April 10 to 16 is National Volunteer Week. Maybe you’re involved with one of the many organizations which benefit from the over two billion hours spent annually in Canada on volunteer work. If so, you know what a struggle it is to get and keep volunteers. Statistics Canada’s several National Surveys of Non-Profit and Voluntary Organizations (NSNVO) have consistently identified these barriers to volunteering:
Unaware of opportunities (not asked; didn’t know how to get involved).
Lack of time.
Long-term commitment concerns.
Health or physical problems.
Lack of interest.
Bad past experience.
Monetary donations in lieu of time and/or skills.
Cost of volunteering.
Felt enough time already given.
The surveys have also shown that the majority of volunteer hours are produced by about 25 per cent of the total number of volunteers. Even people who volunteer only a small number of hours will have a threshold. There may be a difference of opinion as to how many hours are deemed to be “enough,” but the end result is the same: loss of volunteers.
The cost of volunteering can range from child care, to gas, to supplies, to time away from a business. Does your organization have a way to determine potential costs for each specific job and volunteer? Is there any way to lessen or cover these expenses? U.S. citizens receive tax deductions on many costs associated with volunteering and groups in Canada are lobbying for Canadians to get a similar tax credit.
Community members who offer money instead of volunteering may feel they lack time, skills, physical ability or the interest to be involved. But is it true? Are there tasks that could be done for just an hour per week, as a one-off, or even shared? Do they actually know what all the jobs entail? If it’s a really big project, such as building a new arena, what assumptions might potential volunteers make about the help that will be needed?
Was a volunteer’s unpleasant experience due to bad management, poor treatment, or lack of knowledge (about the project, the expected outcomes, the skills and time required, and personal expenses)? Organizations need to know this to avoid repeating problems.
Many of the barriers can be alleviated with clear, effective communication – right from the recruiting stage. Requests for volunteers must be specific, providing clear detail of what’s involved. If not, potential volunteers may not be sure if they have the skills and time needed. Information about what help will be provided with incurred expenses may be a good incentive, and all information must be available to your target audience.
Small rural organizations can target through relatively cheap outlets: posters, word of mouth, phone calls, emails, local media, flyers and community websites. Flyers and online recruitment offer more information with greater accuracy. Some communities have set up websites to include a page dedicated to matching volunteers to groups. These range from those simply posting calls for help to more interactive ones. At the site, www.volunteerpembinavalley.com, Pembina Valley-area residents can do a search by town or RM as well as an advanced search which allows input of availability and interests.
The drawback to an online resource versus direct contact, such as a phone call, is that people have to be aware of its existence. Even then, unless they receive an electronic newsletter or have the website as their home page, they may lack motivation to check it.
Whichever way your organization chooses to engage volunteers, good communication is always key.
– Barb Galbraith writes from Oakville, Manitoba