The Conservatives have pledged three days of paid leave for volunteering if they win the next election. While many have expressed gratitude for a move that reinforces the importance of the voluntary sector and supports a culture of volunteering, others have levelled accusations of tokenism and described the plan as nothing more than a way to plug gaps in underfunded public services.

However you see it, the policy breathes new life into the ongoing issue of how best to attract and retain volunteers for your cause. There is always a huge amount of interest in learning the ‘secret’ to a successful volunteer recruitment campaign. Yet for us at Amazon, as professional communicators and active volunteers, there is one aspect of volunteer recruitment that is too often overlooked.

While many organisations are constantly on the lookout for new volunteers, a significant number aren’t. Not all charities want, need or can handle more volunteers. Like anything, managing volunteers takes time and money. So alongside all those wanting to communicate their need for volunteers, there are many who need to communicate just as clearly and effectively their inability to take them.

This is far from an easy position to be in. Members of the public can be incredibly surprised, and rather put out, to find that a charity doesn’t want their time and efforts, so it’s really important that charities take the time to make their current position clear on their website, and in any marketing materials that may trigger interest. With some careful consideration this can be done in a positive way, making clear the various other forms of support people may be able to offer, including donations, distribution of materials, or involvement with partner services for example. Taking the time to get this right will limit negative experiences on both sides, and avoid wasting the time of well-meaning individuals and charity staff.

There are similar considerations for those who are actively seeking new volunteers too. Too often, charities think people will just come to them. And, in many cases, they are right – people do. But are they the right people, with the right amount of time, the right skills, the right motivations, and the right expectations of what the charity is able to offer in return? Being clear and upfront about what you are, and aren’t, currently looking for in term of roles and levels of commitment, and what you are able to provide in those roles, will help manage expectations and limit the risk of upsetting well-meaning people.

Beanstalk, the reading support charity, is a prime example of those who are striking the right balance between seeking volunteers, and setting clear parameters. We’d recommend many more take a leaf out of its book, regardless of what happens on May 7th.