Volunteering in a Post-Lockdown World

The world has changed in a way none of us could have ever predicted at the turn of the year. The global pandemic has forced us all to accept a “new normal” and the way businesses are adapting, and evolving is astounding – and Charity Retail is no different. However, as much as social distancing, wearing masks in shops and scrubbing our hands to within an inch of their lives are all now commonplace, the truth is that when it comes to volunteering in charity retail, huge changes were already underway long before covid-19 struck.

A few years ago, people retired earlier, supported by final salary pensions and earlier state pensions. Now, with people working later and the competition for volunteers increasing, charity retail must consider volunteer strategy as thoroughly and as carefully as they would with any of their KPI’s.

It is no secret that within Charity Retail the age profile of volunteers in strongly weighted to the over 70’s and cruelly, this is the exact age demographic most at risk during the Covid-19 pandemic. The result is that many are not able to return to their previous posts and those that are may be understandably apprehensive and hesitant to do so. The sad truth is that some will never return to their previous volunteering roles.


So, what is the correct strategy to address this problem?

The first, and often most difficult, step for Charity Retail businesses to take is to shift their understanding of what a volunteer is and, more importantly, why they are volunteering.

Many volunteers are doing so to help a cause that is close to their heart. Many are doing so to fill the time in their day and get out of the house to go and work with great people. However, targeting a younger and more transient age group, who are looking to improve their employability, should be a cornerstone of any good volunteer strategy – now more than ever.


Of course, this will possibly mean a shift in your recruitment approach. A larger social media presence and quick on boarding process are key requisites for most potential volunteers of a lower age demographic. The other aspect that should be embraced is “what’s in it for them”. It is natural to feel uncomfortable with this phrase – after all, we are dealing with charity retail and good will should be enough, right? Well, yes and no. A younger generation of volunteer could mean somebody on the very first step of their journey who is looking for a career change, some valuable customer-facing experience or simply to enhance their employability in the future.

social media

This is not to say completely turn away from the retired demographic – far from it. But do ensure the marketing is strong and the process from enquiry to onboarding is very engaging. Prior to Covid-19, during a ‘mystery shopping’ review of volunteer engagement in the UK, more than 80% of shop managers did not fully engage with potential applicants. Whilst there can sometimes be perfectly valid reasons for this, it does also go some way in explaining the wide variants on volunteer numbers between different charity shops. Shop Managers have a massive part to play in engaging potential volunteers and making their charity the one the volunteers want to give their time to.

More than 80% of shop managers did not fully engage with potential volunteer applicants
Mystery Shopper Review of Volunteer Engagement in the UK

Finally, make sure you have some attractive volunteer role profiles. These will be of great assistance in attracting new volunteers of all ages. Reaching out to younger potential volunteers with something they want, and need should be part of any forward-thinking volunteer strategy. Create strong, progressive role profiles and ensure your engagement with potential volunteers remains as high as possible. Utilise mystery shopping and coach all your staff in the importance of the role volunteers play in Charity Retail.

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