Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Barriers to Volunteering

Sometimes I come across signs on shop windows or ads in papers stating “Volunteers Urgently required”! It’s a dramatic statement. Sometimes I see organizations bemoan the lack of volunteers. In some countries, and probably your own, volunteering numbers are declining.

One of the best ways that I can keep up with what’s happening in the volunteering world is having a good chat at the interview with potential volunteers. You can learn so much if you are doing your interviews right. Where I work we have the orientation and information session first. Thus prospective volunteers get a chance to look at the program and learn about it while not having to commit. Then if they are interested they come to our group interviews. There are wonderful dynamics to group interviews but that’s another blog for another day.

A couple of questions I like to ask are “what is your motivation for volunteering?” and “why did you choose this organization?” .There are many important questions that you should be asking at Volunteer interviews and these two are very important. Before I ask the motivation question I state that “ There are many motivations behind why volunteers volunteer here. Volunteers come here for a number of reasons and each reason is as legitimate as the other” And Wow! – that statement really seems to put people at ease. It’s as if they sigh with relief. Before I used to make that statement I would get over 90% of prospective volunteers saying “To give back to the community”. Now whilst giving back to the community is still a very strong factor behind motivation for volunteering for a lot of people the reality is that people volunteer for a myriad of reasons. My statement before my question now allows people to open up and state other reasons for volunteering such as meeting new people, gaining new skills, giving me an insight to my chosen career and or field of study, to have on my resume, to get a reference, to simply do something with my time or to gain confidence.

Basically I allow people to have a safe space for their motivation to volunteering. As long as there is a good outcome for the people they are there to help then their volunteering motivation is just a legitimate as any other.

So when you advertise with a message that says – “Do good for your community – volunteer with us today!” could you potentially be putting up a barrier to some people in the community who would make the most excellent of volunteers?

When you advertise that you are “Desperate for volunteers” is there not a fear that this might alienate a few who wonder why you are “desperate” to begin with.

One of the most amazing yet disheartening things I learn at interviews I conduct is the fact that so many volunteers try to volunteer at organizations but no one answers their query. Last week I asked a potential volunteer why she had picked our organization. She stated she had picked another close to her home but that after 3 emails and a telephone call where she had been informed that someone would get back to her, no one did and then she decided to try another.

Look, I’m a Volunteer Manager. I know the paperwork we can be buried under. I know the pressures of the job and I know that the odd applicant can go missed or unnoticed and then you come across the form or telephone or email message and go into “Service recovery” mode. But three emails and one call from a volunteer and no response?!!!

It’s not an isolated incident. Back to my question at interviews “Why did you pick this organization?” Over and over again…..”You were the only one to respond.”

Really? In 2015. When we have so many tools of communication at our disposal?

And I don’t gloat at interviews. The opposite in fact. I state that this is poor for all of us in the volunteering sector. And I usually have great conversations with the person about volunteerism!

Another huge barrier is lack of flexibility. I can’t count the number of university students who have told me at interviews that they didn't pursue volunteering at their first choice organization because they were told that they had to commit to 6 or 12 months of volunteering before been taken on.

Really? A commitment? A legal binding? On Volunteering? Interesting. Contracts? Please enlighten me folks if I am missing something here. What happens if a volunteer commits for 12 months and leaves after 3? Are they taken to court and sued? Fined? What?

These are just a couple of major barriers to volunteering. There are more and I will talk about them in part 2 of this post at a later date. But I have heard:

·         They are students and or young people and they can’t be relied upon!
·         They are unemployed and therefore will up and go when they get a job!
·         Their reasons are selfish!

So have you come across these or other types of barriers to volunteering? Share your experience here.

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