Want new volunteers? It’s time to get creative

Two recent articles in Third Sector have highlighted the challenge facing volunteer-involving organisations in the coming months and years.

One of these  – a piece of research which says today’s volunteers will demand more challenging tasks in their retirement – shows that the new breed of baby boomer volunteers are unlikely to engage in the way their parents did. From wanting shorter-term commitments (at least initially) to an increasing aversion to just doing the make-work, this huge pool of potential volunteers will not thrill to tired old views about – and strategies for engaging – volunteers.The other – a study which suggests that charities should respond to enquiries about volunteering within two hours – highlights how the demands and expectations of potential volunteers have changed in line with the demands and expectations of society in general. It also highlights the need for charities to be more focused on the motivations, availabilities and interests of potential volunteers, while still ensuring that volunteers deliver our missions. As Stephen Cook points out, it’s a question of balance.

Both articles – and the reports they link to – do a good job of summarising the scale of the change needed in many volunteer-involving organisations. Simply adapting current practice won’t cut it. I’ve been making that argument for years, both in my Third Sector blog and in the other writing, training and speaking I do.

I recently read a comment from a volunteer manager who, in response to the increasing interest in short-term roles from potential volunteers, commented that they were struggling to see how existing roles could be divided up into shorter-term opportunities. They missed the point. It isn’t necessarily about doing what we do differently, but about getting creative, looking for new ways volunteers can get involved in our causes, challenging the status quo and seizing the potential of a whole new generation of volunteers.

I came across a great example recently in Australia. An organisation that supports disabled people was recruiting mentors to work one-to-one with their clients. They made it really clear what they needed (skills, commitments, experience, attitudes etc) and put their recruitment message out there. They were surprised that many of the best respondents were recent immigrants. They ticked all the boxes and could empathise with the clients’ experience of being marginalised, ignored and looked down on by wider society.

To me that’s an example of an organisation thinking outside the box and creatively embracing a new pool of volunteer talent, while also retaining a clear focus on what’s best for its clients. It’s in that kind of creativity that organisations will succeed in engaging the huge pool of volunteer talent out there.

What examples have you got of being creative in engaging new volunteer talent? Now’s your chance to showcase your experience and show others that the change we need to see in the way the sector views and engages volunteers is essential if we are to survive and thrive in the future.