logo: Volunteers' Week 1-7 June

Are you thinking of recruiting Volunteers?

It’s a fact of life that the countryside sector needs a vast army of volunteers to help keep everything ticking over and CJS advertises hundreds of voluntary roles, over 400 adverts were published in 2023. Whilst it might seem the perfect fix to a perpetual problem of needing more hands but no available funds there is actually more to it than handing out jobs without impacting your budget. Volunteers still require the same health and safety, insurance and risk assessments as regular paid staff, and no matter how willing they may be, you'll probably discover that they often need more training not to mention much more mentoring and oversight over a longer period of time.  

Alan Murray, Director AVM and Head of Volunteering at RSPB: It might seem obvious to say but volunteers are people just like all your paid staff and in all instances, they need (and indeed expect) leadership, management, and support to succeed in their volunteering– just like the paid workforce.


Are you actually allowed to use voluntary help?

Probably not something many people consider but there are some legal implications too. Only certain organisations are legally permitted to use voluntary help, broadly classed as: charity, voluntary organisation, or statutory body, which if you think about it does covers the majority of main employers across the sector but it’s still worth checking. There are other exemptions e.g. experience as part of an educational course.

When is a volunteer not a volunteer? Asks Lynn Crowe, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Management, Sheffield Hallam University. For many years, I have regularly (and probably rather tediously) expressed concern about the practice of many environmental charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) employing people in unpaid `voluntary` positions which are clearly full-time jobs.

What will your volunteers do?

So, you're sure you're ready for volunteers and you can recruit.

Now be honest: what are these people going to do? The easiest way to do this is to write a job description. And how long is all of that going to take, think about how much time you'll take to complete everything and then double it! You know how to do this but your new volunteers won't, although they will get faster as they become familiar with what's needed unless they're doing the tasks required on a day to day basis they'll take more time than you imagine.

And what skills do they need?

What skills do they need? Again, think of it as a regular recruitment and have your lists of essential and desirable qualifications, skills and experience. Start off rigid in your expectation and then go through again: what skills are there in there that you can train in house (or send out on a course for), do they really need that much experience?

Then be brutally honest about your final "job description". Is this really a job or a voluntary role? Would YOU do this as a volunteer? Even for just one day a month? If you answer no to either of these questions then it's back to the drawing board, can you cut this into smaller more digestible pieces or do you need to go cap in hand to the Finance Team and beg, borrow (or steal) an employee?

As NCVO say: If it looks like work and sounds like work, then it probably is.

You're almost ready to recruit but what can you offer in return?

And maybe even more importantly what do you need to offer? These are distinctly different. You may need to offer a uniform, PPE, essential safety training e.g. first aid or training to align with organisational requirements e.g. the language used in presentations, how to use the equipment: from driving the company vehicles to assembling collapsible stands at exhibitions. What rewards and thanks you offer to a volunteer could range from expenses to baked potatoes! This is highly dependent on what your volunteers are doing, if you have a work party out hedge laying in the winter a bonfire (of the lop and top) with fresh bonfire baked potatoes and gooey chocolate cake is perfect, however if it's remote work cataloguing files, identifying photographs or samples then buying and supplying specialist software might be more appropriate. If you are offering a longer term placement then as much accredited training as you can provide is very welcome.

Say thank you

One thing for all volunteers regardless of what they're doing is that their contribution, however small, is acknowledged.

Our volunteers tell us that they offer their time because they believe in the work of the Trust, they work hard and want feedback about how their efforts benefit wildlife - BBOWT

Time to recruit.

You've looked at it all ways round and this is suitable for a voluntary role and you really do have capacity for volunteers.

How do you recruit them?

First thing is to consider your volunteer requirements. Are you looking for a long term commitment, how many days / hours do you need? Would it be better to have a big group of occasional volunteers?

If it's a big group of occasional (few hours, one or two days a month) volunteers then the best way is to advertise locally, look at putting your requirements on local facebook pages, even the good old fashioned poster in a visitor centre is still a good way to recruit a large cohort of keen people to help out once or twice a week.

logo: CJS Volunteers

For a more 'job-like' placement type voluntary role then the more usual recruitment streams may be the place, so send it to CJS! It’s free (of course).

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