We take a look at what makes someone give up their time for free. By Emma Sheppard
While the benefits of volunteering are well known - making a difference, giving back to the community, and developing new skills, for example - there is less clarity about what psychological aspects make a volunteer and how charities can use this knowledge to attract more people to their cause.
The charity publishes an annual report, monitoring social action among 10-20 year olds and providing recommendations to improve engagement with this group.
The analysts also classified the respondents into three groups based on their current, previous and intended participation in social action – committed, potential and reluctant – and identified a recommendation for each. The goal for the committed group is to encourage them to do more by celebrating the impact they have; the reluctant group could be engaged by promoting volunteering opportunities to their parents and teachers; and the reluctant group may participate if introduced to social action while they’re still young. The survey found that those in the committed group had their first volunteering experience before they turned 11.
The Scout Association has made good use of the report’s data to create their youth social action programme and have successfully applied to the Department of Education to pilot scouting in partnership with schools.
“One of the biggest barriers to volunteering is lack of time, or more accurately a perceived lack of time,” he says. “The hope is that if you can engage people through smaller opportunities, they will go on to volunteer in more formal ways over a longer period of time.”
More established charities are also thinking outside the box. Last year, Oxfam launched a five minute campaign in a number of its shops, asking customers “what can you do in five minutes?”. Suggestions included having a cup of tea with a neighbour or reading to someone struggling with literacy. More importantly, the charity directly challenged the notion that volunteering will take a lot of time.
Make it meaningful, attractive and worth
While Principles of behavioural science can be used to overcome other perceived barriers to volunteering. The Join In initiative, of which Davis Smith is a trustee, has identified six behavioural principles in their Making Time report that can be used to attract more volunteers.
Those are: growth (provide training and the opportunity to learn new skills); impact (allow volunteers to interact with beneficiaries to see the difference they’re making); voice (think about the way you ask people to volunteer); experience (make finding, enrolling and participating in programmes easy and flexible); recognition (say thank you); and social factors (encourage socialising with other volunteers, staff and beneficiaries).
Ultimately, “it’s about constructing a really worthwhile, meaningful opportunity for people where they can make a difference,” Davis Smith says. “Don’t do that in isolation, do that with volunteers. They can help co-produce and co-construct the experience they engage in. Make it meaningful, make it attractive, make it worthwhile.”
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