Who's for volunteering?
WRITER: Gerry Treuren
ILLUSTRATORS: The Project Twins
Chances are that either you, someone in your family, or your neighbour is a volunteer.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, at least one Australian in every three has volunteered in the last year. And this figure does not include the growing number of people participating in corporate-sponsored volunteering, where companies give their employees time to go out into the community to volunteer.
Women are more likely to volunteer than men and are typically more broadly involved. Men are most likely to volunteer for sports activities, with women equally likely to get involved in welfare, community, and religious-related volunteering, as well as being involved with sports.
But why do people volunteer? We know that many parents volunteer to support their children’s sport and recreation clubs. Other people volunteer out of gratitude for support their family has received during family tragedies and illness. And some simply volunteer to maintain their connection with their favourite sporting and social activities as they age.
Any volunteer may be a combination of any type—and their motivations to volunteer may change over time. A career-oriented volunteer, for example, may become an enthusiast or cause-motivated volunteer, as they get more involved in the organisation; or they may become a socially-motivated volunteer, because of the friends they have made. Similarly, an enthusiast may become reluctant if they grow weary or bored with their role.
Differences can sometimes manifest in disputes between volunteers and volunteer managers over how to acknowledge volunteer efforts: some want tangible rewards, some desire recognition, while others might appreciate a social function. For example, the access-all-areas volunteer is likely to appreciate free entry to an event, the career-orientated volunteer might like a letter of recommendation, and the social volunteer could value a social gathering of the volunteers as a post-event wrap up.
Another issue facing volunteer managers is how to manage performance. While volunteer managers are often concerned with the efficient and accountable operation of the organisation, not all volunteers might see this as their personal priority, especially if they see their volunteering as a leisure activity.
Managing these different volunteer expectations can cause all sorts of difficulties for organisations who need to meet the requirements of their funding bodies or clients, or who need to minimise their risk for insurance purposes—a tricky scenario when they often rely on the sometimes inconsistent efforts of volunteers.
Many volunteer organisations are now developing organisation-specific recruitment, training, recognition and performance management policies and practices to better utilise volunteer effort. Some organisations are even creating succession plans and pools of volunteers to minimise their reliance on reluctant, conscripted and access-all-areas volunteers. Others are seeking to make better use of the specialist skills of career-oriented volunteers, enabling the organisation to offer better or a broader range of services.
Volunteering is a big part of Australian life, but the way that volunteers are managed is rapidly changing to meet new accountability demands faced by not-for-profit organisations. Knowing the motivational types of your volunteers can provide insights into their expectations.
"Different types of volunteers choose to volunteer for different reasons. Each presents unique challenges for volunteer managers."
The most prominent volunteers are the enthusiasts. They volunteer, often over decades, because they believe in the activity and the organisation; they feel that their participation aids the organisation's success. Examples include the sporting volunteer who once competed with the club, and the hobbyist who enjoys the activity and camaraderie with like-minded others.
THE CAUSE-MOTIVATED VOLUNTEER
A particular type of enthusiast volunteer is the cause-motivated volunteer. They are motivated primarily by their concern to ensure the success of a specific cause, and for many, their interest was piqued by personal experiences. Many health and welfare-related organisations rely on volunteers that have first-hand experience of specific causes.
THE CAREER-ORIENTED VOLUNTEER
Some people volunteer for career-related reasons. For these people, volunteering enables them to develop their expertise and enhance their resume, while also developing professional networks and relationships. Career-oriented volunteers are often students, but can also include people who are trying to switch careers.
THE ACCESS-ALL-AREAS VOLUNTEER
A specific group of volunteers are the access-all-areas volunteers, who are focussed on obtaining material benefits. For these people, volunteering enables them to get behind-the-scenes access to big events, celebrities and activities that they would not be able to access otherwise.
THE SOCIAL VOLUNTEER
The socially-motivated volunteer participates to develop new friendships and to get involved in their local community. Often these people volunteer after the death of a partner. There is also some evidence that international students volunteer for social reasons and to gain a better understanding of the local culture.
THE RELUCTANT VOLUNTEER
This volunteer feels that they need to continue volunteering to ensure the continuity of the event, activity or organisation, despite actually wanting to step back. Often these volunteers have been involved for many years, and while they want to retire, they cannot see that there are others ready to replace them.
THE CONSCRIPT VOLUNTEER
This type of volunteer is not as keen about the event or activity as the other volunteers, but is pressured to volunteer by their partner, family or friends. Often one of the longest-serving volunteers, this recruit would really prefer to stay at home.