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What's in it for me?

Dave Thomas, Volunteering Development Officer at NCVS, writes occasional blogs, reflecting on practice development for Leaders of Volunteers. In this latest thought-piece, Dave attempts to answer his own question...

Leaders of Volunteers will have heard me saying "What’s in it for me?" in training sessions, network meetings and, seemingly at random, in other conversations. It's not that I'm totally self-centred. I'm always asking the question from the volunteer's (or potential volunteer's) point of view.

Often. I'll broaden this question to ask "What's in it for you?" - as a Leader of Volunteers, for your staff colleagues, and for your organisation.

When we create volunteer opportunities, we have to consider all of these "stakeholders".

A meaningful volunteer role is going to produce some kind of benefit for your organisation. It will "add value" to (but not replace) other staff and volunteers, and it will provide some kind of benefit to the individual who is volunteering.

Exercising the skills that we use in creating a volunteer role profile that meets all of these needs is one of the most enjoyable, yet challenging, parts of being a Leader of Volunteers.

So how do we assess each of these needs?

For the organisation

The need for additional skills, time and people arises as the demand on our services increases or changes.

The vast majority of voluntary and community groups are set up and run purely by volunteers. They will grow by involving more volunteers who will have the same roles as other, existing volunteers. For example, a community garden could start with three neighbours taking on a small area of waste ground. Their success will attract other neighbours to join in and possibly to take on some more of that waste ground.

Organisations that have paid staff are in a different position. The staff have defined roles which are likely to relate to the delivery of the organisation’s service. In a perfect world, the organisation would take on more staff as that service grows.

As we have never been in that ideal world, we design our service around a combination of paid staff and volunteers, ensuring that members of each group are equal, but different.

For the paid staff member

“Let’s get a volunteer to do that,” could be a familiar cry from an overloaded team member. But – should it be a volunteer role? Would the potential volunteer be taking on a paid role, and should we be pushing back and arguing that it isn’t a volunteer role at all?

Or is the volunteer role genuinely adding value by freeing up the overloaded team member(s) to concentrate on their core job?

For the volunteer

We can find answers to the first two questions by talking to people inside our organisation. What we offer the volunteer is the hardest question because, until we get them on board, we can’t ask them what they want from their volunteering. To some extent, we have to guess.

But it’s not a stab in the dark. There is a lot of experience within the Leaders of Volunteers Network and, of course, NCVS is here to help with research-based evidence.

While every volunteer is an individual, with their unique experiences, ambitions, needs and skills, it is possible to make good use of some trends about what motivates volunteers:

  • Young volunteers bring enthusiasm, energy and a desire to develop skills for the future.
  • Older volunteers come with a lifetime of experience and skills. They often talk about giving something back.
  • Mid-life volunteers tend to want to support their family’s activities and their local community.

Across the ages, an interest in the “cause” is an important part of a volunteer’s decision to opt for one opportunity over a similar one in a different type of organisation.

From these generalisations, when recruiting volunteers, we can quickly start to target the age group that best fits the needs of the organisation and its existing team of people. We also see that it's important to emphasise how the volunteer’s role contributes to the cause that your organisation champions.

This moves us away from the volunteer role description, and its associated publicity, being primarily a list of tasks.

Taking this discussion further

Please let Dave have your thoughts. Email davet@nottinghamcvs.co.uk.

You can also join us for our one-hour online training session “Writing Opportunities to Attract Volunteers”, where we address this issue and share more tips about putting together volunteer opportunities that work for all three sets of stakeholders.

Find details of this training session and all our courses can be found in our Training and Development Programme.


Date Posted: 
Thursday, 17 August, 2023

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