July 26, 2015
I’ve been hearing about the implications of an ageing population for a long time now. Prognostications include an awful lot of doom and gloom about the cost of pensions and health services, and the shrinking tax-paying work force available to support that expenditure. At the same time there is much laudatory exposure of the engagement of young people in volunteering – Gen Y and the Millenials.
The World Giving Index (2013) shows that “Global youth are driving the rise in volunteering: Since 2011, the biggest increase in participation in volunteering has occurred among 15-24 year olds. Within three years this age group has gone from being the least likely to the second most likely to volunteer.”
An outspoken blogger argues the obsession with Millenials is a Nonprofit Trend that has to Die. “There are other groups we also need to pay attention to, like the Boomers, who will be retiring and affecting the sector in various ways.”
So I went looking for what’s happening in volunteering, for the data that might give me a reality test of who is doing what.
Statistics New Zealand’s Time Use Survey 2009/2010 showed older people (aged 65+) spent more time on unpaid work than people at other life stages – 4 hours and 31 minutes a day; young people (aged 12–24 years) spent the least, at 1 hour and 46 minutes. OK – that information is a bit old, but gives a pretty clear difference between age groups.
A bit more up to date is 2012 information from Volunteering NZ’s Statistics on Volunteering (New Zealand General Social Survey). People aged 65-74 reported undertaking volunteering work the most (37.7%) followed by people aged 45-54 (34.4%). People in the 25-34 age group reported the lowest rate of volunteering (24.8%). When measured by life-stage, the proportion of people volunteering increases from 28.8% of young adults volunteering to 35% of older people, as indicated in the following graph.
On the other hand, Department of Internal Affairs (NZ) Quarterly Volunteering & Donating Indicators for the September 2014 quarter show that people between the ages of 30-39 were the largest cohort of volunteers. People of 60-74 and 75+ years were not far behind. Long-term trend indicates people aged 40-49 have had the highest percentage of volunteers for 11 of the 19 quarters analysed. Ages 10-19 have lowest % for 16 of 19 quarters.
US Bureau of Statistics data for 2014 finds that people aged 35-44 were most likely to volunteer (29.8 %). Volunteer rates were lowest among 20- to 24-year-olds (18.7%). For persons 45 years and over, the volunteer rate tapered off as age increased, though the rate for people aged 65 and over was 23.6%. Teenagers (16- to 19-year-olds) had a volunteer rate of 26.1%.
NCVO figures from UK Civil Society Almanac 2014 note that between around a quarter (24%) and a third (33%) of people in each age range report volunteering at least once a month, with those aged 65-74 the most likely to volunteer this frequently.
Enough! From this mish-mash of information I take the following points:
- Yes, there is a significant rise in the rates of youth volunteering, but they don’t put in the hours that older people (65+) work as volunteers.
- What is fairly consistent is the highest rate of volunteering in the 30-49 age group, what is (or used to be) called middle adulthood, when involvement in children’s school and sporting activities and local community services can be expected.
- Yet, in New Zealand at least, it seems older people (65+ years) are the biggest contributors to the community and volunteer sector.
So why are we not hearing more about what older volunteers can do, about attracting older people to volunteering? Specially when we know they are living longer in better health, and how volunteering can be good for both physical and social health. The buzz of volunteering and its intangible (and tangible) rewards are just as important for older people as for younger generations.
A UK report on the future of volunteering in an ageing society indicates the challenges, like they keep on working till at least age 70; they take on extra grandparent duties (or even full-time parenting); and bountiful economic years have given many of them opportunities for travel. Anxiety about being a ‘do-gooder’ or ‘interfering’ is also expressed by people raised in an era of different social norms. And current marketing and promotion of volunteering is not reaching them.
Some excellent resources for engaging with Boomers are available, from best practice to tips and tools. It’s all the stuff we’ve been preaching in New Zealand about management of volunteers for the past five years and a reminder about being inclusive in volunteer programmes. Boomers are too big a population to ignore, and volunteering is their best opportunity to keep involved in all spheres of community life.
As an 82 year old Ambassador promoting Boomer volunteering for Volunteering Waikato has said: No-one should ever be left out!
According to Henry Ford, “Anyone who stops learning is old – anyone who keeps learning stays young”.
And that’s the point made by the president of New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) in 2012:
It has become an obsession to label people as belonging to supposedly homogenous generations – be that Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials or Baby Boomers. Often this labelling becomes a tool for negatively creating false and divisive barriers between generations, or setting one generation against another. Carelessly used, these labels perpetuate ideas of ‘them’ and ‘us’, rather than helping us to build greater social cohesion.
Being a student is one of those shared experiences that continues throughout our lives – we never cease to learn. So everyone is a Generation Student!
That label would suit me just fine, because I could be learning from young people as well as my peers.
So let’s spread the word about the variety of volunteer challenges available to the Boomer generation, about the opportunities to apply their skills and experience, and the opportunities to learn more, and about the richness of belonging and being involved in our communities.
April 22, 2015
A few weeks back I received notice of a piece of newly-published New Zealand research on digital proficiency in the NFP Sector. It came via my email inbox of course, and though I am no great shakes in computer literacy and technological competency I do know what a necessary asset these skills are for all things volunteering, and for volunteer organisations.
I have lamented for a long time about the often poor and inadequate use of technology. Goodness, it’s nearly five years since I wrote about making websites attractive for volunteers. And still I come across inadequate and out-of-date information, misleading links, and a sort of stone-walling that looks like the organisation has something to hide. I’ve preached about more effective use of social media too, and making space for volunteer on-line participation.
Anyway the analysis of digital proficiency in the research is pretty-much spot on. The report says the NFP Sector is under pressure to do more with less: Government wants to reduce spending; traditional sources of funding are shifting; and supporters want to see the impact of their investment. Organisations that are digitally proficient are better placed to respond in a challenging environment, and there are gains to be made across a range of NFP operations.
It is possible these findings could be extrapolated to a global sphere: “there is no significant difference between IT capability levels between metropolitan and regional-based organisations, or across Australia and New Zealand”. That is not to say Aussies and Kiwis are just the same: there are distinct cultural differences, despite our neighbourliness.
Other results show that less than half of research participants have an IT plan; that there is a positive correlation between IT capability and revenue generation; and that capability is not relevant to organisation size and complexity. And still 11% of organisations do not have or use a website. There’s a heap of challenges to make IT more productive of course, starting with affordable and skilled technical resources. Staff training is high on the list, and making the most of new IT developments is also important.
But wait, there is more. A Facebook link turns up: Tech is Everyone’s Job. Because Tech is also the space for innovation, and lack of staff training and opportunities to test new processes becomes a barrier to effective organisation progress. Right? Just see what Chief Executives are missing when they refuse to use social media.
There is a heap of stuff available urging digital proficiency. There’s also a deal of research and statistics on internet connectivity and use. What about volunteer involvement in their organisation’s on-line activity?
When the idea of volunteers being let loose on social media is raised I hear objections that come close to outrage. I sigh, for this indication of such a lack of trust, that volunteers will abuse the system and risk the organisation’s credibility – which I note is a slur rarely applied to paid staff. With a well-drafted policy to cover and manage perceived risks (and there are examples) volunteers could prove a real asset in promoting good news and even attracting donors’ attention.
Let’s make volunteers and volunteering digital-friendly, and up on the spectrum of technological competence – as well as getting some up-skilling in digital proficiency for organisations.
November 16, 2014
The difficulties of volunteer recruitment never seem to go away. The plaints of being short of people or not getting the ‘right sort’ of people keep on being raised. I am still seeing notices in community newspapers or on social media and on websites about ‘wanting’ and ‘needing’ volunteers – which do little more to attract people beyond relying on the organisation’s reputation and public profile.
Well if you have not read the small print in the image above take a look at it now.
This notice reportedly delivered 5000 responses to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment of a crew for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914. The original advertisement has never been located so there is doubt about its authenticity. Nevertheless it is a great story, alongside the subsequent adventures and heroism of the men on the expedition.
Yes, the message is based on men wanted (remember this is pre-Women’s Lib days), but it was the era of Antarctic exploration, and maybe the name of Shackleton drew attention (he had already made a name for himself). Maybe all those men were looking for adventure, not knowing there was a different sort of adventurous expedition that would be announced in just a few months time.
For managers of volunteers the point of any recruitment advertising is (1) grabbing attention and (2) understanding the range of motivations that draw people to volunteer. Add to that some basic principles of marketing, along with the organisation’s well-articulated reasons for engaging with volunteers.
What sort of salvo from a voluntary organisation would deliver the impact that Shackleton achieved?
- Unleash your talents!
- Want to apply your under-utilised skills?
- Opportunity knocks!
- Make friends and influence people
- Join our fun-filled team at….
It’s the impact that counts – one that attracts attention. Offer a taste of the kind of work available – which does not have to be accompanied by the kind of conditions Shackleton was describing. Add in other attractions: the rewards of volunteer work, like Shackleton’s ‘honour and recognition’, or the flexible time arrangements, or the benefits of skill development and work experience. Yes, you can make much of the worthiness of your organisation’s cause, because many volunteers will sign up to pursue their passionate interests. But do avoid messages that sound like you are desperate for help. That plea makes me wonder why volunteers are not signing up and to ask if there is something wrong with the volunteer programme.
All of these suggestions tap into standard volunteer motivations. They are also pretty similar to anything found in Sits Vac columns or job-seeking websites. Let’s not forget that volunteering is a job, is real work – and not simply stuffing envelopes and making cups of tea. And we do it for free, for all sorts of different reasons.
Two more recommendations (but note, there is never a last word on recruitment): (1) include a name, a real person to contact beyond the phone number or email address; and (2) ensure a quick response to messages and expressions of interest. That’s the most important start for a conversation that could lead to a long career as a volunteer.
February 9, 2014
Ask a reasonable question about why volunteers are involved in non-profit organisations and don’t be surprised if the answer is To Save Money! It’s there in writing as well, in comments about budget constraints which ‘increase reliance on volunteer support’, and in ‘saving on administration costs’.
Annual Reports can include acknowledgement of volunteer numbers and hours contributed translated into monetary value, but rarely any analysis or demonstration of why they are valued and important for the organisation.
This money thing really gets in the way of thinking about volunteers and understanding volunteering.
The people who claim ‘volunteers are priceless’ have not looked at the costs of running a volunteer programme. Somebody should be adding up expenditure on recruitment and training, provision of support and supervision, functions for recognition of volunteer work, and reimbursement of expenses. Hang on, why should we reimburse volunteer expenses? Paid employees don’t get reimbursed for travelling to work, nor their parking fees!
When I hear about organisations saving money by using volunteers I am hearing ‘exploitation’. To ‘use’ volunteers is close to ‘abusing’ their goodwill, and their time and their talents.
If the budget shortfall really means increasing volunteer support what extra work will they do? Taking up jobs that used to be paid? That would mean relaxing some of the current rules that limit volunteer roles like a ban on undertaking personal cares for frail and vulnerable people or the constraints of safety boundaries. And let’s not overlook a potential backlash from worker associations.
What is it that so many people need to understand about volunteering?
For starters, ‘volunteering’ is a modern-day term for an ancient human practice that provided mutual support and protection for the collective group, binding people within their communities. These days we call it ‘Civil Society’, denoting all those activities that bring people together to pursue their mutual interests. Volunteering is noted for its diversity and the wide fields of interests, for large national organisations and small informal and local groups. These days, volunteering is a means for community engagement, for maintaining social relations and stability. Volunteering is also the agency to promote a cause, to bring enlightenment and create change.
So when we get down to organisation level, to the place that employs paid staff, what’s the point of volunteering, if it is not to save money? Here are some pointers to finding an answer:
- At a basic level, volunteer assistance will support staff and enable them to focus on specialist responsibilities.
- Volunteers help to create a positive image of the organisation in the community. As ambassadors they can be a real asset, attracting donors and more volunteers, and being the best-ever marketing agents. (Or, as the worst-ever critics, they could be your biggest liability.)
- Volunteers can bring new insights, energy and time to the organisation. It was probably volunteer enthusiasm and commitment that got it started in the first place. So why not harness that energy to develop and trial new strategies or processes, to push the envelope beyond existing limits. The voluntary sector needs a research and development function as much as manufacturing corporations.
- When volunteers bring a diverse range of skills and experience they enrich the organisation, and help expand community connections which can extend the reach of organisation services.
- At best, volunteers offer added value to the organisation’s vision and contribute to achieving its mission.
These are general points, and will need to be tailored to organisation specifics. More importantly, getting to grips with the real reasons for volunteer involvement will mean you never have to say ‘volunteers are priceless’ or that they save you money. And, you’ll find the words and phrases to give real meaning to volunteering.
December 1, 2013
“Outsource to Volunteers” were the words inscribed on a floating pendant at Festival for the Future, a weekend event to celebrate what’s possible, “supporting the next generation to spark & grow world-changing ideas for a better New Zealand”.
Now there’s an idea, I thought, and my mind raced away on the potential for community organisations to outsource work and even whole service delivery to volunteers. All I need to do is work up a business plan and organise a few contracts.
After all, hospitals outsource food and cleaning services to private operators; local authorities outsource waste collection services; airlines might have aircraft servicing done outside their country of origin; and we are all familiar with local businesses that outsource the manufacture of their products to way beyond our shores, along with IT services and Call Centres .
How could I make this work for volunteering? It would be a non-profit business for starters. I would recruit and train volunteers, undertake the whole professional management of volunteers, and organisations would contract with me to supply and deliver their volunteer programme. I would make sure a contract price included provision for volunteer rewards and recognition, and also allowances for travel – as well as the costs of administration and training and support and so on – and reasonable recompense for my own efforts. Volunteers do not come for free, you know.
Outsourcing will foster a strong volunteer identity, give volunteers a sense of ownership and pride in their status instead of being reminded of that professional/amateur inequality. Nor would volunteering fall into the black hole of ignorance and being ignored by management in the organisation. Outsourcing could make volunteering more visible in the community rather than being confined to particular organisations. Ultimately volunteering would become an attractive proposition to a wider range of people, and stimulate widespread recognition as well as a broader range of activities. Outsourcing will also give a manager of volunteers the freedom to apply best practice away from the curbs of restrictive organisation processes.
But would it still be ‘volunteering’? Sigh. Such flights of fancy always have fish-hooks. Worst is the inference that volunteers are just another tradable commodity, even if they do not get paid for their work. Market principles do not, should not ever, apply to volunteering. Outsourcing might also expose a shameful concession that volunteer programmes are not part of an organisation’s core business.
My ideas also cut across some of the present work of Volunteer Centres. Many organisations would never dream of letting an outsider take over ‘their’ volunteers. There could be practical objections when it comes to specialised services like emergency services, telephone help-lines and befriending programmes. Some people will protest that outsourcing changes the whole flavour and meaning of volunteering.
But think about it. Think about the words ‘outsource to volunteers’. They do not mean ‘replace paid staff with volunteers’, nor ‘let’s exploit volunteer willingness to help’, and nor do they imply ‘volunteers can do anything’. But they do encourage me to think about extending volunteer responsibilities and developing new initiatives that would add value to organisation services, or to trial new ways of operating.
My realist head is now seeing ‘outsource to volunteers’ as a simple slogan to remind us of the wealth of goodwill, of talents and experience, that volunteers bring to any organisation – and why we should place high value on their services. If we forget that then our organisations and our communities are the poorer for it.
May 26, 2013
Mostly I know volunteer organisations are established on the basis of responding to a need, whether it’s for kids sport, disaffected youth, family abuse, or for civic and political protest. That is, people in the community recognise a gap or a flaw in services and decide to step up and step in to provide it themselves.
I can understand neediness when it comes to funding and resourcing operations. Even the smallest organisation will be looking to cover costs for stamps and paper, and photocopying minutes of meetings, phone calls and internet services. Maybe membership fees and dipping into our own pockets will cover the deficit, but that may not be sustainable over time. The organisation might grow, get some traction through philanthropic grants and perhaps a government contract, though the $$ are never enough to cover total expenditure.
Recruiting volunteers is not the first step in developing a volunteer programme, but it’s certainly the one that trips many an organisation, as reported in the Managers Matter research (2010). It seems the problem is about posing recruitment messages as needing volunteers.
Twice this week I’ve seen promos for volunteers that are more like begging pleas. This or that organisation needs volunteers – can you help? Need and help go together, relying simply on reader perception of these words and possible recognition of the organisation’s brand or logo. Without indication of volunteer roles and responsibilities and without describing the advantages in volunteering for this organisation I am most likely to offer nothing more than a passing glance to such messages.
Need – Help – and then add Want, to make a triumvirate of words least likely to attract volunteers. British World War I recruitment posters no longer have the pull of earlier times: volunteers wanted is just another empty plea. Empty, because no-one is asking about the skills and experience I could offer, nor describing the potential benefits of volunteering with your organisation. Help wanted is just another banner fluttering in the breeze of volunteer opportunities.
What does work in attracting volunteers, whether it’s through community networks, a website, Facebook or other social media, or via Volunteer Centre brokerage?
For starters you don’t have to use any of the above: you go ask people. Not because you need or want them to help. You ask because they’ve got skills and talents that would be really useful; because the organisation is a fun place to work; because they’ve got a programme that supports and appreciates volunteer work – and a host of other reasons to shoulder-tap and get people interested. There’s a powerful argument posted this week about Asking being the New Telling. We’ve known about direct approaches to volunteers for many years, and we need to grow out of relying on begging messages. Here’s another link promoting the direct ask, and you can’t do better than this compilation of ways to turn your organisation into a volunteer magnet. Or have a look at Susan Ellis’ run-down on the turn-offs in volunteer recruitment.
I wish we could get past the agonising about needing and wanting volunteers to help organisations. There is so much good advice available on practical ways to find and keep volunteers we should not have to keep on repeating the begging messages of neediness.
When I get past the neediness pleas I know that volunteering is much more about belonging in and building healthy communities. And when I find an organisation that offers attractive recruitment promotion I will know there’s a switched-on manager of volunteers who knows how and can do.
It’s long past time to turn on a few more light bulbs.
March 17, 2013
The phenomenon of social media has spawned a raft of new ways to communicate, for business, for politicians, and for the voluntary sector – which has also generated significant commentary, on websites and in print.
In the on-line course Essentials of Volunteer Management participants are asked to comment on the advantages and disadvantages of using social media for recruitment. Mostly the responses are “we don’t”, and reservations are sometimes based on unfamiliarity with the facilities social media can offer.
Yes, as Susan J Ellis points out, social media is not always the ideal medium for recruitment messages: there are other fundamentals to take into account. And as we all know, it is word-of-mouth that proves the most effective tool for engaging new volunteers. Yet I am impressed with the promotional information and volunteer opportunities put up on Facebook by Volunteer Centres. In their role as brokers between organisations and prospective volunteers they are offering new opportunities for both parties. Mostly the messages are short and snappy and accompanied by a photograph, plus clear contact details.
Why should NGOs and not-for-profit organisations be bothering with social media? If you have a well-produced and inter-active web-site and regular e-newsletters what more do you need?
Well – social media is just the best communication tool for reaching the widest possible audience and for dispersing information and promoting organisational interests. Just think how popular crowd-sourcing and on-line fundraising has become. Notice how often a message or a video-clip can ‘go viral’ and become part of popular culture.
After all, says a UK fan, social media is designed to be fun, straightforward and easy to use, and with millions of potential supporters accessible online it’s too good an opportunity to miss.
Quite – especially when I want to keep in touch with Gen Y friends and find they are never checking their email inbox.
Of course, for all my enthusiasm there are still disadvantages to consider when thinking about using social media.
Here’s the advice from a for-profit business perspective * :
- It takes time: it’s a constant investment
- Target which channel you want to use, likely to be used by your consumers
- What are your objectives? To gain sales; build profile; communicate with members only?
- You need to have something interesting to say: be instructive, informative, controversial or humorous – otherwise your efforts will be simply social media white noise
- Is social media relevant to your target market? Test and measure its value to your business
For NGOs and Non-Profit organisations the best resource is the information offered by Jayne Cravens . Her advice and commentary, plus extra links, cover most of the points made above. There are risks to manage: you need a written policy on staff and volunteer online engagement as representatives of the organisation. It takes time to get results; you have to really get engaged with online supporters. Ultimately, Jayne says, online social networks are an important part of a mission-based organisation’s box of outreach tools.
And outreach, in my book, is all that marketing and promotion we need to do in this day and age. You might think it ironic that I am not a Tweeter, and a minimal contributor to Facebook – but I do know a good thing for community organisations when I see it. And I do like to push out boats on this blog.
* Drawn from an article in Dominion Post, Februay 25, 2013