1. Document Control

 Doc Recruiting and Valuing Volunteers  Date 00/00/00
 Ref U3A-KMS-DOC-051  Review 00/00/00

2. Introduction

2.1. Purpose

All voluntary organisations have difficulty in finding committee members and U3As are no different. This advice and guidance is intended to support the recruitment and retention of committee members, including through attracting new members and keeping the U3A vibrant.

2.2. Scope

Relevant to all U3As.

2.3. Related documentation

3. Volunteering with the U3A

At both local and regional level, U3A exists because of volunteers – there are no paid employees other than at National Office. One of the biggest challenges faced by most U3As is encouraging people to take up some of the key volunteer roles including becoming committee members and/or Group Leaders/Convenors. This will always be a challenge and U3As need to take a proactive approach to addressing this issue on an ongoing basis.

Alongside committee roles there are lots of people who volunteer on a more informal basis for the U3A. This includes the people who set out the chairs and organise the refreshments for member's meetings. It is important to remember that these people are all volunteers and to remind the membership of this.

4. Difficulties of recruiting volunteers

The demographic that makes up most of the membership increasingly has competing priorities. Many members join for education and personal development without being aware of the ethos of self-help and mutual aid – by the members, for the members. U3A committees need to ensure that the guiding principles of the U3A movement [LINK TO U3A-KMS-DOC-012] - coming soon - are impressed upon members when they join. U3A members need to understand that they each have a part to play (however small), in the running of their U3A. Some members may feel that a committee role could be too much for them but perhaps there are other ways that they can get involved. This might include going on a tea rota, or doing ‘meet and greet’ at members’ meetings.

5. Signs that indicate there might be a problem recruiting volunteers

  • Just managing to fill the places on the committee and opting for candidates who may not be the best suited for a particular role.
  • Having the same set of people moving from position to position within the committee.
  • A failure to fill officer positions.
  • Insufficient turnover of personnel on the committee (either because the constitution has no time restrictions, or it is being ignored).
  • A committee which is remote from the membership.
  • Intimidating committee members putting new recruits off.

6. Identifying and encouraging new volunteers

Review how you recruit volunteers - what do you do that is effective and what doesn’t work so well? If you have a high turnover and constantly need to recruit and/or a general unwillingness amongst your membership to get involved it could be worth reviewing your approach.

6.1. Recruiting new members

  • Do you hold open days or attend local events to promote your U3A? Are there local events you could sign up to? There are open day grants available from National Office [LINK TO U3A-KMS-FRM-008] - coming soon - to support these events.
  • Is your membership growing year on year, remaining static or decreasing? New members potentially means new volunteers.
  • Contact your local Volunteer Centre/Council for Voluntary Service/Rural Community Council and ask how they can support you with recruitment. Attend their meetings/training and join in with their campaigns and exhibitions when relevant to lifelong learning, adult education, volunteering or ‘older people’.
  • Invite outside organisations to your monthly meetings and special events.
  • Visit external organisations who work with different sections of the community to find out how you can work more closely together.
  • Ask members if they have any good networks or local connections that they think links could be formed with.
  • Ask members to assist with recruitment campaigns and ensure those members reflect the diversity of your U3A. Put up posters and leave leaflets in places where potential members would spend time such as GP surgeries, community centres, centres that host groups such as Rotary Club or Women’s Institute.
  • Hold new member meetings and tell new members told about the guiding principles and U3A ethos.
  • Use an introductory questionnaire to identify whether new members have particular skills or interests that they may be willing to share.

6.2. Recruiting Group Leaders/Convenors and expanding groups

  • Give copies of the Group Leaders/Convenors Handbook U3A-KMS-DOC-034 Group Leaders/Convenors Handbook to those in the role. Adapt it to meet the needs of your U3A. Consider role-sharing.
  • Ensure the Group Coordinator meets prospective new Group Leaders/Convenors to discuss the expectations of the role and provides support.
  • Offer inductions and training for those leading and running groups to make people feel valued and supported.
  • Identify members who may be able and willing to run a parallel group covering the same subject, possibly at a more basic level.
  • Share out the duties between members. A co-leader or deputy can help in the event of absence (illness or holidays) and a facilitator can book the room, sort out the money etc, thus allowing the Group Leader/Convenor to concentrate on his/her main function within the group.
  • Encourage group members to participate and make presentations. This can help to create a group culture where everyone pulls together. It will also avoid the Group Leader/Convenor being seen as irreplaceable.

6.2.1. Get help from existing Group Leaders/Convenors

  • Existing Group Leaders/Convenors can keep a look-out for people with strong interests or good people-skills. Approach people directly about taking on roles as people will often say yes if personally asked.
  • Identify Group Leaders/Convenors who are willing to act as mentors to support new Group Leaders/Convenors in the early stages.
  • Share success stories by asking existing Group Leaders/Convenors to talk about positive experiences of taking on the role, such as the challenges that they overcame or the confidence they gained. These talks can also help to dispel any misconceptions about what being a Group Leader/Convenor means.
  • Try to demystify the role and communicate that you do not need to be an expert in a particular field to run a group successfully.

6.3. Recruiting committee members

6.3.1. General

  • Ensure you have an active flow of new members into your U3A, a static or falling membership will provide less options - Growth Matters - U3A-KMS-DOC-014.
  • Make sure new members are given a questionnaire that asks them whether in future they may consider volunteering for the committee and what they did in their professional life and/or what skills they bring.
  • Reassure people by explaining the cover provided by the charity trustee management liability insurance policy - Insurance Overview - U3A-KMS-DOC-013.
  • Consider whether some roles could be split between more than one committee member.
  • Advertise in newsletters, by email, on notice boards and websites and at monthly meetings. Ask Group Leaders/Convenors to convey the message too. Put notices on seats at monthly meetings.
  • Have a volunteer role display board at monthly meetings that identify all the roles that need doing and the expectations of each.
  • Invite potential recruits to observe committee meetings and/or shadow current committee members.
  • Appreciate the contribution that all committee members make and strive to work well as a team – people are more likely to join a committee that functions well and appears enjoyable.
  • Have committee members go along to groups and talk about the work of the committee and the roles that are available.
  • Invite members to attend committee meetings so that they can find out more about how the committee works.
  • Have ‘deputies’ or a buddy system whereby each postholder has a successor co-opted onto the committee.
  • Develop assistant roles so that committee members have someone who is being trained for the role.
  • Make sure that your committee has a positive image within your U3A. Members need to be seen to enjoy their roles and convey the message about the satisfaction to be gained from ensuring that your U3A survives and prospers.
  • Talk to National Office who may be able to link you with some experienced volunteers to offer you advice and ideas.

6.3.2. Get help from existing Group Leaders/Convenors and committee members

  • Ask current committee members to look out for possible successors.
  • Set up a sub-committee to identify members who would perform well on the committee and then approach them personally, explaining how valuable their skills and experience are considered to be.
  • Consult Group Leaders/Convenors who know their members well. They may be able to suggest people who would be suited to the roles.
  • Existing committee members can visit interest groups to talk about being on the committee and the roles that they do.
  • Consider introducing a mentoring system to encourage succession.
  • Arrange short presentations by current committee members at monthly meetings. Explain that it provides an opportunity to use existing skills as well as gaining new ones.
  • Ensure that there is an induction system in place, with help available at all times.
  • Have regular new members’ coffee mornings. Ensure committee members are present so that they can talk to the members on a one to one basis and recognise possible committee recruits. The personal touch is invaluable.

6.3.3. Other ideas

  • Ensure you have a structured agenda and well-run committee meetings.
  • Abide by your constitution and ensure all members are aware of and adhere to the Trustee Code of Conduct.
  • Develop clear role descriptions for committee roles and split roles, if necessary, to ensure that they are not too onerous.
  • Consider rotating roles for some of the less specialised ones which can be quite intense e.g. Speaker Secretary.
  • Exchange ideas with other U3As in your neighbourhood, Network and region.
  • Use your co-options.
  • Use sub-committees for specific areas of responsibility and working parties for one-off projects such as an open day or a special celebration.
  • Some members may be happy to volunteer their time to lighten the load for others by helping out with administrative tasks, even if they are not willing to take on trustee responsibility.
  • Inspire members by emphasising the satisfaction to be gained from being part of a team and the enjoyment to be gained from their involvement.
  • Encourage committee members to attend meetings arranged by regions and networks, and national workshops on all aspects of running a U3A so that they feel part of the whole movement.

6.4. Recruiting Group Leaders/Convenors

  • Advertise new groups on the notice board, in the newsletter and on the website but also in the local press. This sends the message that the U3A is vibrant and that there is plenty of scope for new members to get involved.
  • Help fledgling interest groups to recruit more members by offering the Group Leader/Convenor the opportunity in a monthly meeting to promote what they do.
  • Having natural break points in the year for interest groups helps them to refocus and may encourage a second group to start.
  • Ensure that all your interest Group Leaders/Convenors feel cherished and valued.
  • Have a spokesperson to represent Group Leader/Convenors’ interests on the committee (e.g. Group Coordinator).
  • Introduce one-off topics, short course taster sessions or try time-limited courses of six to eight sessions.
  • Feed in new study topics – if members are interested enough, they will be taken up.
  • Have a suggestion box at monthly meetings for possible new groups and publicise the findings.
  • Do not delay trying to start up an interest group because you have no Leader/Convenor. Encourage like-minded people to get together and get started.
  • Try the following suggestions at monthly meetings:
    • Set out five sheets of paper with a study group topic on each – these can be either completely new or ones which are already full up. Be as creative as you like.
    • Invite all members who are interested to sign up.
    • Keep putting those pages out at general meetings until six people have signed up.
    • Once you have achieved that, ask those people to stay after the meeting and start planning.
  • Offer training to those leading and running groups to make people feel valued and supported.

6.5. General good practice

  • Value your volunteers by thanking them for their contribution. This should be done on an ongoing basis and the U3A could also hold an annual ‘thank you’ event.
  • Keep an updated list of suitable venues to help facilitate the organisation of groups.
  • You could make ‘volunteering’ an item on your agenda every six months. Ensure that your Group Coordinator – if you have one – plays an active role in supporting Group Leaders/Convenors and feels supported in doing so.
  • Make sure committee members feel appreciated.
  • Social gatherings once or twice a year to help members to relax with each other.

7. Training and induction

  • Give copies of the Group Leaders/Convenors Handbook to those in the role. Adapt it to meet the needs of your U3A.
  • Develop a role description for the Group Leader/Convenor role and a list of general ground rules.
  • Offer inductions for new leaders/convenors on successful ways to run a group within your U3A.
  • Find out what training is planned nationally and whether anything is happening within your own Network or region.
  • Check out whether any relevant locally run sessions could help (Council for Voluntary Services, Local Council).

7.1. Review your constitution

  • If you have a relatively recent constitution which you are generally happy with make sure that you:
    • have defined lengths of service for officer and non-officer members of the committee.
    • have a stated maximum period of continuous service.
    • have a maximum committee size which is appropriate to your U3A.
  • If you don’t have satisfactory clauses for the above, consider making the necessary amendments to achieve them.
  • If you have a constitution that has been in place for some time, you are strongly recommended to form a small group of people to look at the current model and bring yours up to date.
  • If you are struggling specifically to attract members willing to stand for officer vacancies, consider changing your constitution so that the committee is elected by the members at the AGM and the officers elected by the committee at its first meeting post AGM.

8. Succession planning

U3As need to pay time and attention to the issue of succession planning and not leave it until just before the AGM to realise that there aren’t enough people to create a committee. Recruiting new committee members should be discussed on a regular basis at committee meetings and responsibility for recruitment rests with all committee members.

Review how you promote your U3A on a regular basis. A key part of succession planning is ensuring that you have new members joining your U3A as a dynamic membership will assist with the sustainability of the U3A over the longer term. Some key points to consider in respect of succession planning include:

  • Raise the profile of your U3A where you can. How do you currently promote and publicise your U3A externally – do you use leaflets, posters, Facebook, Twitter? Could you be more creative in your approach?
  • What does your U3A website look like? How often is it updated? Is it lively and interesting? Ask some external people for feedback about your website and take a look at some of the other U3A websites.
  • Does your U3A feature in local newspapers, on local radio and in community newsletters and e-bulletins? Does your U3A have a profile within the regional website or appear in the National Newsletter or the Trust publications?
  • Do you encourage your members to sign up for the National Newsletter? It can help members to feel more engaged with the movement as a whole if they are kept up to date with the wider world of the U3A. This may then inspire them to get more involved.
  • Research shows that ‘word of mouth’ is still the most successful method of recruitment. So, begin an ‘each one, reach one’ campaign – each committee member, if they think hard enough, is likely to know at least one person who has the potential or the skills to be an effective Trustee. Similarly ask the group convenors to spread the word to their group members about the committee and committee roles.

9. Other sources of help and information

9.1. Internal

9.2. External

10. If all else fails

Stress to your members that their U3A will not survive without volunteers.

It may be that this just needs to be an early warning because you have sufficient members to continue for the next 12 months. However, you may find yourselves in the position of being without the minimum number of committee members as stated in your constitution or missing a key member e.g. a Treasurer. In this case, you must make it very clear at your AGM that unless people come forward there and then you will have no choice but to call an EGM, at which the sole item under consideration will be the closure of the U3A. It is a drastic measure but has been known to work. Seek support from your Regional Trustee, Trust Volunteers, your local Network and/or the Third Age Trust. Lots of U3As experience these difficulties and there may be some good ideas around as to possible ways to address the issue.