Volunteer Recruitment

Getting Started

What do we want the volunteer to do?

Make sure you have thought through a clear and realistic role description


Do you have the systems and policies in place?

Develop simple straightforward procedures that kick in when you get that first phone call or email from someone enquiring about the volunteering opportunities. You may want to develop the following:

  1. Recruitment pack you can send out with frequently asked questions and an application form
  2. Interview and selection criteria agreed internally to your project/organisation
  3. Induction procedure that gives the volunteer the information and contacts they need to get going
  4. Training and personal development planning can be vital for ensuring volunteers are able to carry out the role you’ve created.
  5. Support and supervision plan for each volunteer you take on


Where to recruit volunteers?

  1. From your existing volunteer base-hold a ‘bring a friend’ volunteering event
    Community and neighborhood newsletters, school newspapers, church newsletters, employee newsletter in local companies
  2. Putting adverts in local shops
  3. Paid adverts in media (online and offline)
  4. Human interest stories about your organisation/project in local media (use of celebrity can help get press attention)
  5. Yellow Pages ads
  6. Posters on at library, shops, community centres, etc
  7. University, FE colleges
  8. Use word of mouth networks of your current volunteers
  9. Open your doors and tell people about what you do including that they can volunteer for you 🙂
  10. Talks and presentations to local groups and network meetings
  11. Guerilla marketing – buttons, stickers, postcards, cards, etc. that pass quickly from person to person
  12. Volunteer fairs and other events
  13. Use other volunteer matching organisations like volunteer centres who can advocate for you
  14. Post opportunities on [http://www.do-it.org.uk do-it.org.uk] either directly yourself or via your local volunteer centre
  15. Target local groups or courses that appeal to people who would be particularly interested in your kind of volunteering opportunities, e.g. psychology courses for counsellors, etc.
  16. Statutory bodies who are looking for placements for their clients such as community service


Recruitment Advice

First Impressions Count: What to do when potential volunteers make contact

However people find opportunities, making the decision to offer time as a volunteer is an important one. It’s worth putting yourself in their place, and imagining how you would feel contacting an organisation for the first time. People may well be excited, but they are also probably nervous, and a bit worried about how their enquiry will be received.

This first point of contact is a crucial one, how organisations respond to enquiries from potential volunteers will often determine whether someone actually takes the next step becoming a volunteer. Organisations will often put lots of thought into how they advertise for volunteers, but won’t have considered what they will do when people start to respond to their adverts. As the examples below show, responding in a friendly, and welcoming way, is very important:

“When I first contacted them they were really helpful and very friendly. I spoke to the manager over the phone and she sounded so friendly and nice that I went down to see them straight away.”

“They were lovely, I spoke to the manager and she was like “oh yeah come along and we’ll have a little chat and you can tell us what you can do and everything”. They were really nice, the way she talked to me made me feel much more comfortable.”

“They were friendly, very efficient; they had all the information that I needed. They explained to me what I’d be doing and talked to me about what things I need to do if I did want to take this on and for it to be a career. The other organisations I contacted were more “this is what you have to do” not “this is what we can do together””.

When you are actively recruiting volunteers, it’s important that you’ve planned how you are going to respond to them. Anyone who might answer calls, needs to know what to do if they receive a volunteering enquiry. It is very off-putting to pluck up the courage to call an organisation, only to get through to someone who wasn’t even aware their organisation was looking for volunteers.

If the potential volunteer has to leave a message, it’s important that you get back to them as quickly as possible. If the staff member they need to speak to is away, or will not be able to get back to them for a while, let the person know. If they receive no reply at all, most people assume that they’re just not wanted. Not many people are as patient as this volunteer:

“I contacted the organisation myself and left a couple of phone messages but never got any reply, so I spoke to the Volunteer Centre and she contacted them it still took her three weeks to get a reply but they did get back to her. I think if I’d just kept trying myself I wouldn’t have go anywhere. It did put me off a bit, particularly since I’ve been told by people who work for charities ‘never work for a charity’.”

Potential volunteers may well have lots of questions about your organisation, and the role. It is important that you can deal with these, and make sure they are given all the information they need when they first make contact:

“They were really friendly, when I first contacted them; they gave me a lot of information” 

“I went to a couple of interviews and this organisation gave me the best background information about what they do. I felt that the children there would get so much more out of me then if I went somewhere else. It was a mix of what would be the right role for me and where I could help most.”

You might want to look at putting an information pack together that you can send out to anyone who enquiries about volunteering for you. As the quote above shows, it’s worth including information on why you need volunteers, and what difference they make, as well as stating how the volunteer might benefit from the role. It is also a good idea to think about what might potentially worry someone about taking on this role, and see if you can allay their fears.

You might want to tell them about the training they will receive, or explain how they will be supervised. Your existing volunteers should be able to help you put the pack together, and including case studies, or quotes from them should give people a good impression of what its like to volunteer with you. Where possible a lot of potential volunteers appreciate the chance to go and visit the organisation to decide whether they want to apply for the role:

“The chance to go in and see if you fit in was really useful, I went in for the day and met the kids, did some activities with them so I knew it was right for me.” 

“When I went down there the stuff that they were doing was great, I saw that they had a piano and as soon as I saw that I thought ‘great when can I start’.”

If a volunteer has a bad experience when they first contact you, then they are unlikely to continue with their application. Organisations, who do not return calls, are unfriendly, or who do not have information to give potential volunteers about their organisation, loose out on volunteers:

“Where I am now I just walked in off the street and said I wanted to volunteer, they seemed very happy, they made me feel appreciated and like it was good I came in. It was very different to the other place I applied for. Their manager’s attitude was bad, when I went there for my second interview with them I bumped into him on the bus on the way and he just blanked me as if I didn’t count. When I said I wasn’t interested in volunteering for them any more he actually sounded happy and he laughed. It made me think the organisation was run badly and I didn’t want to volunteer with them.”

“I phoned them up it was really difficult, it took me about a week to get through to the actual person. It was a bit off-putting, it took ages to get through and then when I finally spoke to someone and managed to leave my number they didn’t get back to me, in the end I had to keep phoning them. Then they invited me in for a chat and showed me round. She seemed really busy though, it only lasted about 15 minutes and I don’t really think she spoke to me enough. Now I’ve applied to work with a drug project I’ve found the people there much more helpful, they’re more friendly, and more warm, with the other place it was like they didn’t really care.”

Even if you don’t have a suitable role for a potential volunteer, it is polite to get back to them and let them know:

“Finding volunteering has been really hard. I want to work as a translator. I’ve sent out my CV and covering letter to lots of organisations but I’ve not had replies from any of them. I feel disappointed, I’ve tried to offer my services for free and then they’re like “oh we don’t want him” there’s been all this talk on the TV and the news about there being a shortage of male volunteers but then they don’t even bother to reply to you. I would say if you’ve been approached by people who want to give their time and experience then contact them let them know if there’s hope or no hope, give them a response.”

Be aware that a volunteer who has had their initial enquiry dealt with badly may well tell other people not to bother contacting you. It might not just be your organisation that loses out on a volunteer either, a bad reaction from one organisation can put people off volunteering full stop:

“If that had been my first time volunteering then I don’t think I’d have tried anywhere else, it would have really put me off.”

It can be easy to get so caught up in developing a recruitment strategy, and advertising your volunteer roles, that you don’t think about how you’ll deal with enquiries. However, it is vitally important that you deal with people in a welcoming, and efficient way at this stage, otherwise you will lose out on potential volunteers.


This information is an extract from the article on volunteer recruitment on the AVM volunteer management wiki

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