Removing the barriers to Volunteering

What does volunteering mean?

Volunteering occurs in many cultures, but is often performed differently from culture to culture. In Britain we have developed a great number of community-based groups or organisations focusing on volunteer activities. This phenomenon may not be representative of other societies and cultures where extended family groupings, religious groups or organisations, and government may play greater roles. Many people give a significant amount of time to help others and support their community but do not recognise this as volunteering.

Society is constantly changing. People's availability to volunteer and their motivations are varied. The challenge for voluntary groups and organisations in an increasingly diverse population is to provide opportunities that appeal to and engage with people from as wide a range of backgrounds and lifestyles as possible.

We need to consider how we present 'volunteering' in order to reach a wide audience. Phrases such as 'helping out' or 'getting involved in your community' may be more easily understood.

Removing barriers to volunteering

It is important to consider whether your organisation may (perhaps unwittingly) be creating barriers to some people getting involved.

Organisations that are successful in attracting volunteers often under-represented in formal volunteering (for example younger people, older people, unemployed people, disabled people and people from black and minority ethnic communities) adopt a range of approaches, including:

  • Paying out-of-pocket expenses
  • Offering a variety of different types of volunteering opportunities requiring various levels of skill and commitment
  • Organising transport where necessary
  • Ensuring that buildings have full disabled access
  • Making it clear in recruitment literature that volunteering is open to all
  • Targeting recruitment campaigns at specific under-represented groups
  • Adopting non-rejection policies for people who want to volunteer and linking volunteers into alternative opportunities
  • Adapting roles to suit individual volunteers' needs
  • Employing a diverse paid staff group, thereby illustrating to potential volunteers that the organisation is committed to equal opportunities
  • Providing appropriate training and support
  • Minimising the amount of form filling and bureaucracy directly involving volunteers

Promoting diversity

Consider how you promote your organisation as inclusive and welcoming to all. Use words and images that convey diversity while reflecting your ethos and activities. Advertise opportunities to volunteer as widely as possible using a variety of means such as leaflets, posters, Volunteering Development Agencies, internet-based social networking sites and local media.

Ensure that all policies and procedures incorporate diversity, are relevant, easy to understand and simple to put into practice.

You may want to use a Diversity Statement such as the example below, which is suitable for a small organisation. It is important, however, that you understand what this means in practice and act on it - otherwise the words are merely empty and well meaning. For example, ask yourselves:

  • How are differing ideas heard and valued? 
  • What do we do to facilitate this?
  • What examples can we give where ideas have been acted upon?

Sample Diversity Statement 

Our organisation is firmly committed to diversity in all areas of our work. We believe that we have much to learn and profit from diverse cultures and perspectives, and that diversity will make our organisation more effective in meeting the needs of our stakeholders.

We are committed to developing and maintaining an organisation in which differing ideas, abilities, backgrounds and needs are fostered and valued, and where those with diverse backgrounds and experiences are able to participate and contribute. We will regularly monitor our progress towards diversity.

Taken from 'Pass It On: A good practice guide for volunteer centres' – Volunteering England 2007