Volunteers are an incredibly valuable resource and the majority of projects rely heavily on their good will and commitment to help deliver. However in a world of competing demands how can heritage projects enthuse, engage and retain volunteers?
Last year we hosted an informative live chat on what to consider when recruiting, managing and supporting volunteers but it is still a question that comes up a lot when we talk to groups.
We have guidance on good practice in relation to volunteering but there are some great examples of projects that have successfully recruited and maintained their volunteer workforce. We asked one of these projects, the RSPB Saving Marshlands Wetland heritage and wildlife, to contribute a blog on their experiences.
However we would love to hear about how your projects are managing, any problems you are facing or top tips for working with volunteers? As a volunteer what makes you want to get involved with a project and what makes you stay?
Recruiting volunteers is certainly a challenge for lots of volunteer involving organisations! I think the key to great volunteer recruitment and retention is to get the quality of the voluntering opportunity right from the very start. If you have an exciting, meaningful and engaging volunteering role then you can inspire people to come and give their time to support you. But the work doesnt stop there! Take the time to understand your volunteers' motivations and accept that these may change over time. If you can allow some flexibility so that your volunteer roles can respond to this then you are more likely to be able to retain people. Providing a good experience for volunters is important. If you are able to provide a good volunteer experience then volunteers are more likely to stay and perhaps even encourage others to join them.
Word of mouth, as Pete identifies in his blog, is a very important way in which volunteers find out about opportunities and are recruited. But what often happens is that volunteers recruit other people just like them so it can limit the diversity of people that volunteer for your organisation. So think about using a range of ways to reach a large audience with the skills and experience you're looking for.
You should also think about the variety of roles you offer. Jarina in my team recently explored this in her blog about how a variety of roles can help your volunteering have broad appeal.
That's my take on a few tips but NCVO also has a number of free resources to help with recruitment and retention. There's also a number of case studies where you can hear from NCVO members and others.
Looking forward to reading other people's thoughts and tips on this challenge!
Over the past few years, Museum Development Yorkshire has supported a number of organisations to review and revise their approach to working with volunteers. Quite often we hear that museums struggle to attract volunteers or have difficulty retaining them.
Whilst not a panacea, we have found it useful to work with museums to articulate what being a volunteer involves and also to think broadly about how they recruit. Some organisations have seen quite significant changes in response rates when they refresh role descriptions for volunteers and develop descriptors for particular functions. In some instances people did not volunteer as they were unaware that their skills were needed. Other organisations have taken to using open advertisments rather than closed exercises. This can change the profile and diversity of the organisation, bringing in new enthusiasm and ideas. It also means that organisations have to think carefully about the needs of their volunteers in terms of both the opportunities offered and how people are nurtured once recruited.