by Connie Basnett, Volunteer and Civic Engagement Coordinator at University of West London (UWL)
The volunteering landscape has changed since the pandemic with formal volunteering in decline. We need to encourage more people into volunteering, and student recruitment can help do just that. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) Time Well Spent 2023 survey indicates that people who are not volunteering say it is mostly because they do not want to make an ongoing commitment (1.). The financial impact of volunteering is another barrier, further heightened by the cost-of-living crisis.
The Time Well Spent survey asks non-volunteers how they could be encouraged to volunteer, and of the people surveyed many stated more flexible roles in terms of time and variety in the way they give their time. Volunteering is not accessible to all sections of society or open for everyone to participate in. Many students have multiple priorities alongside their studies. This may include working full time and raising families.
The University of West London (UWL) student community
UWL is committed to providing and supporting an inclusive environment that promotes equality, diversity and inclusion. We are proud of our diverse community where all can reach their full potential and flourish, whatever their background. 58% of the University’s full-time undergraduate students are from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to 33.9% in the sector (2.). Understanding the makeup of students at individual universities informs recruitment strategies. The student population is diverse, and every student community is different.
Through our interactions with UWL students we know that many have caring responsibilities and sometimes families to raise. Often, they are the first person in their family to go to university and therefore carry a lot of pressure to succeed. These concerns are also heightened with added financial pressures due to the cost-of-living crisis.
Recruiting students helps boost the diversity of volunteers. Including new voices in your cause may also help create a more inclusive programme. However, we do need to think about our offer and volunteering teams within universities can help support that. Think about what universities you want to engage with and reflect on the makeup of the student population.
What are students looking for from volunteering?
Students are potentially looking for different things from volunteering than the wider population. Students are often focused on skills development, and volunteering teams in universities want to see how roles help not only the organisation they volunteer for but how it helps students. When we write role descriptions and talk about volunteer roles, it is useful to reference what skills they are building that are tangible to employers. For example, customer services should sign-post gaining problem solving skills or managing multiple priorities. Seek advice from university volunteering teams as they come across hundreds of role descriptions. Make your benefits clear. Volunteering is a two-way street, now more than ever.
How can the sector change?
Be clear about what your organisation is and what volunteering with you means. Students may not be as engaged with volunteering as the usual groups you target for recruitment.
We do need to initiate change in the sector, but it will not happen overnight. You can make small steps to be more inclusive and students can help you move towards that change.
With the drop in formal volunteering, we need to reimagine the way we recruit, what we are recruiting for, and who we recruit but we do not have to reinvent the wheel. For instance:
- Could you add more light touch volunteering to your programmes?
- Could you identify a time in the year that you could host a micro-volunteering session and invite a local university?
- Could you move 5% of your volunteering programme online?
Reach out to volunteering teams at universities, get their advice on how you can include students, and they will find ways that meet your timeframe and capacity.
The University of West London (UWL)’s volunteering team is well placed to offer advice on how to develop volunteer programmes that appeal to students. If you want to learn more about how to engage students at UWL contact the team at email@example.com
About Connie Basnett
Connie currently works at the University of West London (UWL) as the Volunteer and Civic Engagement Coordinator. Prior to that, Connie was the Volunteer Manager at Shakespeare’s Globe and also has other experiences which have focused on volunteer management in the arts and heritage.