The world of volunteering has changed dramatically over the last decade. When I was little, the word volunteer made me think of a nice old lady in a charity shop. Now, volunteer roles are taken up by anyone and everyone, and the sector is far better off for it. However, we still have plenty of work to do in terms of diversity among our volunteers. For example, people in employment are more likely to volunteer than those who are economically inactive, white people are more likely than ethnic minority groups, and people in the South-West of England are more likely than those in the North-East (Source: NCVO).
Diversity in a charitable organisation is so important. First of all, working closely with a group of people from different background, and with different experiences is bound to give you access to a whole range of perspectives, opinions, and ideas. If every person you work with has lived a similar life, then you’re not going to able to look at things from every angle and come up with the best solutions. Additionally, if your volunteers are like a microcosm of the community you are trying to serve, you’re far more likely to be able to understand and, therefore respond to, the needs of the whole community, rather than just the bits you know about.
I also believe that a mixed group of volunteers makes it easier to attract new ones. I know there have been times when I’ve turned up to an event and felt like the odd one out. Maybe I’ve been the only person under 35, or one of the only women – and it doesn’t particularly make me feel like sticking around or coming back. I feel much more comfortable arriving to see a diverse room full of people with different experiences who are coming together because they are all united by wanting to support the same cause.
As well as better serving your community and beneficiaries, working within a diverse group will make the experience better for the volunteers themselves. I recently took an incredible course by Realized Worth about the transformative power of volunteering for the volunteer, and it really opened my eyes to how much it can change your life if done correctly. As part of evolution, humans have evolved to be naturally empathetic, but only towards those who we consider to be part of our ‘inner circle’ – usually either people that we know or people similar to ourselves. However, we do have the capacity to expand that inner circle. The best way to do it is by sharing a meaningful experience with someone, and volunteering together has been shown to be one of the effective methods. Therefore, by volunteering with people who we might not regularly interact with, we’re expanding our inner circles and bringing our communities closer together.
You can also increase the positive impact you’re having as an organisation by targeting groups in your recruitment that would particularly benefit from volunteering. For example, there are studies showing that volunteering can help elderly people to avoid social isolation and to improve their mental and physical health. For refugees and asylum seekers, volunteering is a great way to integrate in the community and start to make friends. For job-seekers, volunteering is a great way to learn new skills and gain some experience to add to their CV. By providing engaging opportunities for groups that can be marginalised, you’re adding value beyond your beneficiaries and your organisation.
Corporate volunteers can also help in this area. Businesses are also part of the community, and forging relationships with the individuals that make up those companies is a great way to open up dialogue between the private and third sectors in your area. Not only that, but you’re gaining access to a whole host of professional skills that could be used to improve your organisation’s operational efficiency and strategic direction.
If you’re looking to improve the diversity of your organisation’s volunteers, a great place to start is with your existing volunteers. First of all, do an audit of who is working with you right now. This will give you an idea of where things stand, and give you an insight into which groups you might be under-representing. If you haven’t been collecting data properly until now, this is a great reason to start! It would also be a good idea to speak to your current volunteers and to find out their opinions on how you’re doing things currently. Find out if diversity is a concern for them, or if they think there might be anything that could be off-putting to a certain group. You could even take it a step further and use your ties to the community to do some market research. By speaking to a mix of different people, you might be able to identify any problems in your current approach and listen to some suggestions on how to overcome them.
Once you’ve established your strengths and weaknesses, you can start to create a policy around diversity and inclusion. It can then become a part of your strategy going forward. Firstly, you can consider diversity when creating new roles. There are plenty of questions to ask yourself – do your existing roles appeal to a wide range of potential volunteers? do you have roles and venues that are accessible to people with disabilities? You should also take diversity into account when thinking about recruitment processes. Think about where you advertise your roles and how. Could you put posters up at community centres or groups that target under-represented groups among your volunteers? Are there any online forums relevant to the volunteers you’re trying to target where you could post opportunities? Could you consider audio, braille, or large print adverts? If you are a national charity, could you invest more resources in areas of the country where volunteering is generally lower? There are countless options depending on what your main priorities are!
I think increasing diversity among your volunteers is a really easy way to maximise the positive impact on everyone involved – your beneficiaries, your volunteers, your organisation, and your community as whole. There are plenty of small steps that can be taken to massively improve things in this area, so what are we waiting for?!
For more information about how thirdbridge could help you find new volunteers, please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.