As a member of the third sector or practitioner in the public sector, you will be aware of the many benefits volunteering can bring to both organisation and individual. For organisations, volunteers can be your loudest advocates, bring invaluable insight and knowledge to your delivery and keep you connected to the community. For individuals, benefits can range from improved connection to others, to improved mental and physical health and wellbeing, and can assist in finding employment or career advancement. Despite the many benefits, research consistently shows that those who would benefit most from volunteering are the least likely to seek it out as a possibility. Ensuring volunteer programmes are inclusive, rewarding, enriching, and caring is a key way to promote volunteering to those who stand to gain the most from it.
Below we outline some key considerations you may want to explore when building an inclusive programme.
A note on intersectionality: Given the purpose of this toolkit these considerations are focussed on working with people of under-represented ethnic groups, however, many will be applicable when considering the wider inclusivity of your volunteering programme. Despite this, we must always remember that volunteers are people, and each volunteer will come with their own experiences, perceptions, reservations etc. The below information should not be seen as direct exercises to be ticked through and set aside without action or constant consideration of the changes and variations that will arise.
Understanding your Community
Before you even begin the journey of recruiting volunteers you should take some time to evaluate your current offer of volunteering. Is it flexible? Is it accessible? Are there barriers someone may face in getting involved? Is the opportunity solely to support our aims and objectives, or will it be a rewarding opportunity for the volunteer? Consider these points, and consider reviewing openly with any current volunteers you have.
When recruiting volunteers it is also important to remember that some communities will be better reached in different ways. Many third sector groups will skilfully use Facebook in growing a following and building a network to share your message, but is that enough, or are you just promoting to the same crowd? Using different platforms and networks, combined with offline methods, will ensure a wider reach. Consider where your audience is and how they would want to be approached. It can be difficult to start from standing so reaching out to other networks or community anchor organisations to make connections and promote your opportunity may also be beneficial. For ethnically diverse communities where language or digital exclusion can be a barrier, this should be addressed by using traditional media such as print and phone etc.
Being seen and being heard
Whatever the size of organisation, and whatever the size of volunteer involvement in your organisation, it is key that volunteers know their voice is heard. Trust and respect, on both sides of the volunteer-organisation relationship is crucial to attracting and maintaining volunteers, and knowing that your opinions will be valued and actioned upon is a powerful building block for that trust.
Consider implementing different feedback methods, ranging from anonymous online forms to group feedback and creative idea gathering sessions, so that volunteers of any confidence level can contribute. Don’t leave your feedback forms for when projects end or when volunteers are leaving, but work to instil a culture of open dialogue throughout a programme.
Demonstrating the actions taken from this feedback will grow the trust of volunteers; it is all well and good to collect opinions and ideas, but what are you doing with them?
Volunteering and Leadership
Diverse leadership in the third sector, as in other sectors, is something that should be aspired to. Leadership is not restricted to trustees either, though diversity on charitable boards does promote wider perspectives, experiences, and knowledge to draw from.
Diversifying your board – the Trustee Recruitment Cycle (Reach Volunteering)
Encouraging your volunteers to take up leadership roles within your organisation, in small or big ways, is another way of engendering a strong working relationship with your volunteers. Offering training and providing a journey for development can give volunteers a sense of reward as well for their work; they have invested their time into the organisation and the organisation, in return, is investing in them.
In terms of representation, it is also important for people to see people that look like them, sound like them, or have had similar experiences, to encourage them to take that extra step toward leadership.
“You can’t be what you can’t see” - Marian Wright Edelman
Volunteer Recognition and Reward
For some people, that sense of progression and development will be reward enough, but taking the time to recognise their achievements is an important part of any good volunteer programme.
Day to day encouragement should be paired with set opportunities for reward and recognition such as Thank You Events or ceremonies. Be creative with your recognition, it doesn’t need to be a medal for most years of service, it can be anything that has made a difference to your organisation.
Creating a volunteering culture
The above guidance, and that found in the associated links should assist in creating a strong, inclusive volunteer culture within your organisation. For the culture to become truly embedded into your organisation, the importance of your volunteers needs to be understood and embraced at every level of the organisation. Diverse volunteers can change the way an organisation works with its community, as well as positively impacting its longevity and sustainability.
More useful information:
You can also contact the Engage Volunteer Development Officer on firstname.lastname@example.org or ring us on 0141 887 7707.