Five Tips for Volunteer Recruitment, Retention and Succession Planning

Annika Howard
Helplines Partnership | Association of Volunteer Managers - Helplines Partnership Annual Conference 2019

In the second of a series of blog posts we look at the topics from this year’s six Conference seminar sessions.

We were joined by Sarah Merrington, Board Director at the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM), who delivered a seminar that focussed on working with volunteers, ‘volunteer vacancies: risky recruitment or successful succession?’

Recruiting, retaining and developing volunteers

Volunteers play a vital role in supporting the work of many of our members, whether they are part of a helpline team, fundraising or acting as trustees but how do you attract new volunteers and keep your existing volunteers engaged?

1. Invest your time

It can be a challenge to set aside time, from the day to day demands of your job, to focus on your volunteers.

Not just the ability to recruit and hold on to a diverse group volunteers, but also the loss of a wealth of knowledge if you haven’t got the handover right.

Failing to spend time really thinking about your volunteers can have damaging consequences for your organisation, the service it delivers and your volunteers themselves.

You risk:

  • Empty volunteer roles
  • Poor volunteer retention
  • High volunteer turnover
  • Lack of volunteer diversity
  • Loss of knowledge
  • Lower motivation existing volunteers
  • No pathway for volunteer development or progression

2. Value your volunteers

Work with your volunteers, ask your current volunteers to help you design and co-create the process for recruiting and retaining volunteers.

Work with your team and use their insight. They are a valuable resource they know what it is like to be a volunteer, what motivated them to get involved in the first place and what benefits they get from being a volunteer.

It’s important to think about ways you can develop your volunteers beyond their current role, with the proviso that they are happy for their role to grow and change.

Do you have current volunteers who could act as ‘talent scouts’ and work with you to look for people who would make a great addition to your volunteer team?

3. Target the who

When you’re recruiting volunteers it’s not all about the numbers, it’s about getting the right people for the right roles.

Think about the different volunteer positions you have in your organisation and the skills that you need for those roles. Look at the skills that you already have in your volunteer team and identify gaps so that you can proactively target recruitment.

Once you know what you are looking for develop a plan to reach and engage with that type of person or people with those specific skills.

Sarah suggests: “If you are looking for people with a specific skill set for your helpline volunteer team, for example people with counselling skills or people developing those skills, think about targeting people who are qualifying in counselling. You could approach professional accrediting bodies, college and university departments and training providers.”

4. Recognise and reward

It’s vital to appreciate and acknowledge the work your volunteer team does and the value your volunteers bring to the organisation. There are lots of different ways to do this, some don’t have to cost more than your time.

Every June, from the 1 to 7, it’s Volunteers’ Week – this is a great opportunity to take the time to say thank you to your volunteers, highlight the work they do for you and reflect and promote their achievements as individuals and collectively.

Maybe you could get your Trustees and senior leadership team to set aside some time and call volunteers during the week to say, ‘thank you’ and hear about volunteer experiences. It’s a way to connect front-line volunteers with the leaders of the organisation and show your appreciation.

5. Share knowledge and experience

Future proof your volunteer team by making sure that how to do things. Don’t let your organisation’s processes and the way things work become concentrated in a few places or a handful of volunteers.

Make sure there is more than one person, staff and volunteer, who knows how to do each role so that if your team changes the knowledge isn’t lost.

Consider working with some of your experienced volunteers on a project to capture and document the ‘how to’ of their role. This should include the processes, systems and importantly any advice they have for new people joining the team and learning the role.

Talk to your volunteers, give them the chance to tell you how it is going for them. By talking to your volunteers, you can learn what’s working well, what’s more challenging and what you could change.

If you are flexible and can change the role slightly to improve it, develop it or make it more manageable there is more chance that you’ll be able to retain your volunteers.

Feedback from Helplines Partnership members and subscribers

“The seminar session was really useful in encouraging people to think about things differently. For example, "Successful Succession: Don't call it "Succession Planning" and involve volunteers in the process in different ways so that you are valuing the now as well as the future."
John PitherCoventry City Mission

“The session was excellent. Interactive and informative with plenty of practical ideas to take away.”
Sarah HurstStop Hate


Thank you to Sarah for hosting the seminar at the 2019 Helplines Partnership Conference. If you would like to know more about The Association of Volunteer Managers and their work you can visit their website.

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