Volunteer of Tomorrow

In the last ten years, volunteering hours have declined significantly. How can charities meet the needs of the evolving Volunteer?

by Amelia Gillingwater and Amy-Jo Fowler

In the UK, levels of volunteering have noticeably fallen over the past decade, amounting to a staggering loss of 350 million volunteering hours [1]. This is, no doubt, connected to a whole host of social, economic and demographic factors. Traditional barriers to volunteering remain, including the demands of full-time employment. According to a poll by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the main reason given for not volunteering regularly was work commitments (62%) [2]. However, we may also be seeing a changing mindset to volunteering and expectations around what it constitutes.

What, then, might the Volunteer of Tomorrow look like, and how would they want to get involved?

Different generations approach volunteering – and work more broadly – in different ways, and a lot has been written about millennials in the workplace. Traditional conceptions of a job for life, or a steady career, have been replaced by seeking interesting and varied professional ‘experiences’, such as work abroad or more frequent job hopping [3]. Moreover, millennials are increasingly motivated to ‘make a difference’, where having a sense of purpose means more to them than the pay cheque at the end of each month - which charities could certainly look to harness [4]. The Volunteer of Tomorrow may well be looking for a similarly varied experience, with opportunities to gain new skills, make contributions that match their time and talent, and treat it as a professional development experience along the way [5]. They may seek more variation in the work they do, possibly doing shorter bursts of volunteering work for a wider range of organisations.  

The Volunteer of Tomorrow, one might imagine, will desire greater flexibility and choice in how and when they volunteer. In the past there have been many barriers to charities accessing a wealth of talented volunteers. Aside from full time work, the NCVO found that 42% said that family commitments meant they did not have the time to volunteer, with a further 15% stating studying as their barrier to volunteering [2]. This has prevented charities from accessing important skills and denied many from engaging with volunteering. Charities have traditionally relied on a voluntary pool of the time-rich, mainly retirees and students, and whilst these volunteers will still be crucial to help provide charitable services, an increased flexibility in charities’ approach to their volunteer pool will ensure that barriers to volunteering are removed. In a volunteering world of tomorrow, charities should be able to benefit from previously inaccessible skills and experiences, for example, via virtual or remote volunteering in lunch breaks or after work.

The charities that will benefit most are those that will empower volunteers with the flexibility to donate as much of their time and skills as they can, whenever they can and enable valueable volunteering to be accessed from afar through flexible working conditions and digital technology.

So, what does all this mean for the Volunteer of Tomorrow?

Flexibility and ‘gig’ volunteering

The tomorrow world of volunteering will accommodate a wide range of opportunities, allowing people to pick up a piece of work for an hour or two to benefit a cause close to their heart. Charities will be able to call on a community of digitally savvy individuals to work in areas previously untouched by volunteers – whose skills range from new forms of marketing and social media to digital strategy, online customer journey improvement, training and e-learning and consultancy services provided via slack channels and online portals. The work of volunteers may blend with companies seeking to make a concerted pro bono or value-in-kind contribution through the provision of skilled resources and time. This could enable charities to retain their voluntary talent while better serving their chosen cause. 

Recognition and personal development

This will continue to be top of the agenda for tomorrow’s volunteer workforce, mirroring what we are seeing in the workplace. As this thirst grows, so too will charities’ need to provide recognition and development in a structured way [6]. Charities may want to look at ways in which voluntary contributions count towards a volunteer’s personal goals and professional objectives in a holistic way across their paid and unpaid work. Furthermore, with roughly two-thirds of millennials looking at ways to gain and learn new skills as a major factor for switching jobs [7], charities are in a unique place to harness young professional volunteers via development opportunities. If charities can communicate effectively to the Volunteer of Tomorrow on how their role helps the cause, what they will learn and how this will help them progress in their paid employment, charities could find droves of people signing up as an alternative to expensive professional training and qualifications. By emphasising the development opportunities, charities could target employers as a means of introducing themselves to highly skilled and motivated candidates. This is a win-win for all, and employers’ CSR and employee development activities could be greatly enhanced for the betterment of all.

Meanwhile charities can look at ways of retaining volunteers by enabling and properly supporting internal movement. By clearly communicating the different volunteering opportunities available to current volunteers and making it easy for them to apply and pursue these, charities can retain top voluntary talent. This is attractive for both charities and volunteers who can continue in an organisation where their skills can develop via new roles and experiences.

Bridging the gap

There is a gap between the realities of volunteering today and the volunteer-centric world of tomorrow.

To bridge this gap, charities will need to address how they interact with their volunteers by examining their volunteer journeys. Volunteers are often willing to offer a lot of themselves for charitable causes but their journey to becoming a volunteer can often be lengthy and onerous. From researching which charity they want to volunteer for, to signing up and undergoing security checks through to training and actually being part of the team – there are lots of pain points for the volunteer and error margins for the charity. Charities will need to think about how prospective volunteers engage with them; taking a digital-first approach to the registration processes and training to minimise the time commitments and barriers to entry. Similarly, a digital-first solution and upfront recruitment campaigns would also help demystify the research process too.

As the type of voluntary work changes, charities will need to update their systems and processes to fully utilise these opportunities. More importantly, they should have a clear vision of the types of resources and skills they require before bringing people in. By communicating their mission and expectations with volunteers, charities can harness like-minded individuals and avoid disappointment or frustration, ultimately leading to better volunteer retention.

The Volunteers of Tomorrow will have worked across all manner of organisations from private, to public, start-ups, enterprise and entrepreneurs and they offer a wide variety of skills that buck the trend in today’s world. Fundamentally, volunteers in the future will add value through completely different types of contributions to what they do today, and harnessing this could ultimately be a game changer.

[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/articles/billionpoundlossinvolunteeringeffort/2017-03-16#footnote_3 
[2] https://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2018/03/22/why-people-volunteer-and-why-they-stop-what-the-latest-data-tells-us/ 
[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kaytiezimmerman/2016/06/07/millennials-stop-apologizing-for-job-hopping/#789670f74656
[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/10/26/five-things-millennial-workers-want-more-than-a-fat-paycheck/#67b9626915a7
[5] https://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2017/02/10/the-changing-face-of-volunteering-and-four-ways-you-can-respond/
[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kaytiezimmerman/2017/10/01/5-things-we-know-millennials-want-from-a-job/#2d0751ea7809
[7] https://www.cbre.com/configuration/global%20shared/content/articles/agile-real-estate/what-millennials-really-want-in-the-workplace

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