Sunday, May 5, 2013

On running out of Volunters!

A recent newstory from ABC News Australia

"Meals on Wheels is warning that it is running out of volunteers to keep up with the demands of a rapidly ageing community.

The service is trying to recruit young people to fill its ranks, and says without new recruits it might not be able to continue in the long term.

Chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels NSW, Les MacDonald, says the organisation's volunteers are getting older.

"Unless we can replace them with younger generations of volunteers, we face the prospect of Meals on Wheels not being around in 10 to 15 years," he said.

"I think that would be a tragedy for the Australian community."

Running out of volunteers is never a nice headline to see. I passed by a charity thrift shop only recently to see a sign plastered on their shop front – “Volunteers needed urgently” Looks like another venture “running out of volunteers”

Sometimes it’s hard to find the answers. But sometimes maybe the right questions are not being asked. Nowhere in the ABC article do I see how this problem can be addressed apart from appealing to a young persons sense of helping out in the community. The CEO said "You've got to think about you're going to be an older person one day, and personally, the last thing I want when I'm older is to be alone,"

You see I am not sure if that is enough to resonate with a young person who wants to volunteer. Or anyone...of any age.

When there is a lack of volunteers I like to ask – what barriers are being put up to people volunteering?

Here are some that I have come across

• No effective Volunteer Management systems. That is to say no professional Volunteer managers in stand alone roles of recruiting, leading and inspiring volunteers.

• Little or no flexibility – i.e. “we want you to do the same shift, same time every week without fail”

• My dreaded “You must commit to volunteering for at least six months” MUST. I come across it so often.

• “This is the way we’ve always done it” So now what’s happening

• We can’t afford to employ Volunteer Managers” can’t afford to “run out” of volunteers either!

• “ We can’t have flexible training times – you have to be there at this time and this date or that’s it”

Now let me be absolutely clear that the above is not about the Meals on Wheels organisation. I have no idea how they recruit volunteers or what type of volunteer management systems they have. And I do hope that this great organisation can find more volunteers.

But the story did give birth to some thinking on what organisations who are finding difficulty in filling volunteer positions should be thinking about.

Here are my tips

• Shine a spotlight on Volunteer Management systems.

• Talk to organisations that effectively engage volunteers.

• Look for some research on youth volunteering

Here’s a great example of what I was involved in. I was honoured to be selected as a Volunteer Manager from 1 of 8 organisations selected to participate because of their effective engagement of young volunteers.

“ In 2010, Volunteering Qld produced the report Youth Leading Youth, which provided an ‘inside’ perspective on practices used by volunteer organisations led by young people. The findings challenged a range of traditional practices in volunteer management and opened up opportunities for organisations to enhance their capacity to engage young volunteers.

The Youth Leading Youth report received interest from a wide range of organisations, from other youth-led organisations to larger, more traditional organisations interested in engaging young volunteers. This report, Young People as Volunteers, seeks to build on the findings of Youth Leading Youth and to offer clear strategies that can be adopted by organisations in their efforts to more effectively work in collaboration with young volunteers aged 18 to 25. While the target demographic is this age group, the definition of “young” changes across industries and the strategies provided are relevant for a wider range of ages.

The development of this report involved a multi-step process, which included:

1. Focus groups with a variety of young people, including international students and university students.

2. A focus group with 23 organisations that wish to engage young volunteers.

3. A focus group with 8 organisations selected to participate because of their effective engagement of young volunteers.

4. A series of one-on-one interviews with representatives from selected organisations across a range of sectors, who demonstrate a high level of effectiveness in engaging young volunteers”

The entire report can be found here

• However, my advice would be to never make it a “no young people are volunteering so therefore we will fail to exist” scenario. Reverse ageism could impact an organisation because I believe that anyone of any age can contribute equally. Just are there many young people out there looking for volunteering opportunities to suit them the same applies to anyone in their fifties, sixties seventies and beyond!

• Form a working party of all ages to explore the challenge.

• Consult with all stakeholders in Volunteerism! This includes the sector of Volunteer Management. We have an association here in Australia. It’s called AAMOV. Its members will be/ should be happy to share tips on volunteer management and recruitment!

The Volunteer Management sector is so often omitted from this narrative. So are those consultants on Volunteer Management! Because God forbid we pay someone to tell us what is wrong with our volunteering systems and culture!

We rarely see media’s attention when volunteering is working. Story of our lives! One would hope that in this case the media attention will at least interest people in volunteering for the organisation.

In the 17 years I have been managing volunteers I have been amazed at how helpful people can be when asked. But they need to be asked, In the right way, and accommodated in the right way, and organisations need to be flexible. And I have also discovered that the best recruitment tool is word of mouth. People enjoying the volunteering experience with your organisation will talk, will Facebook, will Twitter and will help you recruit once you have the basics right!

Meals On Wheels have an ally here and have the potential to gaining many more. A potential tragedy can become a great and inspiring story!

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