I read the interesting report1 by NCVO, ‘Time Well Spent’, recently on volunteering. It looked at the impact of the epidemic and how changes will linger. It echoed the thoughts I have had having talked to many an organization about volunteers.
Always a problem for organizations it seems that it is now harder to get volunteers. The number of people who want to (or can) volunteer has fallen.
For those who were unable be volunteer because of social distancing, circumstances have changed: some moved onto paid employment, having a long period of time meant that they were not engaged with their organization and are now doing something else.
For those who were able to volunteer there is burnout, doing things normally done by paid staff, committing longer hours. Many were able to engage with digital devices and software, others were not able to through cost or lack of skills, practically everyone felt that there was too much Zoom in their lives.
On top of that there are many with concerns about our health, being more vulnerable, and are still cautious. Covid is still with us.
The pool of volunteers is not infinite. Typically, we think that this is about older people who have time on their hands. This is partly true. But, looking at this demographic, with the current climate many are postponing their retirement, many are having to take up jobs to supplement their pension. Many people have caring responsibilities, older people taking care of older parents. And there are plenty of people who do not volunteer. I know retired people who do not and really would never think of it. Other demographics have similar and different qualifiers.
My reading on this? Those organizations who look after their volunteers the best will have more volunteers. As as sector, we pride ourselves as being ‘people’ friendly, but I see plenty of organizations who do not interact with their volunteers properly and are suppressed that it is difficult to retain them.
Volunteers are not just a resource, they are human beings and have emotional, intellectual and social needs. Remember, they are not in this for the money, but for social, emotional, intellectual needs.
Fortunately, the skills necessary are not arcane, but rather banal: good communication and, as part of that, understanding. This takes time but is a worthwhile investment when it comes to recruiting and retaining a really valuable asset.