Writing an advert
Once you have a clear role description, you can start to think about advertising for volunteers. When writing an advert, you will need to provide enough information to interest people but keep it short enough to retain their attention. As an initial step, think about why someone would want to volunteer for you and who is most likely to volunteer for you – this will give you a good, solid basis for your advert. The exact form the advert takes will depend on whom it is meant to attract and where it will be appearing, but there are some basic steps you should always include:
You should start with why volunteers are needed in the role. What need is there in the community you support that volunteers can help with. For instance:
“Many people in the Iraqi community can’t access the services they need because their English isn’t good enough”
This ‘statement of need’ hooks someone into your advert. You want them to think, “that’s awful, someone should do something about that”.
Once you have got people’s attention and made them see the need for the type of work that you are advertising, you can tell them how they can help. You can now go on to describe the activities that volunteers carry out in your organisation. People are more likely to take the next step towards volunteering for you if they can picture themselves in the role so you need to include enough information for them to know what they would be doing. For example:
“Volunteer Interpreters can work with people to make sure that they are accessing the healthcare, benefits and services that they need”
The next step is to get rid of any fears that potential volunteers may have about volunteering for you. This could mean including information about who can volunteer (“No previous experience is needed, just an interest/enthusiasm for…..”); a reassurance that they will be supported in the role (“Full training is given and volunteers will attend monthly supervision sessions”); or a commitment to inclusive working (“We welcome applications from all sections of the community and are keen to diversify our volunteer workforce”).
By now the potential volunteer should have a definite idea of whether or not they are interested in the role. You need to make sure that they do take the next step towards volunteering for you by describing how they will benefit. Remember that everyone volunteers for a reason. Your first step when devising a recruitment strategy for the role should have been to identify why somebody might want to do it (to meet people, to get training, to build up experience leading to a particular career, etc). Sell the role by including these points in your advert.
If you follow this model, you should end up with an advert that:
- hooks people by presenting the need for volunteers
- describes how they can help
- negates some of the reasons that they may come up with not to help
- sells the position to them by describing how they will benefit from volunteering for you.
“Many people in the Iraqi community can’t access the services they need because their English isn’t good enough. We are currently looking for Volunteer Interpreters to work with people to make sure that they are accessing the healthcare, benefits and services that they need. Volunteers usually work two hours a week, full training is given and we provide monthly support sessions. Volunteering with us is a great way of gaining experience, a current work reference, and improving you CV.”
You can use this as the basis for all your adverts. For instance, you could use a short version for posters and newspaper adverts, and expand on it for articles or even radio interviews.
Where to advertise
Think about the kind of person that your volunteer role is likely to appeal to and what they would get out of it. Would it allow someone to develop skills appropriate for a particular skill; would it be a good way of meeting new people; would it interest someone with a particular hobby? Once you have a list, you can use it to decide which groups it would be best to target with your advertising. For instance, if your voluntary role would give good experience in a social care setting, it might be of particular interest to students on social work courses; or if it is sociable and gives volunteers the chance to meet lots of people, it may be of particular interest to people who are lonely or have had a change of circumstances that has cut them off from their social circle.
Most volunteers are recruited by existing staff, clients, supporters or volunteers via word of mouth. Make sure everyone you know is aware that you are trying to recruit, and which roles you are recruiting to. Of course, if your existing staff and volunteers are happy and motivated, they will be more effective in recruiting their friends! However, do remember that this method of recruitment means you are likely to attract ‘more of the same’- ie, existing volunteers will tend to recruit people similar to themselves, so if you rely on word of mouth your volunteers might not be very diverse.
Leaflets or postcards are a good way of advertising. You might consider placing printed information in:
- schools and colleges
- town halls and other public buildings
- GP and dental surgeries
- sports and leisure centres
- religious centres
- shop windows
- Job Centres
Try to design your posters and leaflets to be as accessible as possible. It is important to have materials that are well-designed and eye-catching, but it is just as important that people are able to read them. You may want to think about using pictures and images to back up important points.
Volunteer Centres can be useful for recruiting volunteers and can also provide valuable support. There are around 500 Volunteer Centres throughout the UK, putting people in touch with organisations who need volunteers. They work a little like Job Centres, only with volunteer rather than employment opportunities. Members of the public go in and talk to their local centre about the types of work they are interested in, what times they can work, etc, and the centre will search through its database for relevant opportunities. Volunteer Centres also upload their databases on to the Do-It website (www.do-it.org.uk) so that all opportunities registered with them appear on an online database that potential volunteers can search.
If there is a particular group of people who would be interested in volunteering for you, it may be a good idea to see if you can arrange a talk or presentation for them. Setting up a talk or presentation might take some time – you will need to persuade the host (be it a school, an employer or whatever) that your information will be of real interest. But it can produce good results. You could think about doing talks for:
- Youth groups
- ESOL classes
- Cultural groups
- Community centres
- Probation centres
- Day centres
- Training and rehabilitation projects
Make sure you bring printed information to support your talk, giving people the chance to go away and think before committing themselves. Be clear about how people can get involved or find out more if they are interested.
Dealing with enquiries
All too often, organisations launch recruitment campaigns without properly considering what they will do when people respond to them. Most potential volunteers will make initial contact via the phone, so it is important that their enquiry is dealt with in a way that will make them want to find out more. Make sure that everyone in the organisation who might answer the phone knows what to do and who to pass the call on to. Try to avoid asking people to call back – the chances are they just won’t. If no one is immediately available, it is better to take the caller’s contact number and get back to them.
Potential volunteers won’t necessarily call within office hours, so remember to include instructions for people interested in volunteering in your answerphone message so that they know they have got through to the right place. If you say that you are going to call back, make sure that you do. It is very disheartening for people to offer their time and then to feel that the organisation could not be bothered with them. Not only will they not contact you again, they probably won’t contact any other organisations either.
Avoid asking potential volunteers too many questions over the phone, as they will not be expecting to be ‘ interviewed’. Remember that many people find communicating on the phone quite difficult. However, you may want to check that they know about anything essential: for instance, if you only need volunteers on a Wednesday afternoon, there is no point in them continuing with the application process if they work all day Wednesdays.
It’s a good idea to have an information pack available to send to people interested in volunteering. The pack could contain information about the organisation, the volunteer role, practical information about expenses and training, and maybe information from existing volunteers about what they get out of volunteering for your organisation. You should view the information pack as an extension of your recruitment materials. You need to provide information for the potential volunteer to decide if your organisation is right for them, but at this stage you are still ‘selling’ volunteering within your organisation.
If you have the resources, it can be helpful to invite potential volunteers to come and visit your organisation and talk to existing volunteers before deciding whether they want to volunteer for you. Not everybody wants to do this, but for some people an informal visit with no strings attached is a good first step and makes them feel in control of the situation. Remember that for many people who have never volunteered before, applying to an organisation is a nerve-racking business and they do not know quite what to expect. Anything that you can do to put them at their ease will be much appreciated, and should ultimately result in more committed and informed volunteers who really feel that they have a stake in the organisation.
Recruitment Guide – Volunteering England
do-it.org.uk website – National database of volunteering opportunities
Online finder for Volunteer Centres
Recruiting and managing volunteers – Idealist.org (US)
This information is an extract from the article on volunteer recruitment on the AVM volunteer management wiki