There is a lot of knowledge and effective operating models borrowed from business life for recruiting and engaging volunteers. However, this doesn’t apply to small local associations where a large part of Finnish volunteer work is done – not even to local chapters of organizations. Many associations are pulled forward by a few active members.
I have done volunteer work since junior high school; actually since as young as possible. Still I was never asked to volunteer and I did not make a move to get involved. I grew up to my job by advancing along a pre-planned path.
I volunteer for The Guides and Scouts of Finland. I joined them by chance at the age of seven without knowing what kind of a potentially life-lasting commitment I put in motion. In scouts, one passes through age groups, in which children begin as targets of activities and along the way, teenagers become doers, leaders, who are responsible for organizing all functions from weekly activities to picnics and camps. Nobody asks if a young scout wants to take the responsibility – adolescents are waiting for it eagerly.
The concept of responsibility includes, or it should include, also other, more comfortable word associations such as trust, freedom, and influence. When a member achieves a position of trust, it opens up a new way to participate with completely new opportunities.
How many members of your community are enthusiastically waiting to receive a position of responsibility? If there is no one, in that case you can think what a volunteer’s path could be like in your community. What steps can
a volunteer take on this path, engaging in the activities deeper and with more meaning?
There must be many stops along the path of a volunteer. Don’t ask a person who is interested in volunteering to commit to a board position right away. The same thing works the other way around: offer benefits to the one who has advanced on the path – benefits the occasional enthusiast doesn´t get. Inspire people in positions of responsibility to create ideas for developing activities and trust them with decision-making. There will be no rush to fill the board seats, if from year to year the only thing changing in the strategy is the date.
Name the volunteer tasks on the path – make the journey clear and transparent. Give the volunteer members their own task or team, such as the event team, baking team, or communications team. Arrange regular assessment conversations, in which each member has an opportunity to consider his or her strengths and wishes. He or she will then be encouraged to take on new corresponding tasks to move forward on the path.
If the volunteer work has customers, a customer may be on the first step of the path. Do you organize integrating activities for immigrant women or friends for elderly people who live alone? Why don’t you involve them in the action? A customer is an expert in developing activities, and everyone can usually do something. Is it possible for the elderly to participate in fundraising by baking or knitting? Think of each person as a subject rather than an object.
A thing that is often forgotten in small associations is to thank the responsible people. It is not enough that the board of the association holds a Christmas party for the whole community; the board also needs its own events to raise the team spirit. Active members who have spent the most time volunteering earn their own sauna evenings. The exclusivity is not intended to leave others out, but to get them excited about doing more. Create a group that everyone wants to be a part of from those, who have completed the volunteer path, and you will have a whole community of people aiming for a position of responsibility.
Text: Teija Alaraappana, Cultural producer
The writer has studied volunteer leadership at the HUMAK University of Applied Sciences in the academic year 2017-2018.
Translation: Kati Merikoski