Volunteers’ Week: Recruit, but also retain

Volunteers’ Week: Recruit, but also retain

The Covid-19 crisis has brought volunteers into the spotlight and it’s been heartening to see so many people getting involved in national schemes and with local groups, as well as helping out informally within their immediate communities.

Charities are of course now looking at ways to tap into this enormous outpouring of public energy longer-term. Which is perhaps where the challenge lies.

Although the focus for comms is often to mobilise people, usually with some sense of urgency, we need to think about momentum. People want to feel genuinely useful. If they don’t think they are making a difference, their enthusiasm will quickly fade.

I speak from experience, having volunteered in different capacities with several organisations throughout my career. When I’ve felt as though I’ve had little impact, I’ve had to work harder to remain committed. Volunteering has felt like another chore to be crammed into an already busy life.

People don’t volunteer expecting rewards. They do it because they are passionate about a cause and want to be part of the solution. But if a charity does not show its volunteers how their unpaid work matters – how they matter – it is missing a trick.

Simple things work. I’ve been volunteering as an independent visitor with a young people’s charity. Since lockdown, I’ve not been able to see the young person I am matched with. The charity’s volunteer coordinator has suggested appropriate ways I can maintain contact, called for a chat to see how I’m doing and kept in touch by email. To mark Volunteers’ Week, they sent me a thank you card.

Clearly the charity’s agenda is to retain the volunteers they have worked hard to recruit and train, and it’s working as I feel like my role is still valued.

We talk a lot here about volunteer recruitment. We’ve handled recruitment campaigns for charities. We’ve even produced a short introductory guide on how PR can be used to attract volunteers. But we talk less about keeping hold of people after they’ve signed up.

Volunteers’ Week is a useful time to remind ourselves that as well as advising clients on volunteer recruitment, we need also to help them with volunteer retention.

Louise Morriss