A volunteering renaissance: challenging the decline of volunteer participation

VOLUNTEERS are the lifeblood of any charitable organisation.

They underpin much of a charity’s success, thanks to their generous donation of time, helping charities to reach their goals, providing ambassadorial support, raising awareness, and helping raise much needed funds for worthy causes.

At Sue Ryder Dee View Court, we are no different. Volunteers are essential to helping us fulfil our ambitions to extend and enhance our neurological care centre in Aberdeen.

From spending time with our residents to help them live as full a life as possible, to undertaking fundraising activities to raise the £3.9million required to build a bigger home for people in the community, our volunteers are integral to helping us realise our vision.

And volunteering is not just beneficial for the charity. As a volunteer, the benefits of getting involved and donating your time are endless:

  • broadening your portfolio of transferable skills
  • widening your social network
  • honing your leadership qualities
  • having the opportunity to do something good for a cause that’s important to you.

As Aristotle said: ‘what is the essence of life? To serve others and do good.’

Yet despite the many mutual benefits of being a volunteer, the art of volunteering has been on a slow but steady decline over the last decade.

So what’s happened? Third sector professionals came together last week to talk about just that, and what we as charitable organisations can do to cultivate a resurgence of volunteering.

As Paul Reddish, chief executive of Project Scotland noted, there is a definite inclination from the population to volunteer, with 19% willing to do so. Their intention however, does not translate into action. So how do we get more happy helpers, and how do we retain them?

The key question is to ask what it means to volunteer, and what we are we asking of our willing participants when we ask them to get involved.

1. Have clear and flexible volunteer roles

A common concern I hear from prospective volunteers is ‘I have nothing to offer you’. Offer a variety of roles with differing opportunities, timescales and flexibilities – and detail exactly how this helps drive forward the charity’s aims.

At Sue Ryder Dee View Court we have a number of roles ranging from event volunteers to admin support, to fundraising committees and befriending roles, and all else in between.

2.Manage expectations

Be upfront about the scope of each volunteering role. What are the commitments – how many hours a week/month do you require the participant to dedicate to the role? Is there a minimum period in which the volunteer has to commit to? Or is it an adhoc position, helping at an event once a year?

The more details and clarity a volunteer has on a role and what they can expect, the easier it will be for them to get involved. And for those who want to volunteer but don’t think they’ve got the time, the clear and timed roles will help them see what they can actually commit to.

3. Understand the needs of a volunteer

As charities, we have a duty of care to engage volunteers in a capacity that meets their own capabilities and interests. A volunteer in a role they don’t feel comfortable doing won’t be a volunteer for long.

Likewise for a volunteer with incredible social media skills being asked to oversee a charity’s Facebook page, when really what they want to do is work with a charity’s service users. It’s important that volunteers are matched in a role that they want to do and can get satisfaction out of doing. Happy volunteers equal long-term volunteers.

4. Don’t just ask for their time – ask for their opinion

Engage and empower a volunteer to not just give their time, but also their advice, thoughts and suggestions on how to drive forward the charity’s vision. If they really feel listened to, valued, and part of the organisation, they’ll want to remain so.

5. Say thanks

An obvious one, you would think, but it’s say easy to get bogged down into the day to day world of working that it can be easy to pause for breath and fully appreciate our wonderful volunteers.

Set aside sacrosanct time each year to properly say thank you, whether it’s by organising a volunteer appreciation day, sending a card, or simply extending the power of your words.

The Power of Volunteering

As a wise person once said: ‘Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections every few years, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.’

Volunteers hold a lot of power over the shape and success of the third sector. It’s crucial that we recognise and value them for the incredible people they are.