How to Recruit and Welcome Volunteers

Recruiting and welcoming volunteers is not dissimilar to recruiting and orienting staff, but, unlike paid staff, volunteers have no reason to stay if they do not enjoy their work.

This means that it’s crucial that you recruit the right volunteer and welcome them in a way that sets them up to engage with your organisation and succeed.

Who is this guide for?

This guide is useful for any organisation that is considering either involving volunteers for the first time or evaluating how it welcomes volunteers.

How to use this guide

This guide assumes that you have already planned to involve volunteers.

If you have not already gone through a process of planning for volunteer involvement, please read our Involving Volunteers: Background and Planning guide.

Recruiting volunteers does not require any specialist knowledge. Mainly, you need common sense and the ability to put yourself in the position of a volunteer and ask yourself how you would you like to be treated.

This guide aims to give you simple guidelines and practical information so that your organisation can plan for successful volunteer involvement.

1. Are you Ready to Start Recruiting Volunteers?

Before you start recruiting and welcoming volunteers, you should make sure that:

    • You know what makes a volunteer different from other types of unpaid workers
    • You have had a discussion with your organisation’s leadership about how volunteers will fit into your group’s structure and mission
    • You have a rough idea of what you want volunteers to do
    • Your group has the organisational capacity to manage and support volunteers
    • You have considered how you’ll make your organisation appealing to volunteers
    • You know what motivates people to volunteer
    • You have an idea of the laws which apply to volunteers and how they might affect your organisation
    • Your group has an involving volunteers plan or policy

If you don’t have all of the above, please read our Involving Volunteers: Background and Planning Guide.

You’re also welcome to contact us for advice and support.

2. Developing a Volunteer Role Description

Having clear role descriptions will help keep your volunteers focused and motivated. Clear role descriptions are also key to volunteer recruitment.

Make your roles appealing

Volunteering roles that are boring are unlikely to attract or retain volunteers, so you should be flexible when you decide on roles. You’re more likely to attract volunteers if the roles you create are built on what might motivate, challenge and reward your volunteers.

To get started, list all the tasks you want volunteers to do. You can then group these tasks in to roles. Remember, writing a volunteer role description is a flexible process. In some cases you may want to amend or even create a new role description for a volunteer.

All role descriptions should include:

Benefits for the volunteer

What will this role offer to the volunteer? Be sure to list benefits that might motivate people to take part.

Information about your organisation

This should include the organisation’s aims, objectives, mission statement if you have one, a brief description of what you do and details of who you help.

Role title

The role should have a title which sums up what the volunteer will be doing. For example ‘befriender’, ‘mentor’ or ‘office assistant’.

Tasks and responsibilities

List all the tasks and responsibilities that the volunteer will be asked to undertake. If the volunteer will have a choice of which tasks they do, or if it will depend on their skills or experience, make this clear.


Where will the volunteer usually be based? If volunteers will work in the community, state what the geographical limits of the role and whether volunteers can choose to be placed close to home.


Give an indication of how much time this role will take. If you need volunteers to be available on specific days and times, say so. If the hours are flexible, what are the limits of this flexibility? If you are asking for long term commitment you can say so, but be aware that this will not be legally binding for the volunteer.

Skills and attributes required

Recruiting volunteers tends to be inclusive rather than competitively selective so only include skills and experience that are really necessary for the role.

Try to avoid including personal qualities or personality traits as these are subjective and can be off-putting. If you must include them, try to phrase them in a way that relates directly to the role. For example, if the role involves telling lots of people about your organisation’s work, you might say ‘able to speak confidently with a wide range of people’ rather than ‘bubbly and outgoing’.

Other restrictions

If there are other restrictions on what kinds of volunteers you will accept – such as age restrictions or a need for male or female volunteers – this is the place to say so.

When imposing restrictions, you need to explain why they’re being imposed. You also need to be sure that they are essential to the role.

Restrictions cannot be discriminatory or based on stereotypes about certain kinds of people. If anti-discrimination legislation would prevent you from stating the restrictions you’re considering in a job advertisement, you shouldn’t include them in a volunteer role description either.

3. Marketing Volunteering Opportunities

Once you have your volunteer roles descriptions set, there are a variety of ways you can advertise your opportunities. The options below will help to reach as many parts of the community as possible.

Advertise with VAL

We can advertise your volunteer opportunities online, in our volunteering newsletters and at our volunteering drop ins.

Social Media

You can use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to recruit volunteers.

Advertise in the community

Advertising opportunities in the community include local publications, shop windows, libraries, universities and local media.

Your website

It’s always a good idea to have a section on your website listing volunteer vacancies.

4. Successful First Contact with Volunteers

Once you’ve started advertising your opportunities, you’ll start receiving responses from volunteers. How you respond to those enquiries is essential.

From the volunteer’s point of view, they’re offering you a gift – their time for nothing – so if you’re slow to respond, unenthusiastic or unwelcoming you risk seeming ungrateful.

Volunteer vs. employee communications

When responding to volunteer queries, you should bear the difference in mind between recruiting volunteers and recruiting paid staff. Applying for a job is a competitive process for the applicants. There is a deadline, several applicants and the recruitment process aims to choose the most suitable candidate and reject the others.

For volunteer recruitment, this is not generally the case. The process usually aims to include as many volunteers as possible rather than to exclude all but one successful candidate.

In fact, when recruiting volunteers the competition is often the opposite of recruiting staff. A volunteer may apply to more than one organisation and select the group that they like best.

Top tips for responding to volunteer queries

  • You need to respond quickly to any expression of interest from a volunteer. If there is a delay in response, apologise and explain why you didn’t reply immediately.
  • Initial contact needs to be friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic.
  • The person responding to volunteers needs to be well informed, approachable, able to answer questions and prepared to tell volunteers what will happen next.
  • Answer all volunteer questions fully and give volunteers all the information they need to make an informed decision. Your goal is to give the volunteers the opportunity to get involved or move on if the role is not right for them. It may be best to do this in person or over the telephone rather than sending written information so that volunteers will have the opportunity to ask questions.
  • Explain any screening and selection procedures (e.g. references or DBS checks) what is involved, what information will be needed and why you need to screen volunteers.
  • Remember, first contact is your first impression. Make sure it leaves the volunteer feeling welcomed and enthusiastic about your organisation.

5. The Importance of Selection and Screening

Every year thousands of people volunteer. Almost without exception these volunteers are keen to give up their time and efforts simply because it helps others. However, just because most volunteers act altruistically doesn’t mean that volunteers don’t need to be screened.

Lack of care in accepting volunteers can lead to dissatisfaction and disappointment for both the volunteer and your organisation. In a very small number of cases, lack of care in selection could lead to serious danger for service users.

Good selection procedures recognise that the vast majority of volunteers deserve our best efforts to find suitable opportunities for them while also protecting vulnerable people.

Record keeping

However informal or short-term the volunteer opportunity, you should keep a record of:

    • The volunteer’s name and address with proof of identity
    • Contact details
    • Details of their next-of-kin or an emergency contact
    • Information about any medical conditions or allergies which a volunteer’s manager or colleagues might need to know about
    • Screening and selection tools

The next sections of this guide explain the tools you should use to screen and select volunteers. These are:

    • Registration forms
    • Interviews
    • References
    • Criminal records and DBS checks

6. Volunteer Registration Forms

You should ask a volunteer to complete a basic application form.

If this process feels too much like a formal job application it may put volunteers off so be sure to stress that the form is just to collect information. You may also want to let volunteers know that you can help them complete the form if needed.

The form gives potential volunteers an opportunity to tell you something about themselves, their reasons for volunteering and provide you with a basic personnel record.

7. Interviewing Volunteers

When interviewing volunteers, you need to get the right balance between professionalism and informality. The interview should give the volunteer confidence that your organisation is efficient and well organised without intimidating them.

How formal your interview is depends on your group. If the role is demanding and involves significant responsibility, you may want a more formal process. If the role is more casual you may want to keep it informal and call the interview a ‘visit’ or ‘chat’.

Either way, before the interview, you should let the volunteer know what to expect and allay any fears they might have.

The benefits of interviewing volunteers

There are a number of reasons why organisations find it beneficial to interview potential volunteers. These include:

    • The opportunity to explain more about the work of your organisation and how volunteers fit into your work.
    • The opportunity to assess the suitability of the volunteer and ensure they have the skills and qualities required for the role. If they don’t, the interview gives you the opportunity to match the volunteer with a more suitable role.
    • Ensuring that all volunteers are given the same opportunity to find out about the role and to demonstrate their suitability.
    • The chance to fully explain your induction process, probationary period if you have one and anything else which volunteers need to know before they offer their time.
    • Planning an interview
    • Planning is key to making sure that you gather the information you need at interview and that your interview gives the volunteer the right impression.

You should:

    • Make sure that all staff knows that a potential volunteer is coming and ensure that someone is available to welcome them.
    • Have any background information to hand as the volunteer may ask questions.
    • Draw up a list of questions in advance based on the volunteer role description. Using the same questions at each interview helps create fairness, but feel free to probe. Remember, the interview is your main selection tool.
    • Use open questions. As an interviewer you should be doing more listening than talking.
    • If you are interviewing several volunteers, you may need to take notes. Note taking is less intimidating if you explain to the volunteer why you are making notes.
    • If you are not going to make a decision during the interview, tell the volunteer when you will let them know about the outcome and whether they can get feedback on their interview.
    • The aim of the interview is to match the right person with the task. You should find out what motivates each volunteer you interview and then match them to a suitable opportunity.
    • Give the volunteer an opportunity to ‘self-select’, i.e. to reject the task if they feel it is not right for them.

8. References

It’s good practice to get some form of reference before welcoming a volunteer. Some organisations ask for all references in writing, others prefer telephone references.

What should references include?

You should ask the referee:

    • How they know the prospective volunteer
    • For how long they’ve known the prospective volunteer
    • Questions relating to the prospective volunteer’s role and the skills that role requires
    • Whether they would have any concerns or doubts about offering the person this role

Try to ask referees specific questions. These types of questions make it harder for a referee to conceal any doubts or concerns.

For both for practical and equal opportunities reasons, you should make a checklist of questions to ask and to keep a written record of points raised when carrying out telephone references.

Challenges around references

Some volunteers may find it difficult to suggest a referee, particularly if they assume you expect an employment reference. This is especially true in cases where volunteers have been ill, out of paid work for a while or have recently arrived in the UK.

You may want to suggest alternatives to employment references. These include referees such as teachers, social workers, health professionals, probation officers or neighbours.

You should also always follow up on written references provided by a prospective volunteer as such references are open to forgery.

9. Criminal Records and DBS checks

Outright rejection of all ex-offenders narrows the available volunteer base and the human potential on offer to your organisation. It can also put people with offences off offering to volunteer.

Should you welcome volunteers with criminal records?

About a third of males have a criminal conviction of some kind. Few of them will have ulterior motives for wanting to volunteer and there is no evidence to suggest that a volunteer with a criminal record is any more likely to offend than any other volunteer.

It’s considered good practice to only disqualify a volunteer if their conviction is relevant to their volunteering or they appear unremorseful. Your procedures shouldn’t exclude applications from volunteers who may have committed minor or irrelevant offences, or whose offences were many years ago.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to welcome a volunteer with a criminal record is at your discretion. If someone committed has a criminal record it is your duty of care to decide whether that is material to you now.

DBS checks

DBS checks do not in themselves guarantee the safety of your users – they only identify people who have been caught in the past. As a result, DBS checks should be used as one tool in a safety culture that takes steps to minimise risk and which gives staff, volunteers and users the confidence to raise concerns.

If concerns are raised, you should take them seriously and deal with them swiftly and effectively.

Learn more about DBS checks and the Independent Safeguarding Authority

10. Accepting or Rejecting a Volunteer

Once you’ve gone through a selection process, it’s time to accept or reject a volunteer.

Saying no

You don’t have to involve every volunteer who expresses an interest in getting involved. You may not have space for a prospective volunteer or there may be a good reason why you think they would not be suitable for the role.

If you don’t want to welcome an interested volunteer, it may be tempting just to avoid the issue and hope that the volunteer will lose interest. Tempting as it may be, this gives a bad image of your organisation and of volunteering in general.

The best way forward when it comes to saying no is to let the volunteer know about your decision promptly and explain why.

Let them know that you appreciate their offer and be as honest as you can about why they aren’t suitable for the role. It’s important to handle this sensitively. Think of how upsetting it is to be rejected after a job interview and how much upsetting it would be if you were offering to work for no pay.

If possible, suggest another organisation that might be more suitable. You can also refer them to us for support in finding a more suitable role.

Welcoming a volunteer

Saying ‘yes’ to a volunteer is a key moment that marks the beginning of a long and happy association. Seize the moment and welcome them with enthusiasm. Be sure to clearly state what will happen next so their expectations are managed.

11. Volunteer Induction

All volunteers will need an induction into your organisation. Some groups call this process an orientation, but we’ll refer to it as an induction in this guide.

Why is induction important?

Induction gives you the ability to explain how, why and where you operate, where the volunteer fits in and what will be expected of them.

The goal of your induction is to give volunteers the background and practical knowledge they need to understand their contribution. Induction also shows new volunteers that they are a welcome addition to the team.

Planning your induction

To assess what induction a volunteer will need, ask yourself:

    • What information does the volunteer need to carry out their role?
    • What skills does the volunteer need to complete the tasks assigned to them?
    • What attitudes or approaches does a volunteer need to be successful?
    • Plan your induction around providing this information.

Your induction should also aim to answer the four key questions volunteers tend to have at the start of a role. These are:

    • Why should I volunteer here? What difference will I make?
    • What will I do while volunteering here? What are my tasks and how should I go about completing them?
    • How do I fit in with everyone else in the organisation?
    • How will I be valued and supported? What support, supervision and recognition will be offered?

Key information in your induction

Induction should always include:

    • Your mission statement and the values of your organisation. What is the purpose of your organisation? What are you trying to achieve?
    • Information about your service users
    • A brief history of your organisation
    • An overview of current services, projects or activities
    • Future plans for your organisation’s development
    • An explanation of where volunteers fit into the structure of your organisation and how they help your group achieve its objectives
    • The policies and procedures volunteers will be expected to abide by and the boundaries of their role
    • An introduction to the facilities, premises and equipment they will be using
    • A description of the expectations that your organisation has of volunteers and what they can expect from your group

12. Training for Volunteers

Training is the process of equipping volunteers with the skills they need to perform the tasks assigned to them.

Training offered should be proportionate to the responsibilities that a volunteer will have. Some roles, such as giving advice or working with vulnerable people, may require extensive training while other roles may need only a brief induction.

Volunteer attitudes toward training

For some volunteers training is an incentive that demonstrates that their role is valued. Others just want to get on with the job they came to do.

Bear in mind that some volunteers will have had limited or adverse experiences of training and education in the past. You might want to deal in advance with any fears or preconceptions that volunteers might have about attending training courses or workshops.

You should be sure to distinguish between offering the opportunity for training and making it obligatory.

Obligatory training

Obligatory induction or training will cover the things that your volunteers really need to know. For example, the aims and ethos of the organisation, what their roles involve and the policies they will be expected to abide by.

This information will often be covered in induction but, if a role includes a lot of information, it may also require further training.

Optional training

Optional training should offer the chance for volunteers to learn more, expand their work or develop themselves. For example you might offer training on your organisation’s work, the issues you address and opportunities to learn a new role or take on more responsibility.

Remember that some volunteers appreciate the structure and security of volunteering and may not want to develop their role. For these volunteers, training may not be attractive.

Types of training

You can provide training in a variety of ways to suit volunteers’ needs. You may want to provide some information in more than one way. Training options include:

    • Informal or face-to-face:
      • One-to-one induction
      • Coaching
      • Supervision or support sessions
      • Volunteer meetings
      • Peer support
    • Written information:
      • Guidelines
      • Information packs
      • Policy documents
      • Volunteer handbooks
      • Intranet
      • Useful Websites
    • Formal/structured training:
      • Courses
      • Workshops
      • Talks and lectures
      • Distance or online learning

13. Resources and Support

You may find the following guides useful when recruiting volunteers.

Our Involving Volunteers: Planning and Background guide will give you the information you need to successfully recruit and manage volunteers
Once you have found your volunteers, How to Manage Volunteers can help you keep them motivated and ensure that your volunteers benefit your organisation

Other Useful Websites

Learn more about DBS checks and the Independent Safeguarding Authority