How to recruit and retain volunteers - top tips from the Hackney Pirates

25 July 2018

The Hackney Pirates is an adventurous education charity, supporting young people who have access to fewer opportunities and are falling behind in school. They have a unique after school learning centre, a pirate ship in the middle of Hackney, providing young people aged 9-13 with extra adult attention, in a fun and supportive environment. The Young Pirates work on reading and creative writing projects, audio projects recorded in professional studios, and films screened in local cinemas.

On average the Young Pirates’ reading ages are going up 52% faster than age related expectations – meaning that in just 9 months real-time, they make 14 months progress. Volunteer Crewmates are a key source of this impact and the lifeblood of the organisation.  

Recruiting and coordinating Crewmates is done by The Torchbearer and the Swashbuckler – otherwise known as Carmen Nasr and Anthony Mensah. Here, Anthony gives his top tips and reflections from his adventures in volunteer management…

Recruiting the Crew
Hackney Pirates Learning

Be flexible. This is key to successful volunteer recruitment. We ask our crewmates to commit to 12 sessions, which they can complete at any rate they wish as long as the minimum is once a month. Crewmates also choose the day they volunteer and book themselves in via our online calendar, meaning the whole process is easy and fuss free.

Streamline the induction process. No-one wants to fill out long forms or attend endless training sessions. Think hard about how you can refine your recruitment process. Keep things light, fun and most importantly – to the point. Automate your emails where possible, a quick response catches potential recruits when their interest is at its peak.

When recruiting... shout it from the rooftops! While we rely on traditional recruitment methods such as online adverts, social media posts and volunteering fairs, word-of-mouth is actually our most successful recruitment tool. As a result, we invest a lot of time and energy into generating word-of-mouth advocacy on a grassroots level. We do this by visiting local businesses and community organisations, flyering in the local area, and speaking at community meetings and events. Always keep a handful of flyers in your bag wherever you go – you never know who you might meet!

Achieving a diverse volunteer community. The diversity of our volunteers, in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, is very important to us. It’s key that the young people we support are given the opportunity to meet as diverse a range of adults as possible. Look at your recruitment activities – what are the demographics of the audiences you are reaching? Where are the gaps? Be actively targeted in your recruitment. For example, to increase the number of our volunteers who are +55 years old we gave a talk to the local WI, flyered at over-60s cinema screenings and contacted local churches, mosques and synagogues.

Keeping Volunteers aboard!
Hackney Pirates

Volunteering is a journey. As our Volunteer Crewmates are supporting young people with their learning, we feel it's important they view themselves as learners too. A strong sense of personal development can also help them stay motivated and committed. Here are some examples of how we ensure these experiences are a part of our crewmates journey with us:

Driving home impact... The Session Leader (Pirate Teacher) will start each session by presenting the crew with a statistic or anecdote of the positive impact our learning programme is having on the Young Pirates. This energises the crew, strengthening the importance of their role aboard our ship. We also include impact stats or stories in our e-newsletters to backup the message that our crewmates are a vital component of our mission.

Hackney Pirates

Engendering a culture of reflection and self-development...We think volunteering is a development opportunity. From the moment new recruits step aboard our ship they are encouraged to be self-reflective, and to always seek ways to improve their practise. For example, at the end of each session we run a debrief to discuss personal practices volunteers feel are going well, and areas they found challenging. With guidance from staff and experienced volunteers, the group explore suggestions on overcoming challenges faced by newer crewmates, engendering a culture of peer support and learning.

Celebrating achievements... We have a fun pirate ranking system to celebrate and recognise our crewmates’ hard work and commitment, while also motivating new recruits. Volunteers become Sea Dogs at their sixth session, and Buccaneers upon the completion of their twelfth session. They receive a shiny badge and a special salute at each of these milestones!

Get involved with Hackney Pirates

In January 2019, Hackney Pirates will be opening a brand new ship in Haringey. If you’d like to join the crew then please sign up!  

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