2016 Conference

#CBAAConf: What makes volunteers tick?

hfriedlander, 2nd December 2016

Stations right across the sector have identified attracting and retaining volunteers as one of their key challenges. While volunteers are absolutely vital, there can also be conflict and volunteer politics to manage.

A workshop at the recent CBAA Conference discussed some of the reasons for volunteering and challenges stations face in recruiting and working with volunteers. Here, we provide a summary of the session:

Volunteering might be free will but it’s not free – you still need people to care for them along the way. 

Reasons for volunteeringWhat motivates people to volunteer?
  • Pathway to employment – it helps to re-establish social networks and develop skills;
  • A comfortable place to be – people love it!
  • A way for people to give back to their community – everyone brings a passion and a skill (and you can give someone an opportunity that no one else can or wants to give);
  • To help others; and
  • Personal satisfaction.
Challenges for volunteers and organisations
  • Processes organisations and volunteers have to go through i.e. police checks (this could prevent someone who really wants to volunteer from having that 'fresh start').
  • Different personalities.
  • Specifically in community radio, many more people want to be broadcasters than take up other volunteer positions.
  • There is a disconnect between the roles available and what people want to do.
  • Lots of arts organisations are losing funding and entering a period of uncertainty. This means an increased reliance on volunteering.
When recruiting volunteers:
  • The time you spend with someone at the beginning is the most important time of all – ask the right questions; what do they want? What is driving them? What tasks make them feel comfortable?
  • What do they want to do? Perhaps, if the volunteer is an accountant during the day they might want to do something different in their volunteer time.
  • While asking the volunteer what they want, be also clear and set boundaries. Consider putting in their contract “We have the right to exit an unsuitable volunteer”.
  • Always give that person an out – embed a trial period into their contract. Perhaps what they signed up for is not quite right for them after all and that is okay.
  • What can you create for people who maybe only want to volunteer short term? i.e. The volunteer only has one hour a week for three months. Is there any admin work? Create something to match their time.
Things to keep in mind
  • If someone has been volunteering for three months and then moves on – that’s great! They are your best advocate, and will tell others about the amazing experience they had volunteering at your station.
  • Treat volunteers with the same respect and inclusivity as you would paid staff – include them in decision making and operations of the organisation to make them feel valued.
Changing nature of volunteering
  • Surprisingly, it’s not young people who are volunteering less, it’s the 30-40 year old age bracket (due to older parenting, caring responsibilities etc).
  • The way that people are volunteering is changing – instead of coming in every single week at the same time there is more spontaneous volunteering e.g. after natural disasters.
  • More event-driven volunteering e.g. music festivals, more online volunteering and more informal volunteering e.g. through friends or family.
You have too many people wanting to volunteer! What do you do now?
  • Do not turn people away. Do you have a waitlist? If the waitlist is too long consider sending the person to another station in your area or to a volunteer centre so someone else can harness their willingness to volunteer.
  • Make sure they are a member; hold regular member events, offer other ('off-air') volunteer roles, encourage them to get involved in your radiothon – by involving them this keeps their enthusiasm high.

This content is based on a session presented at the 2016 CBAA Conference, held from 10 - 13 November in Melbourne, Victoria. Thank you to our session presenters Meghan Hopper (Volunteering Victoria), Jemma Toohey (Albury Wodonga Volunteer Resource Bureau) and Ken Thompson (3GCR), and facilitator Lana Wilson (SYN).

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