Is word of mouth best way to recruit volunteers?

Categories: Community Engagement.

The Charity Survey 2012, carried out by Volunteer Development Scotland, also found that word of mouth was thought to be the most effective method to find suitable volunteers.

The survey of around 600 charities also showed that very few charities use online methods to attract volunteers – with only 20% reporting that they use a website, and 3% using social media, compared to over 80% relying on word of mouth. Additionally, 70% directly ask people to help, and 19% use Third Sector Interfaces to attract new volunteers.

The survey also found that while 61% of charities would like to involve more volunteers, they did not seem confident this would happen. For most charities (71%) the number of people approaching them to volunteer was the same as the previous year, with larger charities more likely to report a decline in the number of people approaching to volunteer.

This survey is the first of it’s kind in Scotland, and was carried out with the aim of better understanding volunteering in local charities and the challenges they face in involving and managing volunteers. 

Commenting on the findings, Ros Scott, director of organisational development at Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS), said: “It might well be that if this study had been carried out across the UK that similar findings might have emerged. It is certainly true that many hospice volunteers are recruited by word of mouth.

“But is word of mouth the best way to attract and recruit volunteers? It is widely known from successive studies of those who don’t volunteer that one reason that is given is because they haven’t been asked. However, it is also recognised that word of mouth is an effective method of recruiting volunteers, and sometimes the most effective.

“The argument against the effectiveness of word of mouth recruitment is that it Ieads to lack of diversity. Davis-Smith1 considers that ‘this homogeneity is not sustainable in the future’. He argues that hospice would need to expand their approach to recruitment if services were to be sustainable. Morris et alsupport Davis’ s view. They suggest that there is a ‘need to address diversity issues in order to reach a larger ‘pool’ of potential volunteers and to support diverse clients’.

“For us to be able to sustain volunteering levels in the future we will need a range of approaches to recruitment, but we must not overlook the value of our volunteers inspiring others to join them!”


  1. Davis-Smith J. Volunteering in UK hospices – looking to the future. Help the Hospices 2004.
  2. Morris S, Wilmot A, Hill M, Ockenden N, Payne S. A narrative literature review of the contribution of volunteers in end-of-life care services. Palliative Medicine 2012.

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