Volunteers: we all love them, we all want them, but are there enough to go round?

In our recent Sector Forecast, 61% of respondents told us they were planning to recruit more volunteers in 2017. One in three small charities and two in three larger charities hoped to see their volunteer numbers increase.

72% of our respondents expected demand for their services to increase and many hope to recruit new volunteers to help deliver their much-needed services.

“The demand for our services is growing beyond our capacity to respond and certainly beyond our current and potential volunteer capacity.”

That’s great, but given that volunteering rates in Scotland have remained stubbornly flat for years, where exactly will this army of new volunteers come from?

Does recruiting new volunteers simply mean your organisation has to poach them from a charity that isn’t able to offer such a good volunteering experience? Will higher profile, larger charities attract new volunteers at the expense of smaller ones? And what about all the public services such as hospitals competing with the third sector for volunteers?

What’s also a bit worrying is that as organisations find their funding cut, volunteers will be seen as cheap stop-gap solution to funding cuts. As well as being unrealistic, that also does both volunteering and the volunteers themselves a huge disservice.

Luckily our members also highlighted some really positive ways in which they are trying to reach out to connect with new volunteers. Some spoke of using social media and better communications to raise their profile and bring in new volunteers. Some spoke of recruiting volunteer co-ordinators to support, train and motivate volunteers.

Others spoke of successes with youth volunteering programmes such as Project Scotland and the Saltire Awards helping them reach out to a new generation of volunteers, and some have focussed on building better links with local schools and colleges.

At the other end of the age spectrum, some organisations such as food banks have had great success recruiting older people as volunteers by using connections such as working with church congregations.  A number of organisations have been working with initiatives to involve more private sector staff on boards and as volunteers.

The demand is there, so let’s hope the third sector can increase its capacity to support volunteers and develop interesting and rewarding volunteering experiences to a larger and wider range of people from more walks of life, and get some more wonderful volunteers engaged in the sector’s activities.

Click here to read our new briefing on Volunteers and Boards.