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How The Basingstoke Canal Society finds great volunteers – Part 1

The Basingstoke Canal Society was formed in 1966 to work with the Council owners to restore and maintain the canal. Today, the Society is entirely volunteer-led, with over 260 volunteers giving around 28000 hours a year.

Ken Sankey, a trustee on The Basingstoke Canal Society’s committee, told us how they have achieved this level of support and commitment from their volunteers:

“I came from the corporate world where I was Head of Sales, so I bring an outward focus. When I started looking at volunteering, we introduced a structure to the Society – we strengthened the main committee and put a clear organisational structure in place with ‘leader volunteers’ to lead various teams such as events, lobbying, projects etc. We needed some people to make things happen, and others to support.

“This included having someone who leads on volunteering. We report monthly to the committee on volunteering which helps to maintain focus, and allows us to identify any gaps and review what is working and what’s not.

“We then created a central database of all our volunteers, so we could keep a record of how we communicate with them and what their interests are and how they can help going forward. It also incorporates our Terms and Conditions and behaviours/expectations.

“Our volunteering roles are on our website, and we made sure we were using a range of channels to attract volunteers – Voluntary Support North Surrey, local press, social media, word of mouth, Reach Volunteering and Rest Less to promote volunteering opportunities.

“Be passionate about your volunteering opportunities and your organisation – make it somewhere people want to put their time into. And celebrate progress and successes through news articles, at meetings and online.

“You have to be persistent with working your recruitment/communication channels. Volunteers will come particularly if you keep the introducers advised. It takes time – it took us around three years to build up momentum. But we now have about three enquiries from potential volunteers each week.

“Personal contact is very important. When someone contacts us about volunteering, we aim to call them back – call, not just email – within 48 hours. We have a chat about what they’re looking for, what we’re looking for and what we can offer, and then go from there. We’re honest if we don’t think it’s a good fit. We’re in a great position now where we can afford to wait for the right person for the right role.”

Read Part 2 of this series, looking at how to keep good volunteers coming back.

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