Volunteer passports could save time, effort and attract more volunteers

Volunteer passports

In September 2020, in his Leveling Up Our Communities report, British MP Danny Kruger proposed the establishment of a volunteer passport to help all social impact agencies across that country find a way of working together to recruit and share volunteers.

What are Volunteer passports?

Just about every social impact organization I know is struggling to find volunteers. Most of them do everything in their power to streamline the process and make applying easier for the potential volunteer.

Unfortunately, there are some things that they just can’t do without—criminal record checks, references, lists of certifications and experiences. In my years volunteering, for example, I have had more than a dozen criminal record checks done on me, sometimes only a few months apart as I often volunteer for multiple organizations.

Now, imagine if someone like me only had to go through that just once. Then, I could take the results of that check to whichever organizations I want to volunteer with and those organizations would all accept it. Certainly it would need to be updated, but probably only once every few years. That would certainly streamline things.

So too with certifications like Food Safe or training in Naloxone injections, anything that is common amongst most or several organizations. All these things, as well as the person’s volunteer history, could be included in the passport. It would be kind of like a resume, covering everything you’ve done that relates to volunteering.

What would be the benefits?

First and foremost, anything that makes it easier to volunteer makes it easier to recruit volunteers. No one wants to jump through a bunch of hoops, especially if they’ve already done it for another organization.

The growing trend toward informal volunteering is, in my opinion, driven by its flexibility and convenience. Therefore, the more flexible and convenient organizations can make volunteering, the more likely it is that people will volunteer for them.

The sooner we can get people doing things that make them feel good, the more likely it is they’ll stick around for the process.

Think about how much time it will save the staff member, whether a volunteer coordinator or an executive director, who is in charge of recruiting. Instead of handing the applicant a sheaf of forms and helping them fill them out (or sending them off with the stack and having to go through them later and ask questions about what was missed), and following up on criminal checks, they would just ask for the passport and everything would be there.

An interview with the applicant would still be needed to see if they fit the specific requirements but other than that, it would be done.

It's not all about saving time, either. Volunteer passports could also help organizations collaborate and share volunteer resources. Take, for instance, a local museum that has 100 regular volunteers. A local kid’s sport organization is trying to find volunteers so it can hold an event for the kids. The museum can offer the opportunity to its volunteers, knowing all the volunteers need to do is flash their passport, show up for an orientation and they’re ready to help. Then they can go back to their regular shifts at the museum. Easy peasy and everyone wins. I like it when everyone wins.

But there aren’t any volunteer passports here.

I know, this is a new idea and there are only a few places I’ve heard of where it has actually been implemented – and they’re all in the U.K. So, what do you do if you like the idea, but it doesn’t exist where you are?

There are a couple of ways to go about it. (I’m not including waiting for the government to do something.)

One option is to approach a local umbrella organization, like the United Way. Explain the idea to it and ask what it would need to set something like that up. The reason for organizations such as that is to help the social impact organizations in their communities and this is a way that could make a huge impact for their members. This is the route I’m going to take.

The second way, if there aren’t any umbrella organizations in your community or if they won’t take it on, is to collect a few organizations similar to yours that are interested in the idea. Organize it from the grassroots up. Start small and grow it over time. Promote it heavily on social media and elsewhere, so both potential volunteers and other organizations can learn about the idea. Add more agencies as they express interest.

Yes, both options will require an outlay in time, thought and technological resources, but there are grants available for tech upgrades and the time cost will be made up in the future. As for thought, we have plenty of that.

It isn’t easy to start something from scratch but when an idea has as many up-sides as the volunteer passport, it’s worth the effort.

If you go for it, let me know and we can collaborate.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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