made on training evaluation forms, and analysis of subjects covered in 1-1 discussions.
  • Quarterly peer learning sessions for volunteer managers. Each session is led by one of our member organisations that has more experience in that topic. Recent sessions have been held on: ‘recruiting and retaining male volunteers’ led by ChanceUK, ‘involving students as volunteers’ led by Queen Mary University Students’ Union and ‘supporting volunteers towards gaining employment’ led by Genesis Housing Association.
  • Bespoke 1-1 advice to organisations, including helping with reviewing policies and procedures, providing samples and templates, and talking through issues. We also support organisations with preparing for the Investing in Volunteers quality standard assessment.
  • Good practice factsheets which are posted on our website. Factsheets include ‘supporting volunteers towards employment’ which has a list of local organisations and schemes that provide employability support, and ‘virtual and online induction and training for volunteers’.

Positive outcomes

In November/December 2016, VCTH surveyed volunteer managers in VIOs registered with us. 44 organisations completed the survey. Of those who had accessed our best practice development services, 100% of respondents had found the services useful, with 43% finding them extremely helpful.

When asked whether the support received had made a difference to their volunteer programme, policies or procedures, 77% confirmed that it had made a difference. Of those who said that our support had not made a difference, 43% said that they had adapted their volunteer roles as a result, a further 29% had created new volunteer roles, and 14% had developed the diversity of their volunteers.

Our support has made an impact on local organisations in terms of having stronger policies related to volunteering, improving volunteer recruitment, and also on developing their volunteer opportunities/ roles, either to adapt existing roles or create new roles.

These are a few examples of the positive impact our work has had:

  • Creating capacity: Simple Gifts attended two VCTH peer learning sessions, on supporting volunteers into employment and involving service users as volunteers, as well as a training session on retaining volunteers. As a result of hearing from VCTH and listening to other organisations’ experiences, they formalised and clarified their approach to creating new volunteer roles, by pragmatically tailor making roles to suit potential volunteers, while ensuring this benefited the organisation. This has started to increase their capacity to do things that staff were previously too busy to do. For example, when a long term service user enquired about volunteering, they created a new role to suit her needs (to complement her social care course, she wanted a role involving communication with older people) which involved collecting stories for a brochure on the organisation’s impact, to use in funding applications or on their website.
  • Developing volunteer roles: Following the ‘introduction to managing volunteers’ training course, which covered how to shape roles to suit volunteers’ skills and strengths, Healthwatch Tower Hamlets has been more open to recruiting volunteers with language skills, rather than assuming that English is the language that volunteers will use. They have since recruited volunteers who speak Bengali, Polish and French. This change has benefited individual volunteers, who can use their language skills to give back to the community, and benefitted the organisation, which has become more accessible.

Negative outcomes

Measuring our impact: While we get immediate post-course feedback on our training and peer learning sessions, we need to better capture the impact of our 1-1 good practice service on organisations in the medium and longer term. Undertaking comprehensive tracking to measure impact, while valuable, is time and resource-intensive, and therefore expensive.

Lack of capacity: A challenge that we continue to face is that many volunteer managers are stretched. They often work part-time or juggle several roles. This means that they can lack the time or focus to engage with best practice support, such as attending training, accessing advice or even taking the time to step back and contemplate what the issues might be. Many volunteer managers are also still not reading our e-bulletins and factsheets.

Lessons learnt

Addressing capacity issues:

  • We have learnt that half-day training sessions are more appealing to volunteer managers with busy work schedules or who work part-time. Also we have found that morning sessions or sessions ending by 4pm in the afternoon generally work well for parents.
  • On the post-course evaluation form, we ask participants to identify topics where they would like further 1-1 support, and follow these requests up after the course.
  • We have conducted most of the 1-1 advice sessions at the organisations’ premises, so that they save on travel time.
  • We are now emailing factsheets directly to volunteer managers as well as including them in our monthly e-bulletin, and flag them up at all our training sessions. They are also available on our website for reference.

Measuring impact:

  • We have devised a survey that will be sent to 1-1 advice recipients soon after they receive the advice. This will aim to capture the short-term impact. We will also aim to follow up 3 months after the advice was given to capture the longer-term impact.
  • We have begun to gather a range of case studies on our work with organisations, illustrating our impact on a range of service user groups and organisations with different areas of need.


Page last edited Jun 02, 2017

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