Working with Volunteers

Volunteers make a significant contribution to our organisations. They help our organisations to survive and thrive, often on minimal funding. Volunteers can be drawn from service users or local communities – and provide vital links into these groups.

Effective application of equality and human rights brings similar benefits as with paid staff. It helps you to attract a range of volunteers and boosts their satisfaction and loyalty. It encourages creativity and productivity. And helps your organisation reflect the population you seek to serve.

Helping volunteers to own and operate out of your organisational values is a particular challenge. Their legal relationship to your organisation is different – along with their view of this relationship. Specific action with volunteers to explore and share your commitment to equality and human rights can pay clear dividends.

People are more likely to volunteer if they can see how what you do is relevant to them, their family or community – and if they are asked. These steps will help you attract a diversity of volunteers.


One: Make sure your services or activities match people’s needs

  • Use the services and campaigns modules to help make your core activities accessible, relevant and more inclusive. Involve your target communities in this. Communicate what you are doing, your progress and successes.

Two: Make sure that volunteer opportunities are communicated to a diversity of groups.

  • Ask. One of the main reasons people do not volunteer is because no one asks them to. Don’t make assumptions about who will and won’t volunteer.
  • Review how your volunteers are recruited. Word of mouth is a valuable channel – so long as it’s not just from existing staff and volunteers (in which case you’re likely to mostly get people similar to those you already have).
  • Use word of mouth and / or advertise to target under-represented communities.
  • Reach out to community leaders, promote your service and volunteer opportunities in venues, traditional and new media, local radio and press that your target groups use.

Three: Develop partnerships

  • Develop sustained relationships and partnerships with  groups and organisations run and used by your target communities.
  • For example, train people from a refugee group or LGBT group who can then provide your service half of the time from your premises and half from their premises.

Four: Design volunteer activities that are flexible and can be adjusted to the needs of individual volunteers.

  • Some volunteers face greater barriers to getting involved than others. People with health issues or caring responsibilities, for example, may need greater flexibility when rotas are set.
  • Be aware of financial barriers. If you’re able to offer out-of-pocket expenses to volunteers, make this clear in advertisements.
  • Make sure you can take account of particular needs when designing tasks.

Five: Apply the same equality and human rights considerations to your volunteers as you do to your staff and service users.

  • This helps to make sure that you have a good reputation in the community. Word can travel fast when volunteers feel that they haven’t received dignified and respectful treatment from an organisation.

Six: Know who your volunteers are and identify gaps

  • Monitor volunteer demographics to understand to what extent you’re attracting and retaining a diversity of volunteers – and in particular, volunteers from the affected groups you have prioritised.
  • Find more actions on monitoring in Getting Started.

Seven: Get volunteers involved in assessing processes and work for accessibility, and in improving your delivery on equality and human rights.

  • This includes recruitment and application processes, and how volunteer work is organised and managed.

The organisation can harness the skills of a diverse pool of volunteers.

  • There is a diverse range of volunteers in your organisation
  • Volunteers are recruited from priority under-represented groups
  • Volunteers feel that the application process is accessible and fair.

Support your volunteers to be rights holders and respecters within your organisation.

In a rights-based approach, managers advance the needs of volunteers as rights.  They empower volunteers to hold your organisation to account, and support them to identify issues they may have with your organisation – and how to address them.

Volunteers must also be rights respecters; when interacting with other volunteers, staff, service users, supporters or other stakeholders. It’s important that they act with the same values of your organisation – and in particular, your commitment to equality and human rights. Your organisation is also legally responsible for anything they might do (or fail to do) that breaches equality law.


One: Develop an inclusive volunteering policy.

  • Check out the Bumble Bee Conservation Society’s policy in the further reading section.  Involve people across your organisation in shaping a policy that works for you.

Two: Support and develop managers to manage volunteers as rights holders and rights respecters.

  • Use information from the Getting Started and Employing People modules to skill up managers.
  • Support managers to communicate clear and consistent expectations for how volunteers can put organisational values and standards of behaviour into practice.

Three: Make sure your induction process includes a focus on equality and human rights.

  •  Review the written materials, training and verbal briefing volunteers get as part of your induction process.
  • Your process should help explore their commitment to equality and human rights, to understand your goals and values in relation to these, and for you both to address any gaps between the two.

Four: Support and develop volunteers on their rights, the treatment they and other people can expect in your organisation, and how they can exercise their rights and respect the rights of others.

  • Organise a regular forum for volunteers (and leaders) to discuss their needs, experience and situation
  • Support volunteers to enact your commitment to equality and human rights in their work. This can include mentoring, training, development, peer-support, and opportunities for review and feedback
  • Your support should help volunteers to develop knowledge of, and skills in, equality and human rights. It should build their confidence in representing your values and responding to your affected groups effectively.

Five:  Use paperwork to set out and clarify expectations, boundaries, roles and responsibilities.

  • Don’t overlook your paperwork, even if volunteering is seen as an informal arrangement.
  • Review your volunteering policy and application forms. These should set out how you expect volunteers to act in relation to equality and human rights.

Case Study: Mobility Concern and volunteer roles and responsibilities


Volunteers are empowered participants in your organisation.

  • Volunteers understand and can confidently assert their rights
  • Managers are confident to supervise volunteers as rights holders and rights respecters
  • Volunteers use the systems of accountability in your organisation
  • Volunteers understand and can put into practice your organisation’s equality and human rights values.
Further Reading

Know How, Volunteering and the Equality Act

Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Recruiting Volunteers Manual (pdf) and Guide to Volunteer Monitoring (pdf)

Race Equality Foundation, Gender and Ethnicity in Volunteering

Bumble Bee Conservation Society, Inclusive Volunteering Policy (pdf)


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