Keeping your volunteers - an insiders thoughts
As a relatively new volunteer, I was interested to listen to the NCVO podcast that discusses the trends in volunteering numbers and how to retain people. It seems that 75% of people move in and out of volunteering, and the focus should be on retaining them, as well as trying to attract new volunteers. The podcast resonated with me, so I was keen to share my own experiences as a volunteer and why I intend to stay one for a while yet.
My own situation is that I had never volunteered anywhere until being made redundant from my job at Thomson Reuters in London at the end of 2016 – rightly or wrongly the commute and long working hours made me want to spend my free time differently. This was no real excuse because Thomson Reuters, like many other large companies, gave up to five volunteering days a year over and above Annual Leave, but I never took advantage of it. However, after deciding that my full time working career was over, and as my retirement was unexpected, I needed something to fill some days of the week and to have interaction with people other than my wife!
I was lucky enough to find two volunteering roles, at MVA and at Gillingham library, which take up two days a week. These enable me to still use some of the skills I learnt in my working career, while giving me the opportunity to meet, and hopefully help, new people. Although I tend to work the same two days every week, I know that both roles are flexible enough for me to move my working days, have the odd day off and also work at home. In effect I am treating these as new ‘jobs’, for which I am not being paid. MVA are also kind enough to give me feedback on how I am getting on which I find very encouraging.
Of course volunteering has a fundamental difference from employment, as by its very nature there is no payment given in terms of a wage and benefits like free medical care. The receipt of these and others was a real motivation for me to get on a train every day and turn up at the office! However even employers now recognise that they need to be flexible to keep their best staff by offering benefits (such as flexible working, compressed hours, childcare, TOIL) over and above a good salary package. Volunteering options cannot offer all of these benefits, so it could be helpful to replace them with others - and the NCVO podcast explores this.
Volunteers take part for all sorts of reasons, for example as a gap between college and working for the first time, while searching for a new job, to help the community as well as working full time, and those new to retirement like me. Some of these are intentionally short term. Some are able to give their time for nothing while others cannot afford to.
I suppose the real motivation for becoming and staying a volunteer is that you must enjoy it! After working full time for 37 years, when sometimes I was doing things I did not really want to do but did because I was getting paid, why would I now want to spend time now on such things?
I don’t think you can entirely reduce the 75% that move in and out of volunteering - even people in fulltime work rarely work for the same company for a large number of years! However by making the role enjoyable, treating volunteers as if they were full time employees and being as flexible as possible, most volunteers will want to stay.
NCVO Podcast on retaining volunteers: https://soundcloud.com/ncvo/ncvo-podcast-episode-1
MVN Support pages for organisations: www.mva.org.uk/volunteering-organisations
SUBMITTED BY: MARTIN LUFF, VOLUNTEER WITH MEDWAY VOLUNTARY ACTION AND GILLINGHAM LIBRARY
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