Why charities should create bespoke volunteering opportunities
Volunteers are no longer 'one size fits all', older and available for years on end – they are now often young, seeking work experience, studying and job-hunting, and therefore increasingly transient.
Organisations need to address this and consider moving away from traditional job placements. Instead they should seek volunteers with the appropriate range of skills who fit into the charity ethos and develop their own roles – with help of course.
Megan Leef-McCowan of the charity Street Child of Sierra Leone believes their programme is different. Rather than charging volunteers for their placement, they network to seek individuals who match their aims. Leef-McCowan says that they don't have ready-made volunteer placements, instead they take the volunteers and shape the experience to each individual.
The charity has about 50 volunteers at any time, involved in anything from administration in the office to visiting projects in Sierra Leone on six-month sabbaticals. They are easy to source, ranging from PR and branding experts to communications specialists. According to Leef-McCowan, most of the volunteers stay involved beyond their temporary project placements.
Leef-McCowan is clear that this charity doesn't see the volunteers as just additional hangers on that need to be found whatever work the regular paid employees have neither the time nor inclination to do; they are key income generators, driving the fundraising and living the charity's missions. It's essential for everyone to value these well-meaning individuals who want to give their time freely.
Vanessa Wells from Volunteer Centre Wiltshire agrees that it's important to fulfil the wish of volunteers, because "a fulfilled volunteer is a happy volunteer". Wells advises organisations to ask volunteers what they want to do and what they want out of a role – that way they have a much higher chance of keeping them.
However, she feels lack of clarity in a role can make the organisation appear disorganised and volunteers may lack confidence in the organisation's ability to find a suitable position. Wells feels that the traditional method of citing a role and finding someone to match is hard to refute.
As a regular volunteer, and having run a youth club for three years, I have spent a lot of time sourcing helpers. It's really useful to bring in willing help and ask them what they could do – perhaps presenting options – rather than recruiting secretary, treasurer, event manager roles. Many people want to help on the quiet, slotting into the background, providing solid, professional support; that was often undervalued and given little public recognition.
It goes against the traditional route of recruitment, but isn't it worth organisations looking at the Street Child of Sierra Leone model and considering how volunteers could lead and grow an organisation and even provide the very income they are all desperate for? Some charities treat volunteers as nothing more than useful administrators, flinging them the leftover crumbs from the main table. Sometimes this is accompanied by 'thank yous', but even those can be few and far between, and the volunteers' valuable free time is taken for granted.
Not all volunteers want to be perceived as high value to an organisation, nor want the responsibility of a role specially shaped for them. But there are many more out there who would thrive on that. After all, our spare time is so precious, perhaps organisations should be thinking more creatively about volunteers than some of them are doing.
Most of us wouldn't work our regular jobs unpaid, which really says something about the passion of volunteers. Shouldn't we encourage and reward that passion for everyone's benefit and create organisations that are driven by volunteers rather than propped up by them?
This article was taken from www.guardian.co.uk – http://www.guardian.co.uk/voluntary-sector-network/2012/jun/21/bespoke-voluneer-opportunities