The kids are alright
The increase in young people volunteering is a good news story. As my colleague Nick identifies, high profile volunteering programmes and campaigns have certainly played a role in encouraging young people to volunteer, but we should also acknowledge and celebrate the work volunteer managers have been doing behind the scenes to make this happen.
Good volunteer management and good practice is the key to successful volunteering. It’s the practice behind the progress! Volunteer managers are responsible for ensuring that volunteering opportunities are attractive to young people but also meaningful. They are also responsible for ensuring that young people are supported in the role and have a good experience.
It’s been positive that the development and sharing of good practice for volunteer managers has also been part of stimulating youth volunteering. I worked with the #iwill campaign to develop guidance addressing some of the practical questions organisations may have about involving young people, and Volunteering Matters led a range of partners to produce a toolkit on youth social action in health and care.
What about everyone else?
This is all good stuff and I am certainly an advocate of getting people involved in volunteering early and the benefits for young people, but I can’t help think – what about older people? Or everyone else for that matter?
Our society is ageing and we are living longer. Projections suggest that the number of people aged 80 and above will almost double by 2030 and reach eight million by 2050. Too often this is presented as a burden rather than as an opportunity to draw on such a vast source of skills and experience and to embrace older people as contributors to society and communities rather than just recipients of services and support.
Older people already make a significant contribution as volunteers, 65-75 year olds have one of the highest rates of monthly volunteering (33%), but we can’t become complacent. We also need to think about how we address future barriers and changes that may impact on older peoples’ ability to volunteer.
When the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing reported in 2015, they presented a strong call to action to the sector that we need to we need to put the ageing society of tomorrow on the agenda of the voluntary sector today. I feel there is more we can do as volunteer managers to think about what this means for volunteering, and it’s a challenge I think the volunteer management profession can rise to.
Making a better offer
Volunteering is for everyone and if we want to continue to see high levels of volunteering we need to take steps to address practical barriers to volunteering for all age groups and to ensure we deliver a good volunteer experience.
The NCVO almanac again shows that not having enough time is the number one barrier to volunteering. This could be because of changing commitments at work or at home, a challenge that is likely to feel familiar to all of us at various points in our lives and to all ages.
I think the commission was right in urging us to make a better offer. A better offer in terms of volunteering opportunities that fit in with people’s lifestyles and the demands on their time and one which is high quality and delivers a good volunteer experience.
What can volunteer managers do?
Here are three things I think volunteer managers can do to develop a better volunteering offer:
1 Build flexibility into volunteering
Develop a diverse range of volunteering opportunities, from short-term opportunities like micro-volunteering, using digital to improve ease of access and bite-sized taster sessions that don’t demand a long-term commitment upfront. These are all ways in which we can support people to fit volunteering in around other commitments.
2 Focus on understanding individuals’ motivations and what they want to get out of volunteering
This is what good volunteer managers do best. A focus on the individual will ensure we can get the right person into the right volunteering role. Don’t make assumptions about what people want from their volunteering, especially based on their age.
3 Deliver quality opportunities that are well managed
If people can access meaningful and well managed opportunities that deliver a good experience they are more likely to stay involved and encourage others to join them. Of course, organisations will need to invest in and support their volunteer managers in order to achieve this. This isn’t new I know! But I believe that good practice and good volunteer management will continue to play an essential role in a bright future for volunteering.