Does your organisation welcome a wide range of volunteers, regardless of such factors as age, background, gender, and ability?

There are many good reasons to do so. At one of our training days last week, managers identified a very convincing list of benefits to a more diverse volunteer workforce, ranging from bringing new skills and perspectives to the volunteer role, to ensuring the sustainability and relevance of the organisation itself through greater engagement with the local community and young people.

Before you actively seek to involve a more diverse range of volunteers, e.g. young people or people with physical disabilities, it is helpful to prepare staff and other volunteers in your organisation. A sensible starting point might be to review your existing policy and practice:

• What is your organisation’s stated approach is to equality of opportunity and diversity? And how is this policy translated into practice? 
• How does senior management demonstrate commitment to diversity?
• How accessible are your premises?
• What is the provision / budget for training?
• How does the organisation deal with any discriminatory behaviour by staff, volunteers or service users?

There may be some constraints or issues here that are beyond your immediate control, and you may identify the need to try and influence the wider organisation to review and extend its policy framework. If you already have a good framework in place, you can focus on practical application and building on existing good practice. Here are some suggestions for steps that you can take to encourage openness to diversity:

• Initiate debate in the organisation and amongst your volunteers about the what and why of promoting diversity – through your newsletter or discussion group, at a workshop or volunteer open day, at team meetings.
• Review the way you present your organisation’s volunteering programme through written & visual material and your website – what message do the images and words portray?
• Be ready to engage in discussions about possible problems; it may be necessary to bring fears and concerns out into the open, in order to be creative and encouraging about finding ways of managing barriers.
• Ensure that diversity is covered appropriately in both staff and volunteer induction
• Have meetings with staff and volunteers to discuss and agree what they can do to support or mentor new volunteers
• Identify together any additional support needs that staff may have
• Provide awareness training – perhaps you can partner with a local or national charity with expertise in this area, or a specialist training provider such as the Inspirations Consultancy
• Draw up guidelines for responding to discriminatory behaviour from and towards your volunteers.

What have you done to increase diversity amongst your volunteers?
What else could you do?

What do you think?