How FoodCycle used data to help with volunteer recruitment

Mary McGrath, CEO of FoodCycle explains how the charity analysed its volunteer data as a way to help with the “never-ending task” of volunteer recruitment.


A large part of my role is supporting the wider FoodCycle team, and a regular hurdle for a volunteer-led charity is ensuring we are constantly growing that bank of willing community members to help keep our Projects running. Ensuring that our service, which takes surplus food and turns it into nutritious community meals with the aim of reducing food waste, food poverty and social isolation, has enough volunteers to run effectively every week is a never-ending task.

We currently have 4,000 active FoodCycle volunteers across 51 Projects across the UK which is amazing but, without a minimum time commitment, these generous community members with their own lives might only be able to give us a few hours a month or less. While many of our Projects see the same smiling faces every week and we are lucky to have the most dedicated volunteers, we do also sometimes find ourselves short – particularly in our newer Projects where it might take a while to spread the word.

One way we tackle this is by having annual recruitment drives. Having analysed past volunteer data we know that volunteers who sign up in January are more likely to become more frequent, regular volunteers. We also looked at our volunteer demographic and found that only 3% of our FoodCycle volunteers are retired yet, with the combination of more time at their disposal and a wealth of skills and experience, many of our retiree volunteers have become integral to the successful running of our Projects. Taking this information in to account, we decided that our first volunteer recruitment campaign for 2022 should take place in January and target those that are retired.

We created a combination of case studies with existing retired volunteers and content highlighting the benefits of volunteering with FoodCycle. This was then distributed in a number of ways - via our national and regional social media channels with organic posts and Facebook ads, via a media campaign to national and regional media and through internal and external newsletters. This resulted in almost 2000 new volunteer sign ups across January and February.

We have also had brilliant success this year across national and regional media platforms who have supported us in getting the word out about FoodCycle and asking readers to consider signing up as a FoodCycle volunteer. Members of the FoodCycle team and volunteers have featured on everything from BBC Breakfast and Sky News to the Liverpool Echo and BBC Radio Gloucestershire.

The current cost of living crisis has given our Projects the additional challenge of supporting those that are starting to see their weekly food budgets tightening and utility bills rocketing. We have always done our best to be there for the communities we're in and with todays challenges facing people across the country we are working harder than ever to provide a welcoming environment for great food, friendly conversation and a chance to leave the heating off and let someone else do the washing up for the night. As we continue to grow, feeding higher numbers of those who need us at current Projects and expanding into new areas, we hope we can continue to attract people from all backgrounds and walks of life to volunteer and help us strengthen and build resilient communities coming together to share healthy, delicious meals.

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