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The volunteer recruitment process

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A step by step guide to recruiting volunteers.

1. Background work before you recruit

Before recruiting volunteers, an organisation may want to consult with its trustees and relevant committees, in addition to its employees and existing volunteers. It may also want to consider the following questions.

  • What is the function of volunteers and what tasks are volunteers suited to?
  • What skills and experience would the organisation like volunteers to bring to its work?
  • How will the organisation go about finding volunteers?
  • What will the selection process involve?
  • If volunteers are successfully recruited, how will the organisation ensure they remain with the organisation? 
  • Does the organisation have good volunteer management and policies?

If an organisation is recruiting for a role that involves working with people in vulnerable situations, a more comprehensive recruitment process should be carried out. See our safeguarding resources for what additional measures you should consider before, during and after the recruitment process.

2. Get the word out

Advertising for new volunteers requires an organisation to:

  • prepare a case for support – its message to potential volunteers
  • choose channels for recruitment
  • be persistent and patient.

Case for support - your message to potential volunteers

The case for support should explain in reader-friendly language:

  • what the organisation does and what cause or group of people it benefits
  • the range of volunteer opportunities that exist
  • the difference a volunteer can make to the cause or the people who are supported
  • what the volunteer can gain from working with the organisation
  • how prospective volunteers can find out more.

See also writing volunteer role descriptions.

Methods of volunteer recruitment

There are a lot of ways to advertise for volunteers. These include:

  • word of mouth referrals
  • leaflets and other printed media
  • using Volunteer Centre databases
  • organising or speaking at events during Volunteers' Week
  • press and radio ads
  • online - on your own website and via volunteer recruitment websites.

Include a phone number and email address so potential volunteers can get in touch easily.

Persistence and patience when recruiting volunteers

Don’t panic if you are just starting out and recruitment of volunteers appears to be taking a lot of time and effort. It will be worth it.

Passionate advocacy may not always attract the volunteers that are so badly needed – but persistence and creativity will eventually pay off. Volunteering is deeply engrained in the British psyche - one in seven of the population is already a volunteer so it is not a new idea. It's worth bearing in mind that asking a busy person may be more likely to result in a new volunteer than finding someone who has not previously volunteered.

Online methods of recruitment can be especially attractive to younger people. 

3. Volunteer applications

Designing a simple form for applicants will help make sure the recruitment of volunteers is taking account of equal opportunities and diversity policy. Where appropriate ensure different languages or inclusive images are used. You also need to be conscious about accessibility for people with disabilities.

Asylum seekers, volunteers from overseas and ex-offenders are allowed to volunteer. If necessary, appropriate legal guidance should be sought from one of the national centres.

Be ready to have an informal chat on the phone.

4. Volunteer interviews

Interviews should not be overly formal – people are offering a gift of time, not seeking paid employment. The great temptation in interviewing is for the interviewer to talk too much about the organisation and not leave time for the potential volunteer to talk about themselves.

A simple ‘person specification’ can be a useful template for the interview. A second is an exploration of why the applicant wants to volunteer. Motivations might include:

  • a belief in the organisation’s cause
  • wanting to use skills and give something back
  • trying out or learning new skills
  • (if the person is older or unemployed) to keep active
  • gaining experience in a field of activity they hope to enter
  • social contact and meeting people.

Exploring these points in an interview and keeping a record of the answers is a demonstration of good interview practice.

Make sure the volunteer role or roles are understood and give time for the applicant to raise any questions or concerns. Doing this will help to bring the interview to an end. It's also important that you're ready to explain any requirements that need to be met before appointment and the support that will be available.

5. Volunteer appointment

Once you have decided that the applicant has the necessary attributes and actual or potential skills for the volunteer role, the next step is to contact them and fix a provisional start date and induction time.

The firm start date depends on a number of factors.

References for volunteers

References can be sought. In the first instance, a simple letter from referees (two is usually the right number) will be enough. But talking to the referees by phone may also be useful to probe a little deeper and ask about the applicant’s capacity to work in a team, their flexibility and their ability to best represent the organisation’s cause as a new volunteer.

Health checks for volunteers

Health checks are advisable if the role demands physical activity. But it is worth deciding a policy on whether you will ask about health conditions from all volunteers, no matter what the volunteer role may be. Health checks should not be used to discriminate against people who are frail due to age or dealing with mental health problems. Considerable sensitivity is required as with disability (remember equal opportunities and diversity).

DBS checks on volunteers

A DBS check is a process for gathering information about an applicant’s criminal history and is an important part in safeguarding. It helps organisations make safer recruitment decisions and prevents unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups.

Disclosure Services is an NCVO Trusted Supplier and a DBS criminal record check service.

Disclosure Services provides Basic, Standard and Enhanced DBS criminal records checks on applicants and the system is reliable, easy to use, fast, accurate and fully secure. It includes a fully electronic application process with dedicated relationship manager and significant cost and administrative savings.

NCVO members benefit from up to 40% savings on Disclosure Services standard admin fees.  

6. Refusing volunteers

Having completed all the stages of recruitment, the organisation may decide that the applicant is not suitable for the volunteer role available. In this case, it is important to tell the applicant the reasons that you are not accepting them as a volunteer. Suggesting that the nearest Volunteer Centre may have more suitable volunteer roles may ease the blow of rejection.

The applicant may decide that they do not want to volunteer for your organisation after all. In this case, you might want to ask the applicant for their reasons. This insight may prove helpful for future recruitment activity.

Useful links

Page last edited Oct 25, 2019

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