A broad culture change in volunteer management is needed in order to attract more volunteers, Kristen Stephenson, a volunteer development manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisation, has said.
Speaking at a joint event run today in central London by the NCVO and the Office for National Statistics on trends in volunteering, Stephenson said charities needed to allow volunteers greater flexibility in how and when they volunteered in order to keep them engaged.
Many charities failed to take into account the fact that people’s engagement was an ongoing journey that depended on what else was happening in their lives, heard delegates at the event, which was held as part of National Volunteers’ Week.
For example, they might volunteer as students, then less when they found full-time work or had children, but then get re-engaged through children’s groups, she said.
"There’s a broader culture change that’s needed in terms of volunteer management, so that we create a culture of volunteering where people are able to volunteer in different stages of our lives and we can build in the flexibility and the pathways to allow people to do that and support them on this journey," said Stephenson.
She said that organisations needed to embrace the fact that volunteers might have a more fluid relationship with them because people had become more focused on causes than organisations.
"It might mean we might need to change our mentality a bit from one that recruits volunteers to do a very specific role that we define, to one where we enable people to give their time and talent," she said.
"So it might be that we are seen as volunteer enablers rather than volunteer managers in the future."
She said charities should look to share volunteers and enable them to move between organisations easily rather than thinking about protecting them or keeping them loyal.
Matthew Hill, a senior researcher at the NCVO, agreed and said the sector needed to be careful about the way in which it viewed time as a barrier to volunteering.
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Many studies had shown that those who were busiest, for example, in full-time jobs and caring for children tended to volunteer more, he said.
"We should be honest about what it really tells us when people say they don’t have enough time to volunteer," he said, pointing to data shared earlier in the session by Chris Payne, a senior research officer at the ONS, which showed that non-volunteers tended to consume more mass media.
"I think we all know mass media means boxsets, which we watch instead of volunteering," Hill said,
"So I think we’ve got to be realistic that it’s not that people don’t have time to volunteer; it’s more that the data shows people are choosing to do other things with their time."
He said it often was not the overall amount of time that was needed to volunteer that presented a barrier but the idea of a regular, open-ended commitment that tended to deter people, so more flexible opportunities needed to be offered.
Stephenson said one solution was to design volunteering to fit around people’s lives. He pointed to projects such as Good Gym, where people go running but stop off to do activities for their communities along the way.
"In those roles the volunteering is almost secondary," she said. "It’s about how it fits into their lifestyle.
"If we want people to choose volunteering over watching a boxset, we need to think about how we make it easier and how we really highlight what the other selling points are of that activity."