Top tips for recruiting volunteers
At Scouts, we’re in the midst of a big drive to get more people understanding and experiencing the benefits of volunteering with us.
Groups in Hampshire have recently had great success in recruiting new volunteers. To find out what they’ve been up to, we had a chat with Vanessa, their Local Development Officer.
So Vanessa, spill the beans – what have you been doing to attract new volunteers?
We’ve tried lots of different tactics, from the obvious flyers through to an interactive window display. They key difference is that everything features QR codes that take people to our local volunteer inbox, to make it simple to register interest.
The speed of getting back to people is critical – even just a holding email like ‘I’m investigating the best place for you to go’ is reassuring for potential volunteers.
I’d recommend people make the most of the empty shops about at the moment. We created a display (with up-to-date images of Scouts volunteers having fun in the outdoors) in an empty Debenhams window in a great central location – it’s a fab way to show the public what Scouts is all about.
We ran our display for about three months and updated the scene according to the holidays to keep it fresh. We captured interest through QR codes and also by standing outside and chatting to people.
What audiences do you focus on recruiting?
Our biggest source of volunteers is parents and guardians – we have almost 100% success, especially in a new group. It’s their children in Scouts, so do encourage them to join in the fun. It’s not just the child joining, it’s the family joining, and that includes both parents/carers and grandparents – Scouts can benefit the whole family.
Our early years pilots in Portsmouth have proven to be a brilliant way to get more parents/carers involved. We said to them that they needed to come in for the first few weeks as part of the child’s induction, which is a golden opportunity to show them Scouts (and almost like doing the four week challenge by stealth!). They can understand what we’re all about and we can challenge misconceptions – it’s about giving the information to the parents at the earliest stage possible.
It doesn’t stop there though. We tap into a wide range of audiences.
Military families and veterans are a huge source of volunteers for us as we’ve got 13 bases in the area and the adults have all the right skills. You can target people who are leaving the services and looking for employment, as being able to say they volunteer with Scouts is good way to enhance their CV. If you have a local base, talk to the Base Commander or Community Development Team.
University students need work placements too, especially those on childcare and education based courses. Rather than just going to freshers fairs (as students sign up to everything), talk to the university careers office as they also deal with volunteering opportunities. You’ll need to bear in mind the life of a student – they’ll come and go, but they’re invaluable.
Also target 16+ education, like sixth form colleges, where they offer a wide range of courses both for 16+ young people and adults. I go to their volunteering or freshers fairs as you can often get Young Leaders signed up. Get yourself along anywhere where there’s a vocational course – if they’ve got childcare, sports, early years, or an outdoor activity course, those people will want experience to go along with their studies.
People who are looking to adopt or foster children will very often need experience too. Have a conversation with your local authorities to understand how it works – they may only volunteer initially for a certain timeframe but they often come back later when the process is complete.
We’ve tried targeting business professionals as well. We’ve contacted organisations, particularly if they have a staff canteen, and have asked if we can be there over lunchtime with our promotional materials so people can have a ponder while they’re having a meal – we’ll then ask them when they come out if there was anything that interested them.
Find out who the community lead is in a business and tap into the staff room by getting some flyers in there. We were once invited by Tesco to talk to regional managers about why it’s good for their employees to volunteer with us.
What other channels have you used to target these audiences?
Make sure you tap into all the volunteer websites across the county.
I’d recommend you tailor the wording of an advert to a ‘non-Scout’ audience by referring to a Group Scout Leader as a manager of the Scout group – this helps to attract the right people and provides more context about what the role actually is, for people new to Scouts.
If you can get yourself in, volunteer fairs are a fantastic opportunity to recruit volunteers as you’ve got a captive audience. Show that you don’t have to just work with young people and talk about flexible volunteering opportunities. I’ve done lots of these fairs online through the pandemic.
It’s often harder to recruit in rural areas but you need to find where the community hub is; It could be the local shop, the phone box library or even the pub if they have one.
You can add flyers to community notice boards in local supermarkets and coffee shops too (go for an A4 flyer as they’re less likely to be covered by others). Remember to keep revisiting though and make sure your flyer is visible and relevant, removing the ‘out of date’ flyers so people can see yours.
Do you have any other recommendations on the right things to say to people?
I will always talk about them joining a team. Ideally, we’d have 6-8 people per section – some leader’s think that’s too many but really, it’s a team of people who can share the workload and rota themselves on or off. This makes it easier to sell too as it gives people the opportunity to volunteer without making a big commitment.
We emphasise the flexible volunteering model of being part of a large team. We all know life throws you curveballs – if you can’t make it to Scouts, that’s ok; you’re not letting anyone down as you’ve got a team to count on.
Success breeds success. If you’re going to join something, you’re more likely to join a big team because looking in from outside, the workload you’re going to share is going to be a lot less.
Always ask for ‘adults’ to help, not leaders – while we know what that means, most people don’t. The word ‘leader’ can also put people off, as they might feel intimated by it. It’s about how you position things.
Finally, having asked people directly, never pressurise them into signing up as the natural reaction is to say no. Let them take away the information, digest it and come back with questions.
What’s been the most successful tactic for you?
The most successful tactic is always asking people face-to-face. You cannot beat sitting down and having a conversation.
Consider those casual moments, like when you’re queuing for food, and get talking. People love talking about themselves, so find out something about them and then pitch. A Scouts colleague and I were once asked by a Community Beat Officer ‘what we were up to’ – 10 minutes later he had agreed to volunteer at a group close to home. Never miss an opportunity when it presents itself!
We’re not asking for everyone to be leaders – we just need help. I firmly believe everybody can do something. It’s not easy but if we can change the culture of the group so when families join they’ll know they’ll be expected to help in some way, no matter how small, that’ll make a big difference.
We’ve got a single parent with a young child in Beavers, whose job has brought her to Portsmouth and she didn’t really know anyone else. Now that she’s joined us, she’s established a network of adults outside of school and work, so it’s been brilliant. It’s as good for her as it is for her child. It’s all about being a part of a community.
We also all know volunteering can improve your mental health so don’t feel awkward about mentioning this when talking to potential volunteers.
Finally, make the most of the #GoodForYou national recruitment campaign. It’s definitely helped us and enables us to highlight the value of volunteering at Scouts.
Hundreds of people have volunteered during the pandemic in some way and many more have re-evaluated what is important to them. This could be life-changing for them.