Giving the Gift of Time - Giving people more reason to volunteer
Why do people volunteer? Is altruism enough?
Traditionally, our understanding of volunteers is people driven by altruistic motivations; wanting to give back, make a difference and do something meaningful. However, with volunteer turnover increasing and more competition for volunteers amongst charity shops, do we need to offer more? Can this alone still be relied upon today, where time is increasingly becoming our most precious commodity?
Could this be the 'secret' to unlocking more volunteers? How do we shift the volunteer offer from a one-way offer, to a two way relationship which also answers the question: 'what's in it for me?'.
Why do people volunteer
The Oxford Dictionary defines a volunteer as a 'a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task'. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) defines volunteering as 'any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone...'. Neither of these definitions mention any benefits to the volunteer. Do we need to re-define or re-brand volunteering if we are to reflect the opportunity for two-way benefits, and broaden its appeal?
So I clearly sit in the altruistic camp, right? For me it's all about making a difference. But on reflection, is this it? Or this alone? What else am I getting out of this experience? What about the new skills I will pick up along the way, the new people I will meet, or the opportunity to have a completely different experience and perspective? The more I think about it, whilst this started out as an altruistic driven thing, I wonder if I will get much more out of the 'deal'.
So why else do people volunteer?
I've met those who volunteer because the shops offer them the opportunity to indulge a hobby; vintage clothes, books, LPs, upcycling. I've also met those who value the social side, maybe having lost a partner of several years or those with very little family of their own. I've met those currently in between jobs who use it as an opportunity to gain experience.
But how do we attract more?
At Thames Hospice, historically, we have attracted volunteers through word of mouth and posters in shop windows; we haven't done too much to actively recruit these groups. Who else could we target or what else could we offer to attract less altruistically driven volunteers? What about students, finding it increasingly difficult to get jobs or secure a university place, and looking for something to make their CV stand out? Or what about corporates looking to add to their Corporate Social Responsibility agenda or find team bonding opportunities?
Giving people more reasons to volunteer
Wherever the focus, what is clear is we need to be more proactive about identifying those groups, creating an offer for them and establishing links with them. If we're to ensure we create a sustainable pipeline of volunteers, we need to give them something more back in return.
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