Experiences of Becoming and Being a Volunteer

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Volunteers are integral to many services delivered by a wide range of organisations. The sustainability of these services is dependent on an effective volunteer recruitment process and appropriate volunteer training programmes. Gathering feedback about becoming and being a volunteer is therefore a crucial exercise to enable organisations to maximise volunteering potential in Cornwall.

In 2015-2016 the Volunteers in Communities (VIC) team worked collaboratively with Age UK Cornwall to collect insights from 100 volunteers about their current recruitment and training processes. The data was collected at three volunteer celebration events at Liskeard, St Erme and Penzance. This report analyses the data, draws out key themes, and makes a number of recommendations about how recruitment and training policy can be improved from the perspective of the volunteer. While the data is drawn from Age UK Cornwall volunteers the implications of the research findings and recommendations have resonance for the all voluntary sector organisations.


Based on the compliments, complaints and suggestions gathered from 100 volunteers the following recommendations are made about recruitment and training policy:

Recommendations for volunteer recruitment policy:

1. Taster days should be tailored to a particular volunteering role and be offered as an immediate opportunity for engagement for any interested volunteer.

2. The time commitment required for a volunteering role should be clearly explained in adverts.

3. Volunteer opportunities in programmes such as Living Well need to be better advertised and described with more clarity.

Recommendations for volunteer training policy:

4. Volunteer drivers should be offered the opportunity to meet the transport logistics team. This would enable drivers to understand how the system works and the logistics team to understand, and take on board, the volunteers’ perspectives.

5. Refresher courses for first aid and manual handling training should be regularly and consistently offered to volunteer drivers.

6. The mandatory training requirements should be stated in the initial volunteer role advert and the opportunity for refresher courses made clear in the induction process.

7. Informal and unofficial volunteer meetings should be encouraged as provide effective spaces for learning and peer support.

Recommendations for volunteer managers:

8. An annual volunteer celebration event should be delivered and in which volunteer achievements are showcased and an opportunity for feedback provided.

9. Induction handbooks should dedicate a page to explaining what the host organisation does in a wider context and how volunteers are central to this work.

10. An info-graphic summarising the latest volunteering achievements should be part of the monthly newsletters.

11. Feedback from volunteers about the recruitment and training processes needs to be more regularly gathered and used to inform management. It is particularly important to gather feedback from volunteers within the first three months to capture their first impressions.

12. Volunteering roles in which risks are low – for example where there is no lone-working or where contact with a client is in a group or public setting – should have a different, and faster, signing up process. Using verbal references should be trialled.

13. Volunteers should be kept up to date as to how their application is progressing.

14. Further research should be conducted to establish how the task of volunteer recruitment and training is best managed within a host organisation. This research needs to specifically examine the pros and cons of a geographically organised process compared to a centralised approach.

Cultures of Volunteering – a working paper

cultures of vol - front pageThis working paper details how the voluntary sector can improve their delivery of projects through a better understanding of the geographies of volunteering.

We have termed this concept ‘cultures of volunteering’ and it can be defined as ‘the sum total of knowledge, skills and social networks which influence volunteering behaviours’. Crucial to emphasise is that ‘cultures of volunteering’ do not refer to volunteering numbers (quantity) per se but rather to volunteering capacity (quality) within a particular population.

This concept was developed following a discourse analysis of interviews with professionals in the voluntary sector. We have identified how the Living Well healthcare project has evolved differentially across Cornwall with varying degrees of success.

This paper argues that different local cultures of volunteering in Cornwall result in variance in the project delivery. The cultures of volunteering are the products of the physical, social and cultural geographies of areas.

In the spirit of coproduction this ‘working’ paper is not the end point, but rather the beginning of an action research agenda which hopes to better understand, map, and enable the voluntary sector to effectively respond to the differentiated geographies of volunteering in Cornwall.