No don’t worry, your volunteering blogger hasn’t gone all talent show crazy. In fact my views on talent shows are well summed up by a comment heard recently when actress Cate Blanchett asked if we had an equivalent to the crime show Australia’s Most Wanted. The reply came, “Yes, it’s called Britain’s Got Talent”.
What I want to talk about this month is volunteering opportunities.
Putting time and effort into creating interesting and meaningful roles is a critical yet often overlooked aspect of effective volunteer engagement. Without the compensation of pay in return for time given, it is essential to create roles for volunteers that not only do the things our organisations want doing but also give the volunteers what they want – their “motivational pay cheque”, if you will.
It isn’t easy, especially as volunteers all have different interests and reasons for wanting to give their time. On top of that volunteers usually tell you what they think you want to hear when you ask them: “why do you want to volunteer?”. That’s why so many people talk about giving to their community but rarely say what they want from the volunteering experience, even though it is much more socially acceptable for volunteering to have a bit of give and take these days.
Putting time and effort into developing great volunteering opportunities helps immeasurably with volunteer recruitment. If you have a clear idea of what you want doing then you’re likely to have a clear idea of the attributes needed to perform that task and achieve the desired result. This makes it possible to target your recruitment, looking for the right kinds of people in the right kinds of places rather than sending out broadcast messages of ‘we need volunteers’ to anyone that will listen. Smart recruiters know that a bigger problem than not having enough volunteers is not having enough of the ‘right’ volunteers.
And of course if you’ve really thought through what you want volunteers to do then you won’t commit one of the cardinal sins of volunteer management – recruiting people and them having them sit around waiting for work to do.
Sadly, this appears to be exactly the basic mistake LOCOG have made in their Games Maker volunteer programme for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer.
So great volunteers opportunities are important, yet there seems to be a misunderstanding among many about what aspects of volunteerism need resourcing if we are going to get more people giving time.
Do we really need yet more initiatives like Jubilee Hour, creating yet another route into volunteering? Why is it assumed that more and more of these kinds of sites and initiatives is what’s needed to get people giving time? Don’t we risk confusing the public by providing overwhelming choice, making it more difficult to volunteer, not easier? And what happens when people try and give an hour only to find out that many organisations need volunteers who can give a greater commitment than that?
That’s why I think Nesta and the Cabinet Office have got it wrong with the projects recently awarded money by the Innovation In Giving Fund. They appear to be supporting yet more brokerage sites but largely fail to fund projects that will help organisations create meaningful and interesting opportunities that are attractive to 21st century volunteers.
What we really need is more investment of time and money in developing great volunteer opportunities, the kinds of things today’s volunteers actually want to do. We need volunteer-involving organisations not to make their volunteer management budget one of the first casualties of the cuts and we need other funders to properly understand the issues before they fork out on initiatives that may actually make things worse.