Diversifying your volunteer base

by British Heart Foundation

How it all began

In early 2022 BHF carried out a full engagement survey and captured some key demographics from their volunteer respondents, to understand if their volunteering population was truly representative of the areas in which BHF trades. Like many national charity retailers they trade in a very diverse range of locations from rural towns, seaside areas to major cities across the width and breadth of the UK. They want to ensure that their volunteering populations represent the variety and uniqueness of the people who live within those local communities.

Diversifying their volunteer base is a key priority for BHF and is part of their new volunteering strategy to make volunteering easy, flexible, and inclusive to as many people as possible. They are on a mission to break down barriers to volunteering, especially any that BHF has created or maintained. A prime example of how they have started to do this, is through the recruitment of some truly amazing volunteers who come from the asylum seeker and refugee community in the UK.

About Raul

Raul came to volunteer in one of BHF’s larger furniture stores near London. He was living in a hotel being used to accommodate people waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. Raul comes from Syria and has a wealth of skills and expertise that he brings to his volunteering role at BHF. Everyone who meets Raul is blown away by his positive attitude, his willingness to give back to his local community while living in the UK and most of all by the contribution he gives through his volunteering. Raul showed BHF that there were many other people in a similar situation who would be only too willing to volunteer.

Win-Win scenario

BHF know that volunteers like Raul can get so much out of volunteering, they find a purpose and a way to put their spare time to good use, they are given a way to connect to their local community and also for many to be able to practise their English-speaking skills. Raul also showcases how BHF also gain massively through his volunteering as he donates his time, his enthusiasm and his hard work with them.

Overcoming challenges

BHF were straight away keen to encourage more asylum seekers and/or refugees to volunteer in their shops and stores but realised they were not making it very easy for them to do so. BHF weren’t offering them a good enough onboarding experience and they knew they needed to put this right.

First of all, BHF realised there was much misunderstanding around their own policy on recruiting people from this community. Many shop teams didn’t even know it was ok – the fact that BHF were actively encouraging the shops to recruit asylum seekers and refugees. So BHF used communication bulletins, intranet posts and video updates to get this message out there.

Then BHF became aware that the ID they were asking all volunteer applicants to provide was presenting a problem to asylum seekers and refugees and so they updated their list to include things such as Home Office letters. The same applied to BHF’s requirement around volunteer references, this was a real barrier to people who have not lived in the UK for very long , so again BHF reviewed and amended their policy on this to be more flexible, whilst still being robust enough to screen people who did not meet the recruitment criteria. BHF have also made changes to the way they deliver their mandatory induction training for volunteers to be more accessible to those who may not speak English as a first language.

Engaging the shop teams

BHF are sharing case studies like Raul’s and many others with their shop teams to help them see the benefits in reaching out to their local asylum seeker and refugee communities. They have also created some guidelines and top tips on how to do this at a local level, and this is something that BHF will be building on in the coming weeks and months.

Still so much to do

Asylum seekers and refugees are just one example of minority and often marginalised groups within society that may face barriers into volunteering. BHF know they need to work harder at connecting with these communities and showing them that they are welcome to volunteer at BHF. BHF know that volunteering can be instrumental in helping people who may need to build up their confidence again after experiencing difficulties, or who need to do something that supports their mental wellbeing and for those looking for a place where they feel they belong and part of a team.

BHF feel that we just need to get that message out there and get that message deep into those communities. We should be loud and proud of the positive impact volunteering can have on people’s lives and in doing so, not only are we helping those individuals and those communities, but we are also helping ourselves. Diversifying the volunteers we recruit also diversifies the skills and experiences, the perspectives, and the capabilities our volunteers bring to our shop teams.

BHF’s volunteering strategy

22/03/2024 13:45