The importance of etiquette in volunteer recruitment

People in a meeting

The importance of etiquette and best practice in the recruitment of volunteers has been a long overlooked feature of volunteering, despite its importance, not only to the individual volunteers and charities but to the sector at large. As a specialist in trustee and volunteer recruitment, etiquette is an issue I see often and it is one which I believe has a bigger impact on the spirit of volunteerism than many might suspect.

I’m sure that most people would agree that volunteers are the lifeblood of the charity sector and that without them the majority of charities would flounder or run aground completely. Why is it then that every week my colleagues and I find ourselves consoling extremely capable and highly-experienced, prospective volunteers following a negative experience regarding a volunteer recruitment process?

The most common cause of disgruntlement among many aspiring volunteers stems from a simple lack of communication: a volunteer has applied for a role and simply never heard back. Often the case is slightly more personal however. For example, I have spoken to many volunteers who have been acknowledged by the recruiting organisation, who have discussed the role on the phone and, in many cases, have even been interviewed for the role. Imagine then, after this investment of time and energy, how a prospective volunteer might feel if they were simply forgotten about?

The knock-on effects of poor communication with applicants to a voluntary role are further-reaching than you might think. At best, the charity sector’s competence has been undermined and the organisation concerned suffers negatively as a result of word-of-mouth interactions within the volunteer community. At worst, the sector at large may have lost a valuable asset: someone who desires to contribute their free time and energy to a good cause has been irrevocably dissuaded from volunteering.

As an intermediary between volunteers and charities, we at Reach are often on the front line of such grievances and are left apologising on behalf of charities for having been left hanging by an organisation they were excited to contribute to. This is a sad state of affairs, particularly when you consider that many volunteers are reaching out to the sector in the hope of contributing their valuable spare time in aid of a cause they genuinely care about.

Many such people who have been treated with indifference or left in the cold during a volunteer recruitment process feel jaded, their good intentions and willingness to offer their time and expertise having been spurned. In many cases, not only has their confidence in the organisation concerned been shaken but their faith in the charity sector at large has been undermined and, in many cases, their appetite to volunteer is significantly diminished or gone altogether. It’s completely understandable. It is also completely avoidable.

Communication is nine-tenths of the law in any recruitment process and this is no less the case when it comes to volunteers. Whether you’re working toward appointing new trustees, skilled professionals to bolster your organisation’s infrastructure or you’re looking for the next Great British Bake-Off finalist to raise some valuable funds, the need for clear communication and an acknowledgment of the volunteers’ generous offer to help is not just essential, it’s good manners.

Bearing this in mind, it’s worth considering a few easy steps any organisation can take to ensure that their recruitment process is as considerate and empathetic as the volunteers who are offering their expertise and time:

  1. Acknowledge every application: all this takes is a standard email template which can be sent out to all applicants. This should thank the volunteer for their interest in the opportunity and inform them of the time-frame to which the recruitment process is working. It should also give them an indication of when they are likely to hear back from the organisation. Often, volunteers won’t mind waiting awhile as long as they know when they can expect to hear back.
  2. Update all applicants regarding short-listing: once you have chosen a number of applicants who you would like to take forward you will undoubtedly let them know, however, don’t forget those that were not successful. Again, a brief and grateful email acknowledging their offer of support is a gracious way of wrapping up loose ends as well as retaining the interest of those you would like to interview.
  3. Post Interview/meeting correspondence: Once a volunteer has visited your premises or spent some time on the phone with the recruiting parties, make sure you follow up with a “Thank You” and let them know your decision in a timely fashion. This also helps keep the door open should you require the future support of a candidate who was not successful but ultimately a good connection and potentially an asset to the organisation in a different capacity.

It’s worth remembering that the sector relies of the good will, passion, expertise and experience of our volunteers and, as fellow charities, it’s essential that we consider the bigger picture when it comes to the gracious and grateful handling of those people who make our work possible. By fostering positive interactions with prospective volunteers, we enable their transition to other charities in the future and reinforce the positive spirit of volunteerism across the entire sector.

Volunteering is itself the perfect metaphor for this approach as it embodies that essence of good will that underpins the invaluable work that the sector contributes, reminding us that we are indeed all in it together.

For more guidance around working with volunteers, visit our new Knowledge Centre.

Luke heads up Reach’s TrusteeWorks team
November 4th, 2015 by