If you want help finding volunteers for your small to medium size charity or not for profit, you will find this article more than useful. This is especially true if you are recruiting volunteers on a local/regional basis.
Over the last five years, I have been tasked with gaining new volunteer enquiries for charities. As such, this list of the best places for finding volunteers is written from my own insights as a professional marketer. Unlike other theory based resources I’ve come across, this list is tried and tested. It is my hope that the following information will help you find more volunteers: happy hunting!
There are 42 million active social media users here in the UK: that’s 64% of the population (statista.com, January 2017). Whether you are on social media yourself or not, the statistics can’t be ignored. It is very likely that potential volunteers will be using social media. If you are looking for volunteers, you need to put your organisation in front of your audience. The easiest way to do this is to go to the places they frequent and spend their time. This will likely include social media.
It still shocks me the reluctance of some organisations to utilise social media in their volunteering or promotional strategy. Although I understand the perceived negatives, these seem to mainly be due to a lack of understanding. It must be stated that if you are not using social media for your organisation, you are at a disadvantage.
For charities and not for profits finding volunteers locally, focus your efforts on Facebook. In my opinion it is the most important social network to invest your time in for a number of reasons:
- Facebook holds by far the largest market share of all the social network platforms in the United Kingdom – 74.03% (statista.com, April 2017)
- It has a broad demographic of users, especially in comparison to other popular social networking platforms. This makes it a good choice for finding potential volunteers for a variety of causes
- Arguably, it is the least time-consuming to manage
- Facebook allows for you to build and grow a community through creating pages and groups
- By running paid advertising on Facebook you can make the most of their comprehensive targeting options
- You can also run paid advertising on Instagram using the Facebook advertising platform
There are of course other social networks you could also utilise. Twitter is an obvious choice as well as Instagram and also Pinterest. Each platform has it’s own benefits. Your choice of which to use will depend on the demographics and interests of the audience you wish to reach. I recommend making Facebook work for your organisation first and then expanding your strategy to include additional platforms.
Not strictly a place as much as a strategy I know. With that said, referrals will often happen outside of your organisations premises (an undetermined place).
Having your existing volunteers refer their own friends, family and colleagues is always going to be a powerful way of finding new volunteers. We are all social creatures and are hard wired to be influenced by the opinions of others. More specifically, we are influenced by our peers. Simply put – if someone is considering volunteering and their trusted friend recommends your organisation, this recommendation will arguably be much more persuasive than many other forms of advertising.
How To Get More Volunteer Referrals
You can help increase the likelihood of referrals for finding volunteers by devising a referral programme. A basic programme may look like this:
- Define how the referral will be made. The obvious route is a face to face referral i.e. mentioning your organisation over a coffee. However there are many additional options to consider. For example, you could also organise a volunteer open day for friends/family/colleagues of volunteers to attend should they wish to find out more
- Create materials. The materials you will need will be dependent on your volunteer offering. How the referral is to be made will also dictate the materials. At the least you will want to have a pamphlet that informs the reader of what your volunteering opportunity is and why they should become a volunteer
- Pick the best. Who do you want to ask for referrals from? I recommend choosing those you consider to be your best volunteers. This way you can do your best to ensure that the referral you are getting will already be aware of the fulfillments you expect of a volunteer
- Choose a time. You will want to ask your existing volunteers to make a referral for your organisation at an appropriate time in your volunteer life cycle. It is likely that this won’t be during the first time that you meet them. Take a look at your volunteering programme and find key points where your volunteers are most likely to have an enjoyable experience. It is usually much easier to ask for a referral when someone is ‘on a high’
- Track. Put in place a system for tracking how many of your volunteer enquiries are coming from referrals. Measure your successes and adapt accordingly.
“Social Proof is the idea that we can influence the beliefs or behaviours of others by showing that individuals with authority, or that they can relate to, hold this belief or adopt that behaviour.” Bernard Ross, The Power of Social Proof. This is closely related to the psychology of referral strategy. You can use social proof in many ways to encourage volunteers to join your organisation. Here are a few examples:
- Volunteer stories. These could be presented as blog posts containing interviews with existing volunteers or through videos
- Endorsements. Do you have any well known or even famous patrons of your charity or not for profit? Consider asking them to give you a testimonial that encourages volunteering with your organisation
- BIG numbers. One of the regional charities we work with consistently has over 100 volunteers at any one time in the year. We can use this as social proof e.g. ‘discover why over 100 people in your local community choose to volunteer with us’.
Those who have a bad experience with your organisation will be more likely to tell others about their experience than those who have had a positive experience. This is why it is vital that your volunteers have a positive experience with your organisation. Not just so that you can encourage referrals but also so that existing volunteers do not discourage potential volunteers from volunteering with you. As such you will benefit from paying close attention to your volunteers overall experience.
Your Own Website
Your website is the world’s window into your organisation and as such your volunteering opportunities should be on display. A staggering 73% of people in the UK accessed the internet daily last year (The Connected Consumer Survey, Google). As well as finding volunteers yourself, you also need to present your organisation at its best when potential volunteers find you online. Experience shows us that the majority of volunteer enquiries we help acquire are made through the organisation’s website. This is why websites are always a priority our team focuses on when working with voluntary organisations.
Here’s some useful tips for getting more volunteer enquiries from your website:
- Include a section about volunteering on your homepage and have a button that takes visitors to your main volunteering webpage
- Have a dedicated page on your site that encourages volunteering. Include this webpage in your website’s main navigation
- Ensure that the content on your volunteering page is designed to entice viewers to make contact with your organisation
- Include social proof as well as social sharing buttons
- Have a defined action you want your visitor to take on the webpage. How will they become a volunteer? Whether it’s sending a message or calling your phone, include call to actions where appropriate in your content. For example, ‘want to find out more? Call us now on…’
- Track your website visitors behaviour on your website and even more specifically, on your volunteering page
- Use the insights gained from your website tracking software, e.g. Google Analytics, to improve upon the amount of visitors you get to enquire about volunteering.
I debated for some time about whether or not to include this one in the list. Does a search engine count as a place for finding volunteers? Well, yes it does. Think about it – the public is searching for volunteering opportunities using search engines, that’s a fact. Therefore you need to have a presence on the search engine in order for them to find you. Conversely you need to also be listed in the search engine results for you to find them. In my opinion as a marketer, search engines should be included in everyone’s list of places for finding volunteers.
Google dominates search engine usage in the UK with an 85.74% market share (statista.com, April 2017) making it the logical search choice in which to focus your efforts. There are two key ways to find new volunteers using Google:
- Have your website listed in the first page search result list when someone searches for volunteering opportunity related phrases. For example: ‘where can I volunteer near me’ or ‘voluntary work [city name]’. When a search engine user clicks on your website in the listed results we call this organic website traffic.
- Use the Google Adwords platform to display adverts at the top of the search result pages. When a search engine user clicks on your advert in the search result page we call this paid website traffic.
How Do I Get Organic Google Traffic?
In short, you will want your website to rank as close to the top of the first page search result list as possible. This is not an easy undertaking. Google has many factors it takes into account when ranking websites in its search results.
The process of attempting to make a website rank higher in the search results is called search engine optimisation or SEO for short. Despite what some salespeople will allude to, SEO is not an exact science. The reason for this is because Google keeps its method for ranking websites a secret. However, there are some known factors, some that can be trialed and tested and even those we can take an educated guess at. By carrying out SEO and optimising your volunteering webpages, you can influence how well your website ranks on Google, in turn increasing the number of visitors to your website who are interested in becoming volunteers.
Doing a quick bit of keyword research, I’ve found that the keyword phrase ‘voluntary work milton keynes’ is searched for between 11 – 50 times a month on Google in Great Britain. Granted this is not a huge number! However this is just one of many keywords that an organisation could use to optimise their website, particularly if they were recruiting in my hometown of MK. The competition (the difficulty) to rank number one with this keyword phrase is much lower than say ‘voluntary work’ which has 6500 – 9500 monthly searches. Thus I would include this in my report as an option for a small local voluntary organisation to consider.
Some words of warning: speaking with new clients, I know that SEO as an industry has a reputation of broken promises. In my opinion it’s a real shame that the industry is stained by cowboys. The truth is that optimising your website is an ongoing process and as such can be a bottomless pit of expenditure if you are outsourcing the work. I always tell our clients, yes you will benefit from SEO but we need to make sure that the benefits for your organisation are measurable and provide a worthwhile return on investment. If the ROI is not there, then invest in other options. Fortunately there are many, including paid Google traffic.
How Do I Get Paid Google Traffic?
“Google and Facebook will take more than 70% of all money spent on display advertising online in the UK by 2020” (The Guardian, December 2016). This is another handy statistic for charity managers wanting to explain why you are choosing Facebook & Google to a board of trustees.
The Google Adwords platform is used for creating and managing paid advertising in their search results. By advertising with Google you can immediately have your website appear on the top of the first page of the search results. In my professional experience this can often be more cost efficient than SEO. Paid adverts also allow you to easily scale the visibility of your website on Google.
Google offers advertising grants for non-profits and if your organisation is eligible, we highly recommend applying. With a grant your organisation can receive $10,000 of in-kind advertising each month (it’s in provided in dollars, not pound sterling). The grant is quite simply brilliant but there are a few drawbacks. The main limitations we have found are that you can only use text-based adverts with a maximum cost-per-click of $2, the latter being a problem when competitors are bidding higher than $2. With that said, paid adverts on Google are excellent for finding volunteers.
It is likely that there are other websites that receive more visits from potential volunteers than your own. This is okay and to be expected. Their marketing budgets will likely be larger than yours. Websites operating as businesses, for example, invest a great deal of money in gaining traffic to their site.
These websites are not always volunteer related – this is a crucial point. Just because a website is not volunteer related does not mean that potential volunteers for your organisation are not visiting. Gumtree is a good example. It’s all about knowing who your volunteer audience is and the websites they frequent. As with social media platforms, these websites provide an opportunity to put yourself in front of your audience.
How To Find Volunteers On Other Websites
You can utilise other websites for finding volunteers in a variety ways:
- Post volunteering opportunities, including contact details to enable viewers to contact you directly. There are many websites that encourage you to post on their boards. Remember to read their terms and conditions / house rules before posting. If in doubt ask for permission
- Gain visitors to your own website by including a link. When website visitors arrive at your site from another website, this is known as referral traffic
- Advertise on websites using the Google Display Network which can be accessed through Google Adwords (but unfortunately not with the non-profit grant). The display network allows you to place adverts on websites that are relevant to the audience you are targeting. It is worth noting that this is different to paying for banner advertising on individual websites, which I do not recommend.
An excellent example, especially for finding volunteers, is do-it.org where you can create an account and advertise for volunteers for free.
Local Press Coverage
Specifically free local press coverage.
There are demographics within communities that still read printed press i.e. local newspapers and small publications (usually delivered through the letterbox). This is especially true of the actual news articles contained within them. As a charitable or not for profit organisation, it is often possible to get your news into local newspapers and small publications, helping you with finding volunteers as well as raising awareness.
Don’t be discouraged if you do not make it into the publication first time. I’ve personally found that persistence pays and schedule to send news worthy information out on a regular basis. Remember that the emphasis is on gaining free news coverage. In our own experience, paid advertising using this medium is not as effective and there are better options in which to invest your budget.
Remember that if your focus is on finding volunteers, you will want your news coverage to link to your volunteering opportunities in some way. This can be achieved in an obvious manner e.g. ‘We’re looking for volunteers’ or more subtlety e.g. ‘[your name] is celebrating 10 years in [location]’ mentioning volunteering opportunities within the article’s content.
Some More Tips
- Make a list of local publications. Pay close attention to finding those that are distributed in hard to reach areas i.e. villages and hamlets
- Ask yourself, is it press worthy? Try to picture what the headline would be. News is all about story telling. If you do not think your news makes a compelling story, invest your time elsewhere
- Invite reporters. Contact details for local reporters are often listed online. Consider asking them to attend if it is an event related story or…
- Send them the information. Provide enough information for them to report on your story. Include quotes from key figures that they can use to reinforce their article. Take photos (remember they need to be of print quality). Providing photos will likely help tick more boxes for making it into the publication
- Don’t send, send, send. Utilise local press coverage sparingly. It is unlikely that editors will want or have space for an article every week.
I’m mainly talking about schools, colleges and universities. For many voluntary organisations, these institutions will be useful promoting volunteering opportunities and finding volunteers. Depending on the demographics of the volunteers you are searching for, you can aim to:
- Recruit students or staff who attend. There are a variety ways you can do this, as many as your mind can imagine. Here are some ideas to get you started –
- For children’s charities recruiting volunteers with teaching experience: you could consider offering safeguarding training that would benefit their skill set development
- Mentoring organisations recruiting volunteers in the college/university age range: consider approaching the institution and asking if you can distribute information face-to-face, as a pamphlet or even on student radio
- Any charity recruiting volunteers to help with day to day tasks: consider building links with university course leaders and offering placements
- Or recruit family members or even potentially friends of the students or staff who attend. For example, if your volunteer demographics include parents, getting your volunteering opportunity in a school newsletter could be an effective method for finding volunteers.
Not only are students often looking for experience to improve their CVs, young people are a group most likely to volunteer. As this article about fundraising in Civil Society highlights, “young people aged 16 to 24 have increased the time they devote to volunteering, going from being the least to the most active age group in this area over the past 15 years.” (Teenagers twice as likely to have fundraised for good causes as adults, Alice Sharman, 2017).
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning volunteer centres. Community Voluntary Services (CVS) can be found in counties throughout the UK. These local organisations are useful for both those looking to find volunteering opportunities and the voluntary organisations themselves.
Many volunteer centres are very proactive in promoting volunteering. As such, they are often first point of contact for those considering volunteer work. At a basic level, you will want your organisation to be included within your local volunteer centre’s database. Although I haven’t personally worked with volunteer centres, I have been told that some do charge to be included in their database. Below is a map showing some of the volunteer centres and services in the United Kingdom. As you can see there are many!
Ross-Shire Voluntary Action
Aberdeenshire Voluntary Action
Voluntary Action Lochaber
Fife Voluntary Action
Volunteering Matters (Forth Valley)
CVS Falkirk and District
West Dunbartonshire Community & Volunteering Services
Arran Community And Voluntary Service
Stewartry Council Of Voluntary Service
South Tyneside Council For Voluntary Service
Derwentside Council for Voluntary Services & Volunteer Bureau
Chester Le Street & District CVS
Voluntary & Community Action Sunderland
Harrogate & Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service
Lancaster District CVS
Council For Voluntary Service Central Lancashire
Hyndburn & Ribble Valley C V S
Burnley Pendle & Rossendale Council For Voluntary Service
Keighley & District Volunteer Centre
Community Action Bradford & District (Bradford Office)
Volunteer Centre at HARCVS
Hull Community & Voluntary Services Ltd (Hull CVS)
Voluntary Action North Lincolnshire
Voluntary Centre Services West Lindsey
Bassetlaw Community and Voluntary Service (BCVS)
Voluntary Centre Services Lincoln
Voluntary Action Rotherham
Derbyshire Dales CVS
Community Action Bradford & District (Bradford Office)
Volunteer Centre Glossop
C V S Cheshire East
Council for Voluntary Service Rochdale (CVS)
Trafford Volunteer Centre
Salford Community and Voluntary Services
Wigan & Leigh Council For Voluntary Service
Knowsley Council For Voluntary Service
Volunteer Centre Liverpool
Conwy Voluntary Services Council
Community and Voluntary Services
Telford and Wrekin CVS
Support Staffordshire Stafford & District
Lichfield and District Community & Voluntary Sector Support
Voluntary Norfolk, Thetford & District Volunteer Centre
Ely & District Volunteer Centre
HUNTINGDONSHIRE VOLUNTEER CENTRE
Mansfield Community & Voluntary Service
Amber Valley Council For Voluntary Service
Erewash Voluntary Action - CVS
Eastwood Volunteer Bureau
Voluntary Action Broxtowe
Rushcliffe Community Voluntary Service
Newark & Sherwood Community & Voluntary Service
Lincolnshire Community & Voluntary Service
Voluntary Centre Services - North Kesteven
Voluntary Norfolk, Thetford & District Volunteer Centre
Cambridge Council for Voluntary service (CCVS)
Peterborough Council for Voluntary Services
HUNTINGDONSHIRE VOLUNTEER CENTRE
Corby V C S
Wolverhampton Voluntary Sector Council
Dudley Council For Voluntary Service
Pershore Volunteer Centre
Community Voluntary Services Tendring
Braintree District Voluntary Support Agency
Maldon & District Community Voluntary Service
Centre Supporting Voluntary Action
Volunteer Centre (Uttlesford)
C V S for Broxbourne & East Herts
Stevenage Volunteer Centre
The Welwyn Hatfield Community & Voluntary Service (WHCVS)
CVS St Albans
Watford C V S
Volunteer Centre (Royston & District)
Volunteer Centre Bedford
Volunteer Centre Central Bedfordshire
Cherwell Community & Voluntary Service
Evesham Volunteer Centre
Voluntary Action Swindon
Taunton Voluntary Action
Involve Voluntary Action
North Devon Voluntary Services
South Hams Community & Voluntary Service
Exeter CVS & Volunteer Centre
East Devon Volunteers Support Agency
Volunteer Centre Dorset
Poole Volunteer Centre
Southampton Voluntary Services
Volunteer Centre Eastleigh
Voluntary Action Arun & Chichester
Volunteer Centre East Sussex
Mid Sussex (South) CVS
Uckfield Volunteer Centre
Horsham Volunteer Centre
Canterbury & Herne Bay Volunteer Centre
Swale CVS & Volunteer Centre
Medway Voluntary Action
Crawley Community & Voluntary Service
Guildford Volunteer Centre
Voluntary Action Reigate & Banstead
Epsom Volunteer Centre
Voluntary Action Elmbridge and Volunteer Centre Elmbridge
Volunteer Centre Sutton
Croydon Voluntary Action Resource Centre
Volunteer Centre Tower Hamlets
HFVC Hammersmith & Fulham Volunteer Centre
Ealing Volunteer Centre
Barking & Dagenham CVS
Volunteer Centre Kensington and Chelsea
HFVC Hammersmith & Fulham Volunteer Centre
Volunteer Centre Camden
Places We No Longer Invest In For Finding Volunteers
“Between 2000 and 2015, participation rates increased from 39% to 41% for men and from 39% to 42% for women but the average time spent volunteering decreased from 12.3 to 11.3 minutes for men and 16.3 to 15.7 minutes for women.” Changes in the value and division of unpaid volunteering in the UK: 200 to 2015, Office for National Statistics.
Everything changes over time. This includes the public’s attitudes and behaviours towards volunteering, where they choose to spend their time (both on and offline) as well as the media they consume. There are many sources available stating the continued effectiveness of traditional marketing methods e.g. newspaper advertising and leaflet drops. However my own experience with finding volunteers and gaining enquiries does not fit with their findings. When factors such as cost, measurability and scalability are taken into account, we choose to not to invest in a number of marketing methods.
Areas We Avoid
Based on our own knowledge and experiences, we no longer invest our time or budgets in the following areas:
- Paid newspaper adverts
- Paid space in small publications
- Leaflet drops
- Networking events
- Banner advertising and small online directories
Please note that this does not mean that you should not try these methods for yourself. Every organisation and location is unique. You will likely have varying success using a variety of methods depending on your cause and the types of volunteers you wish to find.
Thank you for reading this post, I hope you have found it useful. I’d love to hear your comments, especially If you know of any more useful places. Please feel free to use the comments section below.
PAUL STEPHEN JOHNSON