A guidebook on how to attract microvolunteers in 3 simple steps!
“They’re just not up for it anymore.” “Young people today are far too busy with other things.” Just a few of the many complaints about the so-called volunteer shortage. But is this really true? Is there an actual shortage of volunteers?
Of course, volunteering has undergone massive changes – which is why we need to move with the times. Because every day, we still run into people who are looking to contribute. It’s just that they want a different arrangement, with more flexibility. Have you, as a non-profit, ever considered changing tactics? You can really benefit from responding appropriately. But be careful: it is crucial to dovetail your volunteer opportunities with the new generation of volunteers and the needs of your organisation.
Attracting the new volunteers starts with taking stock. For this first step, you take a good look at the volunteering needs of your organisation and how they are being met. How many volunteers are currently helping your organisation? How many hours do they put in? What are the jobs they are working on? Are any volunteers performing specialised tasks? What are the long-term ambitions of your regular volunteers? Are there any new opportunities? Will any positions open up in the foreseeable future?
Photo: Vacancies at volunteer centre Ympact020. A wide range of opportunities, from social media manager to CRM consultant.
Over the last decade, microvolunteering has become the name of the game. People are still happy to contribute – yes, even the young adults and oh-so-busy 30-somethings – as long as tasks and responsibilities are reasonably small and clearly delimited. A project should have a clear start and finish, and an agreed-upon scope. We see that many people still want to devote their time and energy to an organisation, but shy away from open-ended commitments. They are happy to volunteer, but do not want to enter into a lengthy, far-reaching engagement.
To respond effectively to this development, it is a good idea to analyse your staff resources and vacancies thoroughly. Which tasks and positions can be alleviated by the deployment of a volunteer? Chop up those tasks into bite-size chunks. This will allow multiple volunteers to work on a project by project basis.
If you, for example, run an animal shelter, you can ask multiple microvolunteers to do up the facilities. Planning an activity, but lacking the funds? By setting up a team of microvolunteers, you can leverage each individual's network while making fundraising more effective and enjoyable.
It may seem counterproductive to engage a larger group of volunteers for the same project, but they usually come with a healthy dose of fresh energy, ensuring the job gets done in no time.
Photo: Clear management of expectations: BOOST Transvaal explains the responsibilities of a language buddy.
Breaking down tasks is, therefore, the second important step towards microvolunteering opportunities. Your projects should meet a number of requirements, even if they are to be completed in a single day. To attract microvolunteers:
- Projects/positions should be clearly defined (a volunteer may have a variety of tasks, but these should fall under the same domain)
- It must be feasible to complete projects within the set period
- Projects should have a large chance of success and satisfaction
- Projects/positions must allow for individual input and initiatives
- It should be possible to perform any project with a group.
Quality coaching of your microvolunteers is the third key factor. Quite often, they are not very familiar with your organisation, and they’re only there for a short while. During that brief period, however, they want to feel that they are making a meaningful contribution to the goals of your organisation.
By assigning a fixed contact to your microvolunteers, you can make sure that that individual gets to know them and their skills well. The benefits are twofold: your volunteers will feel acknowledged and appreciated, and your organisation can deploy them more targeted and effectively. And in the long run, your volunteers can pass on their skills to others.
Furthermore, volunteers are more successful when they get to apply their individual skills and can give feedback to the organisation about the task or project they're working on. And that feedback is essential for improving your microvolunteer vacancies and attract new microvolunteers.
But is it really worth your time?
All this requires a considerable effort from organisations. Setting up and managing activities especially for flexible volunteers costs staff time. It also often costs an organisation extra money. And then there is the problem that some flexible positions simply do not fit in with the existing employment contracts in an organisation. For example, researchers Paine, Malmersjo and Stubbe note in an article in the scientific journal Vrijwillige Inzet Onderzocht (Voluntary Service Investigated) that it is not possible in the Netherlands to volunteer at weekends in care homes because activity counsellors (paid staff) are not present.
As an intermediary between organisations and volunteers, we at Deedmob do not find it strange that many foundations and associations wonder whether the pursuit of flex-volunteers is worthwhile. Are enough (and preferably more often returning) volunteers recruited this way?
For most organisations the answer is yes. In a 2006 study, researchers Handy and Brudney stated that "organisations simply cannot afford to ignore the new volunteers and their demand for irregAll this puts quite some pressure on your organisation. The organisation and management of activities that are specifically targeted at microvolunteers take time and, quite often, additional funding. And sometimes, existing agreements limit the deployment of volunteers. Researchers Paine, Malmersjo and Stubbe found that volunteers can't help at Dutch care homes during weekends, as the creative therapists – who are paid employees – are off.
Deedmob is in the game to link organisations to volunteers. As such, we understand that many non-profits have doubts about engaging microvolunteers. Can you find enough volunteers to get the jobs done? Will they come back?
For most organisations, the answer is a resounding yes. In addition, researchers Handy and Brudney note that non-profit organisations “cannot afford to ignore [episodic volunteers].” And “... volunteer co-ordinators are increasingly faced with people who wish to help only for shorter and very well-defined tasks.”
Lucas Meijs is Professor Volunteer Work and Strategic Philanthropy at the Dutch Erasmus University. In a recent article, he says there is “abundant volunteering energy in the Netherlands.” The problem, however, is that volunteers often end up in the wrong place. They cannot find a suitable, temporary position – simply because they often don't know such opportunities exist.
Meijs also states that microvolunteers return relatively often for a new project. And some of the microvolunteers do become regular volunteers at an organisation. This is confirmed by research: a large segment of the microvolunteers work as regular volunteers elsewhere.
In short, if you want to be a future-proof volunteer organisation, microvolunteers are the way forward. But be warned: following the wrong recruitment and placement strategy will get you nowhere. To get the best return on your invested time and money (read: acquire new, enthusiastic volunteers), you better follow the above three steps.