Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Changing attitudes to volunteering from the inside out

Written by Claire Chapman, Information & Membership Officer at One East Midlands

When I’m not working at One East Midlands, I regularly volunteer at a charity shop in Derby for a cause I’ve supported since I was a teenager. As someone who has volunteered there for over a year, I always presumed that most people who volunteered were like me, doing so because they supported the cause.

However, a quick survey during my last shift there proved me almost entirely wrong, with a group of new volunteers admitting that they were actually volunteering there because they were told it would look good on their CV or university application form. One volunteer asked me if the beginning of their second two hour shift was too early to ask the manager for a reference!

More worryingly for me however was the fact that, of the four that I spoke to, none could understand that I was volunteering there simply because I supported the cause. In fact, they were far more willing to accept the notion that I most be single and lonely, than my own explanation.

Now I know that there are plenty of volunteers out there who do volunteer because they are passionate about the work of the organisation they are volunteering with. I also acknowledge that drivers behind volunteering vary from individual to individual and that many volunteers have, at some point, gained skills and expertise that have been helpful in paid employment. But it left me thinking ‘how do we learn to understand one another better and if there are attitude still to change then how should we set about this?’

Great value could be achieved through encouraging volunteers to talk to each other; sharing their stories and motivations. Individual perspectives could be woven into marketing materials to encourage both more volunteering and greater understanding of the motivations behind volunteering.

For those of us already working in the voluntary sector, either as a volunteer, in a paid position or both, this would result in us having a far greater understanding of who are fellow volunteers are, why they do what they do and what they want to get out of it, allowing us to do our bit to improve their volunteering experience.

And for those looking at volunteering from the outside in, this could change their attitudes to volunteering for the better, perhaps even result in them signing up for their first ever volunteering position, whether at their local volunteer centre or, like me, through a charity whose cause they are passionate about.

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