“No one asked me.” That’s the second biggest reason people give for not volunteering.
When Stats NZ did its last General Social Survey, it asked people who didn’t volunteer if there were any reasons why. The biggest barrier? “I didn’t have the time.” That’s not a shocker. But it is a useful reminder of the need for flexibility in creating and sizing volunteer opportunities.
The fact that no one asked seems hard to fathom. Aren’t we always looking for volunteers? According to Volunteering NZ’s State of Volunteering in New Zealand 2017 report, around one third of volunteering involving organisations are always recruiting volunteers. Did no one ask, or was the ask not heard?
So how do we connect opportunities with people who don’t know how to get involved as a volunteer, or what’s out there that needs doing? How do we ask the people who are waiting to be asked?
Our regional volunteer centres have been doing the asking for years, both face-to-face and increasingly online. Today their efforts are complemented by a welcome plethora of matchmaking services and online platforms that are opening doors to new demographics of volunteers-in-waiting. Among them, Helptank, Collaborate, Seek Volunteer, Be Collective, Do Good Jobs, and – I’d be remiss to miss – the Community Comms Collective.
Alongside individual organisations promoting opportunities through their own channels, these services offer an additional or alternative option for volunteer-asking. And in deepening the volunteer pool and making opportunities more accessible, anecdotally they are breaking down barriers for some of those ‘unasked’ volunteers.
The other thing about being asked is really being asked.
Ever heard of the ‘helper’s high’? It’s the buzz we get when we’re helping others, thanks to feel-good neurotransmitters like oxytocin. It puts volunteering firmly in the ‘good for us’ camp.
We also get that buzz when we get a compliment or someone says something kind to us. Being asked to do something because we have the specific skills, experience or passion is without doubt a compliment. I’m pretty sure being headhunted for a role never did the ego of the hunted any harm.
So, here’s my thinking. Alongside those more general (and necessary) asks for volunteers, there’s a place for considered shoulder tapping. Maybe you know someone in your wider community with the specific skills your organisation needs, maybe your colleagues, volunteers, friends or family know people in their own networks. The direct approach, with a decent dose of flattery, could be the ask they were waiting for.
Combined with a clear, realistic and flexible offer to combat barrier number one to volunteering, and you may just have found yourself a new volunteer.
- Gail Marshall
Gail Marshall is a Volunteering NZ Board member and is co-founder of the Community Comms Collective.