Why Volunteer?

Photo of Colin Williamson

From my own experience working with the not-for-profit sector and backed up by much research the two greatest problems for organizations is income (not enough of it) and volunteering (not enough of it). This is especially true of some rôles, for example committee work is hard to recruit to get a treasurer is no easy task.

The Community Life Survey* from the DDCMS** is a household self-completion survey for adults over 16+ and looks at volunteering and charitable giving. In this article I am going to at what it says about volunteering.

Within the survey the reasons for not volunteering are listed from lowest to highest percentage.

  1. Other reasons – 2%
  2. Not my responsibility – 4%
  3. I am knew to the area – 6%
  4. I have to look after someone who is elderly or ill – 8%
  5. I am not the right age – 8%
  6. I have an illness or disability that prevents me – 11%
  7. I have to study – 11%
  8. I don’t know any groups that need help – 11%
  9. I haven’t heard about opportunities to help – 11%
  10. I have never thought about it – 16%
  11. I have to look after children – 22%
  12. I am limiting contact with others due to coronavirus 27%
  13. I do other things with my spare time – 31%
  14. I have work commitments- 48%

Breaking it down to the categories I would suggest that those we can do something about can be summarized as:

  • Illness and disability (No 6).
  • Lack of information (Nos 3, 8, 9, 10).

Government research*** shows that disabled people (limited a little) and non-disabled were equally as likely to volunteer in formal volunteering (42%) and of those disabled (limited a lot) 29% volunteered. Clearly, this is a huge contribution to the VCSE sector and a great endorsement of both the sector’s willingness to be inclusive and disabled peoples’ committent to others.

However, I wonder what more can we do? How many barriers do we have within our organizations to having someone disabled volunteer and what changes can we make to remove those barriers? Barriers may be physical in nature – can people mover around easily? do we have the right equipment to support them? Or, the barriers could be mental – do we assume that we could not take on a disabled volunteer? Do we think that it could be a lot of effort?

Our second category comes down to marketing, advertising, communication. In terms of advertising it is only those large charities (who make up a tiny percentage in numbers of charities but who receive an overwhelming percentage of the income that comes into the not-for-profit sector) who can afford to advertise. I have never worked for one of these charities and we have to rely on media such as: word-of-mouth; flyers, posters, pull-up banners, website and so on. Effectively, anything that is cheap. We know trust funders will pay for leaflets and so on, but has anyone been able to ask for money for a radio advertisement? Has anyone ever dared? Probably not, as the chances of being refused are high enough without the risk of putting something large and unprecedented into place. It is plain that we are in competition with these larger organizations and that we cannot compete on their terms so we must do the best with what we have.

With the advent of the telegraph the world has shrunk in size, we can communicate just as easily to someone one street away as the ndext country. Additionally, the ways we can communicate; from the written word on paper we now have video and sound in all their combinations (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, email, SMS, telephone, volunteer recruitment websites, our websites… The list goes on as more methods come online and others disappear). We need to think of who we are trying to talk to and use those methods which they use whether it be word of mouth (chatting with our friends or Facebook) or how our website looks.

Our message is simple: come and volunteer with us. But we need to think of the nuances, think about all the reasons why people want to volunteer and to be explicit about how we, as not-for-profits can provide this:

  • Helping other people.
  • Socialising with others.
  • Learning new skills.
  • Getting out and about.
  • Increase self-confidence.
  • Having fun.
  • Work experience.
  • Committent to a particular cause.
  • And so on.

To sum up, my thought is that we need to spend more time on what we do in recruiting volunteers – analysing and planning. More and more having a marketing plan is important. Marketing is communicating and how we do it is important. I will note that 10 years ago having a communications officer was for the very large organizations but now you will often find someone whose rôle it is to look after website, social media, mail outs and so on. There is really no way of getting away from this and I believe that with a bit of thought it can provide results.

*To read the full survey see https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/community-life-survey-202021-volunteering-and-charitable-giving.

**Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

*** https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/disability/bulletins/disabilityandsocialparticipationengland/2018.

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