This week, I'm honored to introduce Joanne Fritz. Joanne is the About.com guide for their Nonprofit and Charitable Orgs section. She originally posted this wake-up call on her blog there. Read it and take a hard look at how you're stewarding volunteers!


by Joanne Fritz

If your nonprofit is developing some resolutions for the new year, you might want to take a good and realistic look at your volunteer program. Are you in touch with the "new" volunteers? The ones who are both young and older, who want to volunteer as a family, who want to change the world, who look for ways to use their skills, who want to use the newest tools to do that work and to communicate about it?

A recent report on volunteerism in Canada revealed surprising discomfort among volunteers. An article in the Vancouver Sun provides an overview of that study and what it suggests volunteer coordinators might do to make volunteering more attractive.

In short the study revealed that:

  • Nearly two-thirds of surveyed volunteers reported at least one "negative experience" when trying to do good for their community.
  • Many volunteers felt their skills weren't being adequately used. Others were discouraged by organizational politics and a lack of support, or felt their efforts weren't making a difference.
  • There are considerable gaps between what Canadians are looking for in a volunteer experience and what in fact organizations are offering as volunteer opportunities,
  • Families surveyed suggested there simply aren't enough opportunities to volunteer together.
  • The young and tech-savvy often feel discriminated against because of their age.
  • Young people are also concerned because many volunteer opportunities are only available during business hours, while they are in school. In addition, transportation to and from volunteer positions can be problematic, especially for the young.
  • Volunteer jobs are often administrative in nature, lacking real responsibility, and provide little sense of actually making a difference.
  • Volunteer tasks are many times not connected to the volunteer's interests and skills.
  • Organizations should get to know their volunteers better, offer flexible opportunities, and be more sensitive to sex, culture, language and age differences. Recognition of where volunteers are in their life stage is important as is the ability to modify volunteer roles as volunteers move from one life stage to another.
  • There is a need for more online volunteer opportunities and for volunteer coordinators to follow up with volunteers to let them know how their support has helped.

Although the study surveyed Canadian volunteers, there is little doubt in my mind that the results would be similar in the US. Although we enjoy a very high level of volunteerism in this country, we can only wonder how much better those experiences could be for both volunteers and organizations with the proper care, creativity, and dedication to providing meaningful experiences for volunteers.

Here is a cluster of articles about how to provide a good volunteer experience and/or how to avoid a bad one.

I also invite you to tell us about your own experience, good or bad, as a volunteer, or a volunteer coordinator, or tell us about the great things your organization is doing to keep its volunteers engaged. Just visit My Best/Worst Volunteer Experience Was...

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