Volunteering simply means to offer one’s services without getting paid for it. It is generally considered as an altruistic activity where an individual or group provides services for no financial gain to benefit another person, group or organisation. The intent is to promote goodness and the quality of life. In Nigeria, many sustainability focused organisations have come to regard employee volunteering as a tool for advancing their sustainability agenda. Through a veritable platform created by the organisation, they are able to bridge the gap between their organisation and the poorest and most marginalised communities. It has been bequeathed with such nomenclature as Employee Volunteering Scheme (EVS), Employee Volunteering Initiative (EVI) and Employee Giving and Volunteering Programme (EGVP). Which ever name it adopts, the aim is to complement business goals by alleviating community development challenges, addressing pressing social issues, connecting the organisation to the community and creating room for partnerships through access to valuable resource and skills. Volunteering provides a platform for generating new ideas, talents and concepts.
Despite its numerous benefits, many organisations are yet to utilise volunteering as a tool to further their sustainability goals. They would rather utilise core staff to carry out their community support/engagement activities or hire staff on an ad hoc basis. The reasons for this are not farfetched. The mechanism and structure that would activate a virile employee volunteering practice are not in place. In some cases, organisations do not have a clearly defined vision and mission. Though spelt out in a plaque or template, it comes across as ambiguous and laborious thus the prospect of actualising it is grim. Without doubt, this also seeps into the policies and practices of the organisation. For some other organisations, the legal frameworks are simply not in place or not up-to-date.
To implement a successful and impactful volunteering activity, the following should be considered:
- Clarity in Goal Definition: Any organisation intending to attract suitable and passionate volunteers need to have a clearly defined goal. The goals may range from something simple such as malaria prevention which could be tagged as “roll back malaria programme” in an identified locality in which case it would translate into activities like environmental clean-up, clearing of drainages to allow free flow of water, distribution of mosquito nets to homes and schools, distribution of insecticides, hosting of a public enlightenment programme on malaria prevention, treatment and cure. Whatever the mission, it should be clearly defined, easy to assimilate and translate into clear cut action.
- Design of Communication: Volunteering requires that participants at their own will give up their time and intellectual resources to actualise a specific goal. To bring an individual into this space requires that you craft and design your message in such a manner as to appeal to them emotionally or to enable them to connect or identify with your goal. For this to be achieved, a clear understanding of your target (volunteers) is needed. Their psychographic and demographic variables need to be considered. Variables such as level of education, sex, age, religion, tribe and more ought to be considered. While required infographics, pictures and charts should be used to drive home your point and appeal to your target audience (volunteers). This would go a long way in winning them over to your side.
- Appropriate Communication Media/Channels: Having clearly defined your goal, identified your target audience and crafted your message to appeal and attract the right volunteers, the next thing is to communicate the message through appropriate medium that will be receptive to the target audience. Some promotion media to be explored include: the internal communication channels of the organisation, social media platform, group communication, brochures, posters, handbills, traditional media platforms amongst others.
- Volunteer Recruitment Process: A simplified volunteer recruitment process should be employed. A “Yes” click on a website, a simplified form to be filled and so on. Whatever it is, it should not be tedious as to discourage volunteers from continuing with the process. It should however, have all the details of the volunteers required to accommodate the standard needed by the organisation.
- Volunteer Engagement: Recruitment of volunteers does not signify an end to the process. It is actually its beginning because volunteers if not properly engaged would exit. One of the key ways to engage and retain volunteers is to express constant gratitude with simple words such as “thank you”, ask for their suggestions rather than take unilateral decisions, spell out volunteer activities and provide training and mobility. Also, provide refreshment during a community engagement activity, provide kits to be worn during engagements if needed, make each volunteer feel special and do not make provocative statements or express partial considerations during an outing. Carry out photo ops, treat them right at all times. This could translate to proper use of time, provision of shelter while on an engagement and so on. Provide temporary health insurance for them if necessary. Send a personalised “thank you” mail after every community engagement activity. Other forms of rewards can also be explored such as featuring an outstanding and zealous volunteer in the organisation’s publication, dinner with the Managing Director and Chief Executive of the company etc. The overall thing is to provide a positive work environment that will reinforce their passion for selfless service.
- Feedback: However, when volunteers leave, find out why they left as information garnered in this process would help mitigate massive volunteer exit. Exit interviews may be conducted, the interviews should project the organisation as one that cares and is open and willing to take correction. Questions to ask should possibly include:
- What is your main reason for leaving us?
- What could we have done to encourage you to stay on?
- How would you describe the culture we have here?
- How well do you feel our process and procedures helped you in your time here?
- What would you suggest to improving volunteer roles here at our organisation? Etc.
In all, volunteering if effectively implemented provides a win-win situation for all the parties concerned namely the volunteer, the organisation and the community. The individual cum volunteer benefits in the sense that his self-esteem and self-actualisation needs are met as he or she is provided with a platform to express desire of positively impacting the community. On the health side, it lowers blood pressure, increases body coordination and agility, and helps develop new skills and experience. The organisation also benefits as it is able to achieve its set goals and objectives of positively impacting the community with minimal cost. Furthermore, the community is the better for it as the life and welfare of the people is improved thus aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
- Watson, Stephanie: Executive Editor: Harvard Women’s Health Watch Volunteering may be good for body and mind October 29, 2015.
- Burke, Miles: The 6Q Blog: Engaging Volunteers in a Not-for-Profit Organisation.
- Institute of Sustainable Development: 2015: The Role of Volunteering in Sustainable Development.
- Horoszowski, Mark : 2015, Five Surprising Benefits of Volunteering. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2015/03/19/5-surprising-benefits-of-volunteering/#30e02e38127b
- Fighting Poverty through volunteering: https://www.vsointernational.org/fighting-poverty/our-research-and-evaluations/research-report-valuing-volunteering