Charities should present one message to the public, says Media Trust chief

There is an article in Third Sector about something that came out of Volunteering England’s ‘summit’ on the future of volunteering:

“Charities should consider drawing up a coordinated strategy to attract more volunteers, key volunteering figures have been told. Caroline Diehl, chief executive of the Media Trust, which works to improve the relationship between the not-for-profit sector and the media, told a meeting of volunteering leaders in London this week that a more streamlined approach to communication could help groups to promote their work and recruit higher numbers of volunteers.

“Volunteering organisations are trying to do different things and give out different messages,” said Diehl. “But perhaps they need to work out a unanimous strategy for communicating their work to the public and attracting more volunteers, instead of this potentially confusing, piecemeal approach.”

I don’t know what other members feel, but I’m a bit worried about this approach. I don’t think a one size fits all approach to marketing volunteering works, because a broad campaign cannot explain the massive diversity of VIOs and volunteer roles, so it creates unrealistic expectations.

Plus their have been generic campaigns before, and they didn’t work. I was working in a Volunteer Centre when Timebank launched, and about 80% of the initial requests were impossible – along the ‘I want to do counselling but only for one evening a year, and I’ve got no time to do any training’ line.

Organisations are sending out different messages about volunteer recruitment because we all need different things – and all offer different benefits. Nobody would suggest that all car adverts should be lumped together because a cars a car, and it’s confusing to the public to send out different messages. Or indeed that all job adverts should be standardised, so they read the same. I think this is a case of someone who, just because we have volunteering in our job titles, assumes we’re rank amateurs who need patting on the head and pointing in the right direction.

There is also an assumption that this is just a numbers game, and that all charities want hundreds of volunteers. Maybe some of us are targeting our recruitment messages so that we get people with certain skills, or from certain backgrounds. Or using a particular recruitment message precisely because we couldn’t cope with being flooded with applicants.

Having said that, I think a streamlined approach to advertising volunteering brokerage would be great, so that people were aware of Volunteer Centre’s in the the same way that they’re away of something like CAB’s. By doing that there’s a third party in the middle who can talk to people about what they want out of volunteering, and what they can realistically expect.

What do other people think?

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Post by Kate Bowgett

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