This volunteers’ week (1st – 7th June), Citizens Advice Stockport, Oldham, Rochdale and Trafford (SORT) is successfully changing the face of volunteering across the region, culminating in the charity hosting an array of inclusive events throughout the celebratory week, including the launch of ‘Citizens Advice Has Got Talent’ which will see the charity’s very own band – made up of staff and volunteers – take to the stage for their debut performance.
Celebrations don’t stop there, there is a long list of activities being organised including an arts & crafts workshop, comedy night and line dancing experience to celebrate the hard work of volunteers across the organisation.
However, the face of volunteering for the organisation hasn’t always looked so rosy and over the last three years the charity has seen its levels of volunteers reduce dramatically. Pre-pandemic, the local charity was supported by mostly British, white, retired volunteers who had helped support local families with guidance and advice on a wide-ranging list of topics from food poverty through to mental health support.
Post-pandemic the charity has lost over 70% of its volunteers due to a number of factors including people re-evaluating their free time and how they spend it – something the charity sector as a whole has seen in recent months. The local charity had up until recently struggled to replace these much-needed roles within the organisation.
Anna Rojeck, Learning & Development Manager at Citizens Advice, who heads up the volunteer recruitment said: “We rely heavily on our volunteer workforce and without them it has an impact on all levels of support we’re able to give to customers. As soon as we started to notice a decline in volunteer numbers, I knew we had to rethink our recruitment approach to make it sustainable and impactful”.
She continues “We set three goals for our volunteer recruitment process. Firstly, we needed to diversify our pool of volunteers – they should be reflective of the communities we help. Our volunteers needed to be able to emphasise with the situations of the customers coming forward. They also needed to be able to reflect the age ranges of our customers, we’ve seen a real shift in the demographic of our customer, with huge numbers of customers coming from generation Z – we needed a sustainable recruitment approach”.
“Another barrier was the amount of paperwork people had to complete before they even received an interview request – we forget that not everyone has a CV, and we seemed to want to get weighed down with paperwork – considering we wanted to employ agile, quick-thinking volunteers who had life experience – our recruitment processes didn’t reflect the charity we wanted to be – if anything it hindered our approach and put a lot of very capable people off applying. Now we recruit volunteers for their attitude, their passion and empathy for people and who’s values align with our own”.
Anna adds: “Finally, we needed to create a pathway to paid employment for those volunteers who were looking for employment. We decoded every volunteer would be guaranteed an interview, regardless of having a CV or not, we also opened up the types of opportunities we had on offer, we no longer restricted volunteers to just working in our communities team, we understood that different people had different strengths”.
Over the last nine months the successful implementation of these changes is evident to see with over 250people expressing an interest in becoming a volunteer in just the first two months of the relaunch. The charity has successfully recruited 80+ volunteers who have been through streamlined training – which now lasts weeks and not months – to be working on their frontline helping local families with the advice and support they need.
11 volunteers have also moved into paid employment with the charity whilst several others have found employment with other charitable organisations thanks to the training and support, they received from their local Citizens Advice.
Olusegun Irewole-Ojo, a volunteer with Citizens Advice adds “I’ve been volunteering with Citizens Advice for five months and in that time, I have learnt so much, both in the training I have received but also through the customers I’ve been helping. I have gained vital knowledge across a wide range of topics from benefit entitlements, housing, immigration and labour law. I love being a volunteer, interacting with others and being able to expand my knowledge whilst offering support and guidance to others”.