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Last updated May 11, 2017

Long before organised charities existed, people would volunteer in their own communities helping friends and neighbours simply ‘do life’. Then, as society evolved and populations expanded, organised groups appeared and locals pitched in to make every aspect of the organisation work. In those early days, volunteering was all about people helping people and there was little planning required to grow a great team.

This model of volunteering existed for decades, if not centuries. It was a people focussed activity that required no formal structure or accountability. Volunteering was simply a part of life. Then came the 1980’s.

Throughout this decade, volunteering started the slow shift from cultural norm to optional extra. Organisations were expected to be more professional in their operations and by the 1990’s new legal obligations and expectations were introduced. Volunteering became an organised, deliberate activity that required planning, process and policy.

With this new level of professionalism and accountability, volunteer experts encouraged non-profit leaders to think of volunteers as unpaid workers in their organisation. It was thought that volunteers should carry out tasks or roles with the same rights and responsibilities as paid employees and that the only difference between the two teams should be the pay scale. It has been a concept encouraged by volunteer experts for almost three decades and thanks to recent changes in legislation, organisations are finally settling in to that way of thinking.

But, therein lies the problem.

While thinking of volunteers as an unpaid workforce still has some merit, our societal landscape has changed dramatically since the 1990’s and there are now other things we need to consider. We cannot afford to employ a 30 year old concept with our current volunteers. It is time to review, challenge and explore new ways of thinking.

In regards to growing great volunteer teams, it is useful to think of volunteers more as customers, and less as employees. Nowadays, time is a valuable resource. Often people value their time, more than they do their money and they have countless choices as to where and how their time can be spent. Volunteering is not something they do for free, it is a carefully considered investment of their resource.

Think about that for a minute. People may choose to spend their time with family, hanging out with friends, pursuing hobbies, exercising or taking a nap. Of course, they may also choose to spend their time volunteering with you. The important thing to remember is that when a person invests their time, they are buying an experience.

If you want to attract great volunteers to your team and keep great volunteers on board, you need to be offering a great volunteer experience. Growing great volunteer teams is all about taking a volunteer experience from good to great.

Kerri Tilby-Price
Kerri is a Facilitator / Trainer with Exult and has over 20 years experience working in and for the community sector.

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