People planting a tree

EVM1 Recruiting and Retaining Volunteers

You are here

The resources found in this module can be used in any kind of training that you would like to adapt them for -  a formal training course, informal gathering, workshop, meeting, open day, on site demonstration, online training or any other opportunity for people to learn  about recruiting and retaining volunteers. There is no copyright.

EVM1 Module Content

The precise content of your learning or training will, of course depend on your circumstances. Whether you are in a large organisation or in a small community group, for example. Nonetheless, there are some common themes. These include the following:

The way you use the resources will, obviously, depend on your audience, their situation and what, specifically, they want to achieve. The resources have been created by people working in medium to large organisations and reflect the context and culture of those organisations.  To help you adapt them for your needs a summary of the contents describes what is available and points to some key references that the people who developed the resources found particularly helpful for developing their knowledge of the subject

After delivering the training, please share material, case studies, open a discussion or leave anything you think can be useful for other to know. By enriching this online platform you will contribute to develop a common learning resource for the sector and to expand the infrastructure of support for environmental volunteering organizations and community groups. “Sharing resources tab” at the bottom of this page.

Designing a programme

Having digested the literature and, maybe, talked to your local volunteer centre or one of the partners in the capacity building project, you'll be well placed to start designing your training.

Some organisations such as Woodland Trust, National Trust and TCV have created workbooks for people to work through as part of their training. These seem to provide a good framework for the step by step approach that is needed in volunteer recruitment and help people work through those steps in relation to their own situation. They also provide a good structure for any training so that you could adapt one to suit the needs of your audience and then work through it with them – either all in one go or section by section over a number of sessions and either face to face or over the phone or online or some combination of all three, perhaps using yammer or dropbox to share work. Such a scenario would be appropriate whether you were training one person or a group.

One way to start a course is to give people an opportunity to reflect on their reasons for involving volunteers and those volunteers' likely motivations. Examples are plentiful in the literature. 

Then they tend to work in chronological order through the recruitment steps, incorporating any specific group or organisation policies and procedures as they go.

The following paragraphs outline the key points to explore with people in each of the main themes along with some training ideas.

If you have a day or two you can go into quite a bit of detail. If you only have an hour or two, you'll probably need to focus on one or two aspects and/or stick to what needs to be done without a lot of detail on how to do it.

Identifying and describing what you want volunteers to do

Context – vision and strategy

Steve McCurley, Rick Lynch and Rob Jackson tell some wonderful stories in Chapter 2 of The Complete VM handbook. Each describes a different group of people overcoming limitations and transforming its concept of volunteering by ambitious thinking about what the group really wants to achieve. Why you exist as a group or organisation, how you see the future and what you think you can achieve set the parameters for your involvement of volunteers. It stands to reason that the more ambitious and exciting your goals, the more ambitious and excited your volunteers will be – as long as you have a decent plan for reaching those goals.

One way to approach this in training could be to introduce the concepts of purpose, vision, mission and strategy and then get people to draw a picture of how they want things to be in 3 or 5 years time including relationships with various influential bodies. Then, if time allows, get people to draw a timeline back to now and sketch out the milestones between here and there. 

Alternatively, if you are working with an organisation that already has clear vision and strategy, perhaps ask people to reflect on how that vision and strategy include volunteers. (See CVMH page 49 and Chapter 3.)

Key questions to ask to identify potential volunter roles and key people to ask them

One possible set of questions is listed in the TCV workbook, which itself borrows heavily from McCurley and Lynch. It's obviously helpful to involve the people who will be working with the volunteers in identifying volunteer roles

Turning the role into something really interesting

The CVMH is particularly gripping on this point with a whole chapter devoted to creating motivating volunteer roles.

Checking that you have the wherewithal to look after them

What resources will you need to equip, transport, train and support the volunteers you hope to recruit and have you got them? The TCV workbook provides a possible checklist.

Communicating the volunteer opportunities to potential volunteers

Different types of recruitment

If someone is looking to recruit a lot of people for a short period their approach will be different from that of someone looking for an individual with specific skills for a longer time.

The different approaches are well covered in the literature. See, for example, TCVMH chaper … The RSPB's list, Where to recruit volunteers-1.doc, is very comprehensive.

Welcoming diversity

The National Trust's, … gives some good pointers and a couple of lovely stories. Asking people to imagine belonging to groups different from their own based on protected characteristics such as age, colour and disability and approaching their organisation in that different identity can prompt some thoughtful discussion. It can also be very helpful to focus on the benefits of welcoming diversity.

There is a wealth of information on welcoming diversity. Voluntering England have a section on the resources area of their website devoted to encouraging diversity.

The website Understanding Prejudice provides a fascinating opportunity to reflect on unconscious bias.

Phrasing your recruitment message

There are some great examples in the CVMH, some of which are repeated in the TCV slides. The NT's section on ALDA in Working with Volunteers – Advanced Module - Recruitment, Selection and Induction of Volunteers Participant's Workbook looks very useful.

Dealing with applications and placing those who want to help

Creating a selection process appropriate to the situation, interviews, differences between staff and volunteer recruitment are some of the key elements that it is vital to address.

Introducing volunteers to the group and making them feel part of the team

NT Volunteer journey exercise could be an excellent way of bringing alive the importance of good induction and inclusion in the team.

Subject Resources

Woodland Trust

Effective Volunteer Management Programme Workbook
A workbook designed to support the learning of participants in a Woodland Trust training programme entitled, Effective Volunteer Manager Programme 2013, which focuses on leadership and management skills associated with retention of volunteers rather than their recruitment. click here to see the content summary.

National Trust

The Conservation Volunteers

National Parks

Involving Volunteers: scheme of work new staff
A half-day course outline aimed at new staff

Involving vols: scheme of work Exp Staff
A one-day course outline aimed at experienced staff



Each of these themes is addressed in detail in the following books and on the following websites.

The Complete Volunteer Management Handbook, Steve McCurley, Rick Lynch and Rob Jackson. Published by DSC in association with Volunteering England. 3rd edition 2012 Especially relevant to recruitment are chapters 4 through 7 plus pages 443 to 456 for tips on using the internet.

If that's too pricey for your budget, you may be able to get hold of a copy of Essential Volunteer Management by Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch. This was incorporated into the handbook in 1994. It had very similar chapters on recruitment and retention but without the internet tips.

Recruiting Volunteers by Fraser Dyer and Ursula Jost, published by Directory of Social Change, updated 2013, price £16.95 (older versions from £0.01 on amazon)

The Induction Toolkit by Lesley Myland – has lots of good ideas for training Induction Trainers and training Induction Buddies; has targeted needs checklists for young people, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities;  has ideas for induction methods (Note: Amazon are selling this new in hardcover for £293 and used for £65, which seems to indicate it may be out of print)

Recruiting, Retaining and Developing Disabled Volunteers - Guidance for Volunteer Opportunity Providers by Disability Rights Commission (now absorbed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission)

Volunteering England produce a range of free resources, some of which are available only to members. They have a 'core theme' devoted to recruitment and another whole theme section devoted to 'Encouraging diversity'.