Oh Canada!

Here at Volunteer Maryland, we are always interested in other entities that look to better volunteer program development.  It is a bit refreshing to know that developing, investing and promoting volunteer programs is not only a Maryland things, but an international one as well.  Take our friends to the north, Canada.  Volunteer Canada recently published a study entitled, Bridging The Gap that looked at volunteer trends based on some observations made in 2010.  The key observation centered on seeing a growing gap between what volunteers look for and the opportunities organizations offer.  They wanted to verify this observation to develop strategies to help organizations utilizing volunteers, and people who volunteer or are looking to volunteer.

The research looked at four volunteer groups: youth, families, baby boomers and workplace volunteers.  The study provides a great snapshot of these four groups looking at characteristics of each, along with interests and barriers to volunteering. These are integral pieces as an organization looks at needs, and develops long term recruitment and retention plans.  A few commonalities occurred when looking at these four distinct volunteer groups:

  • Today’s volunteers have goals.
  • They’re driven by results.
  • They’re mobile.
  • They’re self-directed.
  • They have multiple interests.
  • They often seek short-term opportunities that use their skills.

Sound familiar?  It does to Volunteer Maryland.  The value of a volunteers time and the need to see impact in there service rings very true for most of our partnerships and definitely within the group of Volunteer Maryland Coordinators we work with each year.

There are of course differences within each of the groups concerning needs, but a few of the gaps cut across all volunteer groups:

  • Many people are looking for group activities BUT few organizations can offer them.
  • Many people come with professional skills BUT many professionals look for volunteer tasks that differ from their work.
  • Organizations are expected to define the roles of volunteers BUT many volunteers want the flexibility to create their own opportunities and schedules.
  • Many organizations want long-term commitment BUT many more volunteers are looking for short-term opportunities.
  • Many organizations focus on what they need BUT many volunteers come with their own goals to be met.

This may appear to be a cage match pitting volunteer needs versus organizational needs.  The study participants gave some advice on how organizations can improve the way they engage volunteers.  Some were basic but important and play a big role on how Volunteer Maryland works with organizations.  Items such as building meaningful relationships with volunteers, and understand where volunteers are in their lifecycle are indicative of a strong volunteer system. Organizations should invest in learning a volunteer’s goals and skills looking for ways to engage these in there service. Beyond this, volunteers recommended the following:

  • Human resources should include volunteers. Some policies and benefits apply equally to volunteers and paid staff.
  • Today’s volunteers have erratic schedules. Volunteers of all ages have multiple demands. These include work, school and family. Organizations benefit from being flexible and accommodating.
  • Organizations should be sensitive to gender, culture, language and age. A welcoming and inclusive environment attracts volunteers.
  • While many organizations use technology and social media, volunteers want to find more information online.

The information contained in this study served to solidify two key pieces of Volunteer Maryland’s work.

  • Volunteer programs are not static, and need to have planned revision to continue to serve the needs of the community served.
  • Volunteers are not static and continue to change and present new recruitment and retention nuances that speak to specific generations and motivations.

My last blog focused on talking with staff concerning the volunteer program.  Now I am going to recommend asking them to read.  This study could just be the spark that leads to those great conversations on how volunteers engage, serve and help define your organizations volunteer program.  Maybe even spark a study of your own.

Thank you, Volunteer Canada.




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