Diversity and inclusion are major elements in creating connected and thriving communities. This includes programs offered, services available, and the staff and volunteers that represent the communities they serve.
Diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability and respect for others. Diversity promotes inclusion and understanding, often a major goal of non profits and volunteer-involving organizations. In fact, studies on diversity in the workplace have found that for every 1% increase in gender diversity, company revenue increases by 3%. And higher ethnic diversity can increase revenue by a whopping 15%. Even more important for volunteer organizations, is that engagement was higher in organizations that promote diversity.
Once you’ve created a diverse team, the second challenge is ensuring everyone feels welcomed, valued, understood and part of the team - in other words, creating an inclusive culture for all and proving your commitment to diversity.
In this article, we’ll dive further into why volunteer diversity and inclusion are important and 10 tips on how your organization can create a more diverse and inclusive volunteer program.
What is diversity in volunteering?
Diversity refers to the qualities that differentiate people as individuals, and in this instance, we’re talking about recruiting a diverse team of volunteers with varying experience, values, habits and skills. Diversity might be reflected in:
- Cultures or languages
- Socioeconomic status
- Geographical location
- Educational backgrounds
How does volunteering promote diversity?
Volunteerism, by its very nature, is a powerful way to build bridges between people and can be one tool that can help to bring equality and justice to all.
On the volunteer side, removing barriers for potential volunteers provides increased social participation, education, confidence and health, as well as a sense of purpose and a connection to the community.
And by getting to know people from different backgrounds, volunteers gain a greater sense of empathy and understanding, traits that extend through every facet of life, creating more inclusive and open-minded communities.
How can I make my volunteering more inclusive?
If a volunteer organization wants to promote social diversity, the first step is making sure they are recruiting a diverse team of staff and volunteers. Avoid working with just one type of person, instead recruit people from all walks of life. In this way, your organization can reflect the diversity found in the community, and you’ll create a more inclusive space for everyone.
Inclusion is about actively involving people and creating a sense of belonging for everyone, no matter their beliefs, ethnic background, age, gender or physical abilities. It’s about not only recognizing differences but celebrating them and respecting that everyone brings a unique and valuable contribution.
For example, if your organization traditionally has young students as volunteers, then an older adult may not feel like they are as valuable or welcome. But if your organization is made up of a diverse group, no one will feel left out.
Similarly, if you can make small adjustments to your workplace such as adding ramps for wheelchair users, you remove that barrier for potential volunteers who use wheelchairs or walking aids.
Keep reading to learn more about ten ways to promote diversity and inclusion in your volunteer program.
1. Focus on retaining volunteers
The best way to build a strong organization is by focusing on the people within it. Focusing on increasing your volunteer retention rate is a good first step toward ensuring your volunteer program is running well. This will emphasize to other volunteers and the wider community that your organization is a diverse and inclusive space that treats its volunteers with respect.
One of the best ways to increase your retention rate is by focusing on volunteer engagement. Ensuring you have a team of happy volunteers who enjoy their experience and are therefore likely to sing your praises and encourage their friends, family and colleagues to participate as well, should be the goal. After all, your existing volunteers are often your best recruiters. Volunteer management software such as Rosterfy can streamline this process, by digitizing and automating elements such as volunteer communication by SMS and email, onboarding and training, rewards and recognition, and rostering and scheduling.
Read more about 5 great ways to keep your volunteers engaged.
2. Widen your search to promote diversity
To increase the diversity of your volunteer network, you may need to actively approach new networks and sections of the community. It may help to establish relationships with community leaders, and if you get the chance to give a presentation to members, this will be a great way to share more about what you do, and how volunteers can help. And remember, in the end, it’s more important to find people with the right attitude, rather than certain skills that can be taught. Look out for these ten qualities when recruiting volunteers for your organization.
Consider reaching out to:
- Community groups, i.e., Probus club, Mens Shed, Mothers groups
- Sporting organizations
- Youth groups
- Immigrant groups
- Religious leaders
- Schools, Universities and colleges
- People that currently use your services, or did previously
- Training organizations
- Directors on your board
- Volunteer involving events
- Local businesses
- Co-working spaces
- 20 creative places to recruit volunteers
Each community is unique and could have certain needs, which is why it’s important to approach with the aim of building a long term relationship, and be receptive to ideas or suggestions for improvements to make your program more inclusive.
3. Make it easy for volunteers to get started
There’s nothing worse than starting somewhere new and having no idea what to do, who to ask, or even where to store belongings. It leaves people unmotivated and disengaged - the exact opposite of what you want!
By creating a volunteer orientation and onboarding plan, you will ensure expectations are set from the start, give volunteers confidence, and create an inclusive and happy workplace.
Here are a few things to consider that will make it easy for volunteers to get started:
- Conduct online background checks.
- Encourage all potential volunteers to register through your volunteer management software, so they can get access to your management portal. This means they can find all the information they need, sign up for shifts, complete any online training modules, and upload documentation.
- Record a special welcome from the team or CEO welcoming new volunteers and sharing more about your organization's goals. You can either show this on your volunteer management system or play it during an orientation session.
- Offer tours of the workplace and facilitate introductions to team members.
- Organize name tags and/or uniforms for all volunteers.
- Ensure that your volunteers have a clear understanding of your nonprofit, event or organization’s mission and the goal in which they are helping you to achieve.
- Be clear in your expectations of the role including job description and responsibilities of volunteers.
- Conduct a health and safety briefing.
- Allow volunteers to ask questions.
4. Volunteer diversity in job roles
Diversity and inclusion for volunteer organizations is about the people, but also the types of work and the roles available.
Role variety is essential because different people will be attracted to various jobs based on their skills, interests, experience and capabilities.
So as you are putting together volunteer roles, consider offering a range of opportunities that include:
- Short term or long term commitment
- High or low time commitment, ie: two hours a month, or one day a week
- Physical labor or computer-based tasks
- Virtual or on-site opportunities
- Customer-facing or behind the scenes
- Outdoors or indoors
- Skilled roles or general roles.
Having a system in place for volunteers to try out different roles before they commit to their favorite is another great way to encourage volunteer diversity and boost retention. Offering volunteers additional training and professional development opportunities such as First Aid courses or leadership skills to equip them with skills that can benefit the volunteer themselves, your event or organization and the broader community.
5. Practice inclusivity
Ultimately, for inclusive practice to be effective, everyone in an organization should have their rights and needs recognized and upheld.
This may include photos on your website of people that represent a diverse population, same-sex couples, different age groups and genders, which would show inclusivity.
On your registration form, you may include checkboxes for Female, Male and Non-binary, or ask people for their preferred pronoun.
Similarly, use open-ended questions and language that is gender-neutral. For example, terms such as ‘spouse’ and ‘partner’ as opposed to ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ avoid assumptions around a volunteer’s gender identity and/or sexuality.
If you have language-diverse volunteers, matching them with other volunteers who speak the same language, or setting up pages on your website in various languages are simple practices that can leave a lasting impact. In fact, Rosterfy’s simple and unique multi-language options allow administrators to select default language options with the click of a button, which volunteers will see reflected in not only their registration form but also their portal and in all subsequent emails and SMS.
We know technology can be a tool that can achieve inclusivity. After selecting Rosterfy as the volunteer management system for the Special Olympics, Senior Volunteer Manager Saurabh Mishra said, “Special Olympics World Games and National Games are such incredible events and, as we are committed to welcoming athletes and volunteers with diverse intellectual disabilities, I love that by utilizing Rosterfy we are making things simpler for our volunteers.”
6. Offer various rewards
There are two types of volunteers, those that are extrinsically motivated by external rewards, and those that are intrinsically motivated. People volunteering at a sports event or fun run in return for discount entry would be considered extrinsically motivated, while those who are intrinsically motivated are engaged in volunteer activities because they find it to be meaningful and enjoyable.
Understanding more about your volunteers and what motivates them will help you create a rewards and recognition program that speaks to both groups. This is especially important as you improve volunteer diversity- as they will likely have very different motivations.
Taking the time to better understand the motivations of your volunteers goes a long way toward engaging volunteers. Consider including some ‘get to know you’ questions on your registration form or run a survey to find out more about what types of rewards would appeal to your volunteers.
Here are a few types of rewards you may consider offering:
- Event entry discounts
- Discounted event tickets & memorabilia
- Throw a volunteer appreciation event
- Letter of recommendation
- Training opportunities
- Video from community groups
- Video from CEO or Volunteer Manager
- Phone call
- Volunteer of the Month
- Create a Yearbook
Rosterfy enables administrators to create their own custom reward and recognition program. From the number of hours required to redeem prizes through to the rewards themselves, users have the ability to create their program the way that works for them. Key milestones can unlock new rewards and incentives that show your appreciation.
7. Set up skills programs
For some people, volunteering is an integral path toward employment. This may include recent immigrants who don’t have the right work visas or qualifications yet, convicted felons struggling to find work after release, students looking for their first job out of school, people returning to the workforce after a long break and people with disabilities.
Volunteering is a great way to gain skills and experience, build networks, referees and ultimately help build up a resume. In many cases, these volunteers already possess skills or interests in certain areas and are looking for ways to refine these skills and demonstrate their work ethic to potential employers. They may be looking for skills-based opportunities, whether it be in nursing, communications, IT or hospitality, that can prepare them for a future career.
Furthermore, organizations benefit from a diverse team of volunteers who are willing and eager to learn, and can bring a sense of resilience with them, as well as a strong and sometimes unique skillset.
In return, you would be expected to provide some sort of certificate of completion, positive reference, industry contacts, or mentorship that can help the employee get paid employment when they are ready. And while the hope is that they develop the skills and confidence to move onto a paid role, hopefully they will still return as an occasional volunteer in the future!
8. Create a Workplace Culture Agreement
If your aim is to promote diversity and inclusion, your entire organization needs to buy into this goal and work together to create an inclusive and welcoming environment. This goes beyond the volunteer team, from the top managers through every department.
Working together to create a workplace culture agreement that explicitly spells out your message is a great way to get commitment. You could run diversity and inclusion training for volunteers and staff, where examples of diversity are demonstrated, then work together to create a team charter that reflects your organization’s mission.
A culture agreement may include:
- Core values
- Things we do/ Things we don’t do
- Group expectations
- Correct ways to address problems
Once finalized, make sure to print it out and display it prominently in the workplace, as well as including it as part of the onboarding process. It can also be something that all staff, existing and new volunteers sign in recognition of their agreement. You can see an example here.
9. Remove barriers
There are many barriers that prohibit potential volunteers from volunteering. Being aware of them is the first step to removing them, and promoting volunteer diversity and inclusion.
Some common barriers include:
- Physical barriers: Whether it’s stairs, long shifts outside in the sun, the need to drive, lifting heavy boxes, or standing for long periods, these barriers can be overcome with a bit of planning.
- Technology: While we love technology for its capabilities, for some people, technology such as using a smartphone, or paying by credit card, are simply not things they are comfortable with. Some people may not have access to a computer at home, so could you set up a communal computer at your workplace that volunteers can use.
- Organizational policies: Do you require people to possess certain skills, education levels, English speaking levels, background checks, WWCC or even possess a certain visa/resident status? While some of these may be necessary, it’s worth reviewing your policies to see if any of them could be loosened or removed altogether.
- Geographical barriers: Volunteers might not live close by, may not have access to a vehicle, or might be transient. The easiest way to overcome this: set up virtual volunteering opportunities that can be completed from anywhere!
- Socio-economic barriers: Someone with lower income, shift workers, family commitments, or language barriers may not be able to meet volunteer requirements. Consider introducing travel reimbursements, flexible start times, drop-in shifts, free lunches, or carpooling.
10. Create a team environment
While a cultural agreement is a great way to get your organization's values down on paper, culture is about more than just written words. Creating a team culture between volunteers is a great way to build engagement and teamwork.
This can be encouraged through games and challenges, social events, volunteer thank you nights, team lunches and even social media channels where volunteers can connect and chat outside of work. Many people volunteer to meet people in their community, outside of their immediate circle, so embrace this by hosting icebreaker activities to help volunteers get to know each other.
Some other simple things that can really help are creating catchy team names, project teams, uniforms and name tags for everyone. And always be willing and open to receiving feedback and suggestions to further reinforce that you are all one team, working together towards the same goal.
Manage your volunteers with Rosterfy
Rosterfy exists to connect communities to events and causes they are passionate about through volunteer and paid workforce management technology. Our proven end to end technology allows charities, events and organizations to recruit, register, screen, train, manage and report with ease, replacing manual processes with automations to better engage and retain your volunteers.
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