What motivates people to volunteer?
What types of volunteer do you need for your memory cafe?
How do you go about finding and recruiting volunteers?
How do you support your volunteers through supervision and training, and show that you value their contribution?


Volunteers are the lifeblood essential to the smooth running of a memory cafe.

How we use them, how we get them, and how we value and support them is the focus of this section.

It’s worth thinking about what motivates people to volunteer. This can help you to work out the kind of roles you might offer. It might also influence how and where you recruit.

Are you looking to recruit more volunteers? This short film is designed to help. You can download it and play it to audiences in your community to explain what a memory cafe is, and what you are looking for in volunteers. You can also use it on social media or your websites…

Why might people volunteer for a memory cafe?

Very often people are very motivated by the ‘cause’. They may have experience of dementia either personally or professionally and be keen to help. Advertising for these volunteers might emphasise the difference they can make to the lives of people with dementia and carers. This would work for people motivated by a wider desire to make a difference in their community.

Many people enjoy the social interaction that volunteering brings. Advertising that focuses on the key importance of communication, and just talking and being with people, will be attractive to this group.

Some people want to learn new skills, or gain experience they can use in their career. Advertising which emphasises the range of roles available at memory cafes would be a good idea for this group.

Others are motivated by the desire to remain active and use existing skills. This is especially true for older people, many of whom might be recently retired. As with the group above, advertising which focuses on the range of roles would be effective here.

Here are some examples of why people might choose to volunteer:

Volunteer roles

You’ll already have volunteers in place in your management committee, if you have one. There are lots of other roles for volunteers to fill.

DMCC have produced a list of roles for volunteers here: https://www.dmcc.org.uk/resources/Information/Volunteer-roles.pdf 

The kinds of roles you will be looking to fill will depend entirely upon your local circumstances. For example, cafes for which activities are to the fore will be looking for people with experience and enthusiasm in that area. Those that focus mainly on socialising will have a stronger emphasis on volunteers with good communication skills and an enthusiasm for the social aspect.

Listen to how memory cafe coordinators try to harness all the skills from the wide range that volunteers can offer…

Recruiting volunteers

Before you start recruiting volunteers, you’ll need to make sure you have a clear idea of what you want them to do.

You should have a strong sense of what the cafe guests want, whether you are just starting out or have been going for years. See the section ‘ Making sure members have a voice‘ on our ‘Getting things started’ page for more information about that.

Think about the skills and experience you might be looking for in specific roles.

What are the basic skills that a volunteer will need? Listen to some of the co-ordinators talk about what makes a good volunteer…

Sometimes, recruitment can be quite an informal process, perhaps starting with a supervised visit to the memory cafe to give potential volunteers a feel for how things work.

However, most often you’ll need something a little more formal. You’ll need:

  • A description of the role

  • A simple application form and/or informal interview

  • References – at least two

  • DBS checks for some volunteers

Not all volunteers will need a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check – for more information on this, go to www.gov.uk/government/organisations/disclosure-and-barring-service

Where to find volunteers

Word of mouth

Many volunteers in memory cafes are recruited through word of mouth, especially in smaller communities. Often, this happens through existing cafe members and volunteers – if people are happy they will tell others about it. So make sure that everyone knows you are recruiting, and what you are after. Spread the word with your partner groups and organisations that you will have met while setting up and promoting your cafe.

The one downside of recruiting through word of mouth (and this goes for recruiting members as well as volunteers) is that it can mean you get more of the same kinds of volunteers. If you want to reach out to all parts of your target communities you’ll need to think beyond word of mouth.

So how do memory cafes find volunteers?

In print or online

Using a poster or flyer for reaching out to potential volunteers is a similar process to promoting your cafe, except here you are promoting the benefits of volunteering. You want potential volunteers to be motivated, informed, and to know what to do to take things forward.

The advantage over word-of-mouth recruiting is that you can control the messaging and the choice of audience.

You can draw up a simple flyer that outlines:

  • What the role involves

  • How the volunteer can make a difference

  • What attributes you are looking for

  • How to get more information

You should always make sure it is headed up by a statement of WHY you are recruiting. Something like:

Living with dementia can be a stressful and isolating experience. At memory cafes, people with dementia and their carers can spend time in the company of others who understand. We simply can’t do it without volunteers.

Remember to think about the different reasons why people might volunteer. This way you can target the messages at specific audiences.

You can think about placing the flyer in slightly different places to those you might use for recruiting new members:

  • Schools and colleges

  • Town halls and other public buildings

  • Sports and leisure centres

  • Libraries

  • Churches

  • Shop windows

  • Pubs

  • Job Centres

  • Local Rotary, Lions and other voluntary groups

You can use your website and social media to promote the volunteering opportunity too. See the section on promotion for more on that.

Volunteer Connect Devon

Volunteer Connect Devon has a dedicated online recruitment system for volunteer roles in Devon.

You can advertise your volunteer roles and manage and track volunteers who’ve registered interest. You can also search a volunteer bank for people who meet your requirements.

Volunteer Connect Devon’s website can be accessed here: http://www.devonva.org/involving_volunteers 

Local media

Build a good relationship with your local media. Feature articles and news stories are a really good way of both promoting your cafe and recruiting volunteers. Stressing the power of local people helping in their communities is likely to strengthen the appeal.

A word about diversity

Some dementia cafes have noticed a lack of diversity among their volunteers, as well as their members. If want to attract a more diverse range of members that more properly reflects your community, then having volunteers from those groups can pay dividends.

There aren’t many male volunteers, for example. This can be a problem as we know that many men, especially older men, are more comfortable in the company of other men. Try targeting organisations with a strong male focus, like the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs or sports clubs.

Disabled people often face physical barriers to volunteering because many of the venues in which they might volunteer are inaccessible to them. Many won’t know that many memory cafes are held in an accessible environment, so be sure to mention it in your recruitment.

Young people are often keen to volunteer, but you don’t see them too often in memory cafes. Targetting schools and colleges will help you attract young people who may be looking to build their skills and experience. The opportunities for intergenerational work between younger and older people should not be ignored either.

Some memory cafes put quite a bit of effort into recruiting young volunteers. They find that people attending the cafes really enjoy interacting with young faces. And engaging young people to learn about dementia is a key part of making a community dementia friendly…

Black and minority ethnic groups

Many black and minority ethnic people with dementia and carers face additional barriers to involvement. Recruiting volunteers from these communities will make it easier for you to attract new members too. Religious and cultural centres are good targets for recruitment.

Hikmat is a Devon-based CIC that supports minority ethnic communities in Devon, and is working with Devon Carers. More information here: https://www.hikmatdevon.co.uk/our-services 

Valuing and supporting volunteers

Having recruited our volunteers, how we support and value them will have a direct effect both on their ability to support others, and on the likelihood that they will stick around.

Again, it’s worth thinking about the various reasons for volunteering, as this will determine the kind of support that will best motivate your volunteer.

Volunteers give their time because they want to help give a good time to people living with dementia who come to the memory cafes. To do that they also need to have a good time themselves…

Regardless of motivation, most volunteers will benefit from:

  • A clear understanding of what their role involves

  • A clear understanding of what they can expect from you, including what to do if there’s a problem

  • A regular time for supervision

  • Training

  • Recognition of their contribution

A clear understanding of what their role involves

You should have established this while recruiting. However, there are often grey areas, and events have a habit of stretching roles both in the moment and over time.

Sometimes what seem like grey areas become clearer over time, especially if the role is a new one. Grey areas that risk making the volunteer feel uncertain of their role or what actions to take should be addressed before they become a problem.

You should discuss any changes to the role, whether they happen by design or circumstance, with volunteers during supervision. Some volunteers will want to change and progress their role over time, and this a great way of keeping volunteers motivated and giving them a sense that they are developing within their role.

A clear understanding of what they can expect from you, including what to do if there’s a problem

A volunteer agreement lays out what is expected from your cafe, as well as what is expected from the volunteer. It should include information about dealing with disputes, as well as the process for claiming expenses.

You’ll find templates for both a volunteer agreement and expenses policy at the Devon Voluntary Action’s Volunteer Managers Hub here: http://www.devonva.org/hub 

If you want to go further, a volunteer handbook can be a valuable resource to give to new volunteers. It builds on a simple volunteer agreement to include information about your cafe’s policies and procedures.

You will find a guide to developing a Volunteer Handbook here: http://www.devonva.org/UserFiles/File/Volunteering/Developing_a_Volunteer_Handbook_2021.pdf 

Problems do arise in the running of any group and dementia cafes are no exception. Making sure that volunteers understand what happens and what they can do if there is a problem is an important part of their induction.

Devon Voluntary Action has produced a guide to drawing up a procedure for your group: http://www.devonva.org/UserFiles/File/Volunteering/Volunteering_Guidance_Problem_Solving_Procedure_2021.pdf 

Listen to some of the ways in which memory cafes support their volunteers:

A regular time for supervision

Volunteers should feel that they are ‘held’ by the cafe. They should feel that they have a time and place to discuss issues and concerns, as well as sharing their learning.

Supervision can take the form of one-to-one meetings or group meetings in which volunteers can share with and support each other. The method you choose will depend on your circumstances, the preference of the volunteer and the issue at hand.

Whatever form it takes, you might discuss:

  • What is going well

  • What they are enjoying

  • Any difficulties they have encountered

  • Any concerns they have

  • Any learning they want to share

  • What additional training or support they feel they need

Amid the hurly-burly of cafe life, it can be hard both for you and the volunteer to find time to talk…

…but it is really, really important that you do.


You should have an induction process which introduces the volunteer to their role, and to the knowledge they need to fulfil it. This will vary from person to person. Only people involved in the provision of refreshments for example will need training in food safety.

Every volunteer involved in the cafe should undertake the Dementia Awareness Training section of this hub.

Recognition of their contribution

Time is precious. It’s perhaps the most valuable donation any of us can make. So, it’s important to recognise and respect this.

How do we best do that?

We make sure that volunteers feel listened to. Do concerns and issues raised in supervision result in real-world changes? Do we get to know volunteers? Are we interested in them, or just in what they can do for us?

Do people feel that they can have a say in how the cafe runs, and that their ideas and suggestions are heard and acted upon? (See the section on ‘hearing the voice’ for more ideas on how to involve volunteers in the running and development of your cafe.)

Do we give volunteers opportunities for development within their role? Many volunteers bring a wealth of life skills and experience that you might be unaware of. These hidden skills might be put to use in all manner of ways to benefit your cafe and maintain the interest of your volunteers.

More information

You will find a guide to developing a Volunteer Handbook here: http://www.devonva.org/UserFiles/File/Volunteering/Developing_a_Volunteer_Handbook_2021.pdf 

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