Just a few days ago Third Sector magazine published the welcome news that the government and Nesta were making a £4million investment into volunteering by people aged over 50. This comes just under three months since I blogged about the apparent youth obsession the UK has when it comes to volunteering and no, I’m not taking the credit for it!
With an ageing population and a decreasing proportion of the total population being made up of the under 30s, it is long overdue to see any sort of meaningful investment in volunteering by older people. In recent days the Royal Voluntary Service has called for a more strategic approach to volunteering by retirees and in July a paper was published by the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing reflecting on the slow progress over the preceding twelve months to address it’s recommendations, including those around volunteerism.
So £4million is welcome.
But, it is a drop in ocean compared to the £1billion being invested in National Citizens Service over the life of the 2015–2020 Westminster parliament. £4million amounts to just 0.4% of the NCS investment, highlighting how disproportionate the funding is!
More concerning is what the funding will support. One aspect was described in the Third Sector article as:
“The Join In Stay fund will award grants of up to £50,000 and non-financial support from behavioural science experts for organisations to carry out randomised controlled trials to understand best encourages volunteers to continue to give their time regularly.”
Whilst long term, regular, committed volunteering might have been a hallmark of the duty oriented parents of the baby boomers, it is not associated at all with the way the post-war generation want to give time. Repeated studies have shown that they want choice, flexibility, the ability to fit volunteering around busy, post-retirement lives that involve travel, leisure, caring for others (e.g. parents and grandchildren) etc.. As the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing said:
“The reserve army of “little old ladies” (and men) upon whom so many voluntary organisations depend, will be juggling ever more demands on their time. Informed by their more varied cultural, educational and professional backgrounds, future generations will have different expectations of, and attitudes towards, their later lives.”
Furthermore, another element of the funding was described by Third Sector as:
“Up to £100,000 in grants will be available from the Give More Get More – Exploring Intensive Volunteering fund to support organisations in trials of intensive volunteering placements, such as gap year-type trips, for people approaching or in retirement.”
Which leaves me asking why so much of this new funding is being spent looking at the long term, regular and committed model of volunteering which is becoming less and less relevant to the over 50s?
Simply put I think Nesta and the government have got this wrong. They are either ignorant of the realities of what people over the age of 50 want from volunteering or they just don’t care, remaining wedded to a form of volunteering that is less and less popular. Whatever the reason, with such a small investment in such an important area, I fear that a large amount of this money is going to be wasted. What a missed opportunity!
“Attempting to recruit volunteers without first having developed worthwhile positions to offer them is equivalent to attempting to sell a product to people who have no need for it. It can be done, but the buyer may well become unhappy later. And when volunteers are unhappy, they don’t stay around long.” Steve McCurley, Rick Lynch and Rob Jackson, The Complete Volunteer Management Handbook (2012)
Developing roles for volunteers is one of the aspects of working with volunteers that those leading and managing them sometimes spend the least amount of time on. Despite the fact that we know we pay with volunteers with meaning, not money, many of us can skimp on the investment of time needed to craft really meaningful and motivating roles that will deliver a great volunteer experience. Instead, under pressure to get volunteers recruited and put to work, we develop roles geared around lists of uninspiring sounding tasks, often using a similar format to a paid role’s job description.
This is why the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd course on Developing Meaningful Roles for Volunteers continues to be popular. The course gives participants a chance to step back, explore volunteer role design afresh and actually work on creating a new role to help them in their work.
Here are three quick insights that might help you improve your volunteer roles.
When talking to colleagues in order to identify new ways volunteers can help them in their work, do not ask, “What do you think volunteers can / could / should do to help?”. As soon as you ask this question people censor their responses based on their past experiences or prejudices about volunteers. So if your colleague thinks volunteers will be unreliable they will not suggest a role where reliability is important. Instead, work with colleagues to identify what their work actually involves, ideally in as much detail as possible. Then work with them to suggest ways volunteers could contribute their skills, talents and experience to get that work done.
Games are fun activities people enjoy playing. People like spending time and effort playing and getting good at games. There are four elements present in all games that we should make sure are also present in our volunteer roles so that people will like spending their time and effort doing the volunteer work. First, ownership - does the volunteer feel they own their role and the work within it? Second, responsibility for results - is the volunteer held responsible for actually achieving something in the course of their volunteering (remember, people want to make a difference). Third, authority to think - is the volunteer controlled and micro-managed or are they actually allowed to use their own brains to figure out the best way to get the role done, perhaps bringing new ideas and insights to the work? Fourth, keeping score - does the volunteer know how they are doing and whether they are making progress towards that difference they (and you) want to make?
Don’t use the typical task-oriented paid staff job description format for volunteer roles. Why? Here’s a quick question for you - when did you last pull out your job description, look at it and get really excited by what it contain, so much so that you can’t wait to get to work tomorrow? If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t looked at your job description since you were recruited or had your last annual appraisal. Why then do we think that format will inspire volunteers, people who we need to remain passionate about our work so we can re-recruit them everyday whilst meeting their motivational paycheque? Instead, think about constructing volunteer role descriptions around the results you want volunteers to achieve, giving space for people to develop their own ideas about how to do things rather than just doing a list of uninspiring tasks.
So, over to you. What are your top tips for developing meaningful volunteer roles? Please leave a comment below and share your insights with us and with your colleagues in the field.
If you’d like to know more about this topic and get further details on the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd course on Developing Meaningful Roles for Volunteers please contact Rob direct by email or call +44 (0)7557 419 074.