Ways to encourage diversity

There are many ways to make positive changes to your organisation and encourage people with diverse backgrounds to volunteer. One of the most important things is having a positive attitude and promoting the benefits of diversity to existing staff and volunteers.

There are challenges with opening up your programs to a diverse range of people. Sometimes you will need to think about the specific needs and motivations of certain groups of people in order to attract them to your organisation – and keep them motivated after they join.

This section looks at ways to make your workplace more inclusive.

Get existing staff and volunteers on board

It's important to make sure your existing staff and volunteers are comfortable with your plan to diversify the workplace and know the kinds of roles your volunteers will be filling.

Sometimes, existing staff and volunteers can feel uncertain about working with groups they have not had any experience with before. Offer your existing staff and volunteers training in disability awareness or cultural awareness to make sure that they feel comfortable in engaging with people from these groups.

Establish clear and accessible volunteering policies

People from diverse backgrounds may feel more confident to join (and stay in) an organisation which has clear, specific policies regarding equal opportunity and discrimination. Having clear policies means that your volunteers have a better understanding of how they will be treated and how any potential issues will be addressed.

Some organisations develop a specific policy on diversity; others reflect their commitment to diversity in their mission statement or code of practice – it really depends on your organisation. But once you have your policy statement, it needs to be embedded in human resource practices including the selection process, job descriptions and training.

Check out our Policies and procedures section for more information and examples of volunteering policies used in Victorian organisations. If you have an example of a successful policy or policy implementation, and you would like to share your experience with other organisations, please contact us and we can include it on this site.

Implement your policies by running a training and communication program for all staff and volunteers, and build it into your induction program. Promote key messages within the workplace to make it clear that discrimination and racism have no place in your organisation.

Give an inclusive image of volunteering

You can break down barriers and misconceptions up front by showing how inclusive your organisation is. Make it explicit when advertising volunteer opportunities that you welcome and encourage people from diverse backgrounds to apply, and ensure that photos in any marketing or published material include people from diverse backgrounds.

Some ways you can present a warm, welcoming and inclusive environment are:

  • Display a welcome poster in other languages
  • Translate key promotional materials into key community languages and visit culturally diverse communities in your area to tell them what you do
  • Invite culturally diverse communities to visit your organisation
  • Use images of people from diverse backgrounds in your reception area, promotional materials, newsletters and website
  • Welcome all clients in a warm and friendly manner.

The Migrant Information Centre (Eastern Melbourne) has produced a promotional poster that you can print and distribute in your office to help people think about how to create a welcoming environment.

Have flexible recruitment methods

People from diverse backgrounds have a rich and often unique set of skills and experiences, but may also have some limitations. Focus on what people from diverse backgrounds can do, and not what they can’t do. Under some circumstances, you may need to use specific resources to assist you in the interview such as translators, holding the interview in an accessible location, or increasing the interview duration.

Read our section on Recruiting diverse volunteers for more information and suggested approaches.

Tailor your induction and training

Tailor your induction and training to your volunteers’ circumstances so that every new volunteer feels welcome, comfortable, accepted, and able to contribute.

It’s always a good idea to ask ahead of the session if people have any specific requirements, such as dietary or accessibility needs, a language or AUSLAN interpreter, or if they need to take time to pray during the day.

You'll find more information about training programs in our Induction and training section.

Provide flexible support and supervision

Each volunteer, no matter what their background, may have different needs when it comes to support and supervision. Allow opportunities for feedback so that you can make the volunteering experience as enjoyable for your organisation as it is for your volunteers.

Where appropriate, consider a buddy scheme so that your volunteers from diverse backgrounds can be paired up with an existing volunteer or staff member. This can help your volunteers settle in and can increase their confidence, and at the same time, acknowledges the experience and knowledge of your existing volunteers and staff.

A tip from Leisure Networks is that if you find it difficult to provide one on one support for volunteers, look at creating group or team experiences – like backyard blitzes, mulching mornings, seed planting. That way, groups of people can get involved and have some one on one contact, but also experience a genuine volunteering opportunity.

Modify your workplace

Some people from diverse communities may need adjustments made to the work environment to help them do their work or get around. For example, some people with a disability may need ramps or handrails, some people may need you to install special software.

This often depends on the person you are working with, and doesn’t have to cause major upheaval. If you're not sure, it's always best to talk to the volunteer and find out their preference. Opening up these discussions in a positive way you can give the person with a disability an opportunity to be really honest about the supports they might need – and they feel as though you're really on board to make the placement work.

Some volunteers may need to take time to pray throughout the day. You may need to put aside an appropriate space for them to do so, and take this into consideration when you schedule training or meetings.

There is more information on workplace modifications in our sections on:

Think about communication

Some volunteers may need information provided to them in particular formats to help them understand – especially your workplace policies and procedures. It's a good idea to create a copy of your key policies and procedures in Plain English, or using symbols and pictures, to help people with low English literacy. If you are working with young people, it can be helpful to produce a guide that is easy for them to understand.

Once you have these materials, you can build them into your induction and training processes.

While many migrants and refugees speak more than one language, their English skills may not be as strong, and will vary from person to person. Keep in mind that accent is not necessarily indicative of English language skill.

Be patient while your volunteer is settling in – it won't take long for communication to become easier. It can help to check for understanding as you are introducing tasks. For example, if you explain a task that you would like a volunteer to do, make sure that they know how to get started, by asking a question like, 'So what are first three things you'll do to get that this done?'.

A tip from the Brotherhood of St Laurence is to ask your volunteer to keep a diary, recording each new task that they do. This can help serve as a prompt when it's time to do that job again, but it is also beneficial because you can both look back and realise how valuable it has been to both of you to have the placement.

Recognise skills and abilities

Any volunteer will have strengths that will benefit your organisation.

Take advantage of new, unique and sought-after skills that volunteers from diverse backgrounds might offer – like understanding of new technologies such as social media, communication skills in different languages, networks and contacts within the community, physical strength, cultural awareness, and more.

If you don't already have one, think about developing a rewards and recognition program that is culturally appropriate. One of the best ways to do this is to ask for feedback and ideas from volunteers. Make sure you create a reward and recognition program that is standardised, and make sure that all staff know about the procedures. And then enjoy the process of recognising your volunteers!

Tools and resources