February 24, 2013

Cultivating Volunteers

Posted in Marketing, Valuing Volunteers, Youth Volunteering tagged , , , at 4:18 am by Sue Hine

496983747_bade419493Just two months into the year and already there are plenty of agendas being talked up, plenty of rising anxiety levels in community sector organisations, accompanied by what sounds like, and feels like, a sinking lid for programmes and practice.  Paying for criminal checks on volunteers, getting the charities legislation reviewed and the prospect of new contracting and funding arrangements through ‘social bonds’ are just three of the big picture issues.  I shall leave them to other platforms for the moment.

My matter for this week is not as the headline suggests, the community gardeners.  Nor am I presenting yet another promo for best practice volunteer recruitment.  The niggle at the back of my head is the continuing interest in courting Gen X and Y to engage in volunteering, as though it was a new and untapped resource for organisations short on volunteers.

I wrote about Youth Volunteering a bit over a year ago, being enthusiastic about all the evidence of increases in young people’s involvement.  And they continue to be involved, even as part of whole family volunteering.  More recently Volunteering New Zealand has published a paper on UN Youth NZ; Labour Party youth are on a roll this year to connect with local community groups; in January  United Nations announced a trust fund to support Youth Volunteerism.  There is no end to the ways young people can be involved in their communities, and you can see this even at early school years when class projects open children’s minds to community and community needs.

Here is my ‘yes but’ question:

Are we cultivating volunteers or promoting the cult of youth?

The rise in youth volunteering is capturing attention at a time when retirees, the ‘baby-boomer’ generation, could be expected to join the ranks of volunteers in droves.  They are not, for various reasons: they continue in paid employment; they are full-time care-givers for grandchildren; they are travelling the world and ‘pursuing other interests’.  Yet there are still enough older people – and we can see them working in our communities every day throughout the year – to be a significant proportion in volunteer statistics.  This is the expanding age group that is proving such a burden on governments and age-support organisations throughout the western world.  To which I would say: “if you don’t use them, you’ll lose them”.

My plea is for inclusion, for all population groups.  I am thinking of skills that older people can offer from their employment experience.  I am thinking of tolerance and acceptance of difference that comes with age and experience, along with a raft of communication and relationship skills.  Of course they do not have these skills on their own, and nor is the wisdom of age always informed by tolerance.  But neither do young people hold all the answers to achieving organisation goals through volunteering.

Dissonance between age and youth is as old as time.  This is not the time to pitch one in favour of the other.  Volunteering could be the much-needed space where young and older New Zealanders come together to learn from each other and to appreciate the perspectives of different generations.  That’s where leadership for the 21st century could come from.

Disclaimer: Please do not think I am carrying personal angst in writing the above.  By conventional dating I belong to the Silent Generation, those who never spoke out, who accepted everything thrown at them.  I like to think I have moved with my times.


PS:  Comment per email sent by Salle-Ann Ehms:
As always, your blog is very thought-provoking. In the light of inclusiveness, I thought that you’d appreciate this photo I took last week-end. It’s not the best shot but I love the contrasts; youth-aged,
caucasian-asian, able-disabled, but what I most love is that none of those things are really relevant, the caring is palpable. Love it!

February 10, 2013

Marketing a Volunteer Programme

Posted in Best Practice, Marketing, Professional Development tagged , , , at 2:48 am by Sue Hine

Content-MarketingI am old-fashioned enough to still be a regular reader of a daily newspaper, one that has not yet turned to tabloid format.  I reckon it’s a more leisurely way to get my fix of the news.  That includes a browse through the business pages: I look for the columnists who can explain the economy or market trends in plain language.  Often there is good advice for retailers and entrepreneurs.  And the funny thing is, the recommendations could apply equally to NFP organisations.

Marketing and fundraising, for example, are important features of contemporary NFP business plans.  There’s a lot of competition for the charity dollar, and gaining sponsorship or partnering with a for-profit business can require a delicate courtship ballet and some well-honed promotional skills.  Here‘s what is recommended for small retailers and for-profit enterprises:

  • Do everything you can to improve your online presence, website and strong social media representation. 
  • Tune in to today’s market – expectations are changing. 
  • Make sure you include ‘stepping stones’, a range of products and price affordability.
  • Make shopping trips an ‘occasion’ filled with experience, service and old-fashioned hospitality.

It does not take much to translate this advice for promoting a volunteer programme:

  • Get cracking with regular social media entries and pics; make sure the website is specially volunteer-friendly;
  • Heed the current trends in volunteer profiles and adapt to changing expectations;
  • Offer a range of volunteer and donor opportunities and defined commitments; and
  • Remember that quality ‘customer service’ can extend to volunteers as well as service users, and to all organisation relationships.

All familiar stuff we have been talking up for a while now – right?

Trouble is, the ascendance of marketing and fundraising in our sector is pushing volunteering aside, ignoring the potential returns on comparatively low-cost investment in volunteer skills and time – and overlooking the salary costs for those well-paid marketers and fundraisers.  Some of the tales that come to my notice – the shoddy treatment of volunteers by fundraisers, or the last-minute engagement of the manager of volunteers for organising an event – demonstrate a kind of discrimination against volunteering, not to mention the exploitation of volunteer goodwill.

So it has never been more important to get switched on to principles of marketing, to pushing barrows and proclaiming achievements, and to demonstrating the value of our volunteer programmes.  I’ll bet the carpet-bag of management skills carried by volunteer leaders will include patience, tact, empathy, assessment and negotiation – all attributes extolled for fundraising and marketing.  I reckon we could teach those teams a thing or two.

We just have to get out there and do it.  Now!

If you think you need a leg-up to get started just get yourself to the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management in Sydney, March 20-22.  Quite simply, and honestly, it is the best ever opportunity for professional development in managing volunteers, being simultaneously challenging and supportive, and fun.  Try it, and see for yourself.

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