How to recruit volunteers

:Useful information for arts organisations and charities.

One element of my part-time job with The Reader Organisation has been to recruit volunteers to work as Facilitators in the weekly Read Aloud Groups I’ve established in five (soon six) Wiltshire Libraries.  The groups are specifically for people with dementia, or other illnesses affecting memory,  and their carers.

Challenging economic times.

At the start of the project, the engagement of volunteers was seen as a desirable means of making the enterprise sustainable in these difficult economic times.  But the recruitment of graduate-calibre volunteers, with a passion for literature and (if possible) experience of being with people living with dementia, has been a challenge.  I’m based in a small, semi-rural town, and the libraries are located in five different areas of Wiltshire.  It was always going to take more than fixing a notice in a library window – although that method actually brought in one wonderful volunteer, so don’t discount it!

I recruited ten, high-calibre volunteers within the first year.

Nevertheless, as I near the end of my 18 month contract, there are ten fully trained volunteers in Wiltshire, aged from mid-30s – early 60s, some recently retired, some employed part-time in other jobs, all intelligent, compassionate people committed to remaining as volunteer Facilitators.  Nine of the ten original volunteers are still actively involved in projects.

I’ll outline here some of the methods I’ve used to find them.  The locations of the groups (in four, rising to six, Wiltshire libraries) had already been agreed on before I was hired.

You might find this helpful if you’re working on a similar project for an arts organisation or charity (or both) or considering trying to expand a project by employing volunteers.  Everything outlined below has also helped raise awareness of TRO’s activities, in Wiltshire and beyond.


How I found and recruited volunteers

  • Twitter – One of the first things I did at the start of my short-term contract was to set up a Twitter for the project.  (I wasn’t allowed to set up a dedicated account for ‘Wiltshire’ so it was a ‘South West’ account).  This means that I can reach out to people and organisations as ‘The Reader SW’ rather than as Josephine Corcoran.  Of course, I can retweet tweets from my personal account if I want to, to spread the news further.
  • Hashtags – I use hashtags ie #dementia #memoryloss #volunteers #sharedreading #readaloud #Wiltshire so that people searching Twitter will stand a better chance of finding me.
  • I use Twitter to raise the profile of what we’re doing, to publicise dates and times of groups, and, of course, to attract people who might be interesting in volunteering.
  • Facebook – I didn’t set up a dedicated Facebook page for the project but from time to time I mention it on my personal Facebook page.  Several volunteers have came forward this way.
  • Local Radio – I built up a relationship with BBC Radio Wiltshire on Twitter and was able to secure several interviews.  This helped raise the profile of our groups and brought in some volunteers who heard the coverage.  A friendly approach, some generous RTing and engagement on Twitter followed by an explanatory email, enabled a relationship to build.  I was persistent but not pushy!  I sometimes had to work outside my paid hours to fit in with the journalists’ schedules but it was worth it.
  • Local newspapers – similarly, a photo and short article in local papers attracted group members and volunteers but it does take time to build these kind of relationships.  However, local media outlets want good stories – learn how to explain what you’re doing in a few catchy sentences!
  • Networking and own contacts – I always mention my job when I’m out and about, for instance at poetry readings, workshops and festivals.  I talk to neighbours, friends and relations and hand out flyers if it’s appropriate.
  • Blogging – I’ve written a few articles on this blog about the experience of reading aloud with people who have dementia and memory loss.  A blog provides greater space to explain what your project is actually about.  You can also include suitable images.  The blog piece can then be shared on social media by interested parties, for example charities involved with dementia projects, and project sponsors.  It all helps to spread the word about the project and to gain people’s interest.
  • Volunteer Helpboards/Organisations – I registered our volunteering opportunities with several organisations.  I found that the initial response from the sites I used was slow but people are now beginning to come forward several months after I first advertised the vacancies.
  • Printed materials – posters on site and in suitable locations (in the case of this project, I’ve taken flyers and posters to GP’s surgeries, care homes, organisations for the senior community).
  • A varied approach seems to have worked best.  Sometimes my attempts at publicising the project and reaching out to volunteers have attracted people from outside the geographical area I’m working in.  So it’s likely my efforts will have a longer term, more far-reaching benefit for The Reader Organisation even after I’ve left.  This is a satisfying thought.

That’s covered most of what I’ve done!  I hope it’s helpful in some way.  Get in touch with any questions/thoughts about anything mentioned here or with your own suggestions.

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