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Long-term Volunteering 411

I have been doing a lot of thinking about my volunteering and how to make sure that I get the most out of my opportunities. I shared, in my last post, about making sure that you do your homework about getting into a volunteer opportunity. That post was for the more event-driven volunteering. Those items that are really short-term. I got a call from a friend that was asking me more about the longer term volunteering. I really did not have an answer to the question off the top of my head. In the spirit of getting to learn more and sharing those experiences with my readers.. Here we go – long-term volunteering!

Long term volunteering is really those opportunities that you get to work with an organization to help out beyond an event activity. Some people volunteer on boards of organizations, others help out with training or just want to come into the organizations workplace and help out doing whatever is needed. The fact is, these opportunities are always available, but organizations are seeing that those volunteer numbers are going down, significantly. I asked those folks that I volunteer with and they said recruiting long-term volunteers is harder than ever before. I guess it does not take too much to see that in olden days, back in the 50’s and 60’s, many adults dedicated their lives to volunteering. They were able to be home with the family, but had time to spend helping out. Today, most families are two incomes and there is little time to volunteer for a longer period of time. I definitely can use my example here. I was working full-time, helping raise my family, involved in my kids sports and just could not spare any time left to volunteer differently from the occasional event. Now that I have semi-retired, I have more time and have been working with 2 different organizations for almost two years. Simple fact, the baby boomers (and the everyone else) is getting older. The baby boomers have over represented themselves in volunteer opportunities for 30 years. Long term volunteering has suffered lower enrollment for quite some time, it may never get back to the good old days.

What can be done to help organizations improve longer term volunteering?

  • Organizations can definitely improve their overall recruiting, training and use of volunteers. My experiences with this subject, highlight that many organizations are not setting up these engagements for success. They do a great job of communicating the passion and what is needed, just don’t show that same level of passion for making (it) happen. I was asked to help develop training material for one organization to improve the productivity of their employee base. I was excited! Jumped in and started working on it. Developed and ready to go. Six months later, I am still ready to go. Start, stop, pause and start again is frustrating. Making the experience positive for the volunteer is no different from what the organization should do for their paid employees.
  • Organizations should break the long-term volunteer opportunity into shorter engagements. It maybe easier for someone to sign up to six months than forever. I did an engagement based project for one organization that was supposed to be two months (was four months ). Any long-term volunteer opportunity could be looked at and broken down into more manageable pieces. Looking at some of the stuff that I am working on now – I have a sales cycle, relationship building cycle, and admin throughout. Breaking that up, could add additional volunteers that can focus on each cycle. Potentially  improving their number of volunteers and the overall effectiveness.
  • Organizations need to take advantage of the 24×7 mindset. If you want volunteers, you may have to be open to having them on “their” time. Having them work within “your” business hours, maybe too difficult for most working adults. Technology has improved accessibility to information. Make your information accessible to your volunteers. Set those volunteers up with the necessary access.
  • Organizations are going to have to get creative with their volunteers. Baby boomers are getting older – they are the ones with the overall experiences of being there, done that. Those entering the workplace today, are demonstrating that volunteering is going to be something that they want to do. They only lack the experience. So, setting up volunteer opportunities in a team will help everyone. For me, I really enjoy teaching and sharing my knowledge with others. So, if I get to work with someone who is new and has a passion for what we are doing… I can get an extra dose of fulfillment – getting the job done, helping the organization and helping someone learn.
  • Organizations need to insure that they are staffing properly. The org needs to insure that they are not burning out their volunteers. Insuring that they have enough volunteers to cover the task(s) at hand.
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