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How to stop your volunteers getting older and older

How to stop your volunteers getting older and older

Volunteers are the life blood of charities. At CPRE our volunteers are the frontline campaigners and experts. They use their wisdom, energy and knowledge to ensure that the democratic rights of communities to determine their future and protect their environment are not brushed aside. But we, like many charities, worry about succession as volunteers get older and younger generations put their energies elsewhere.

In the past we could be confident that as people matured and had more time they would often develop new interests and priorities which led them into volunteering. We can no longer be confident that will happen.

There is a societal shift in public participation. The trends that have led to the closure of pubs and churches, the decline in traditional forms of joining and contributing to society, are the same trends as will undermine charity volunteering if we don’t reform it. However passionately someone feels about a cause, if getting involved means turning up to long evening meetings and voting on motions at AGMs, we’re going to lose people. Without throwing the baby out with the bathwater (lots of people still like meetings), we need to find new ways to volunteer.

There are three keys to bringing in the next generation to volunteering. Language, Opportunity and Community.

Language, because in the sector (there I go again) we’re all hooked on jargon and don’t even realise it. We need, simply, to use plain and non-patronising English - ‘going forward we need to manage-out the disincentivising articulation of our sector-specific goal-oriented engagement philosophies’. But seriously, we need to use the language, media and social references of young people. Talking about Mrs Thatcher is irrelevant to almost anyone under 40. Split infinitives aren’t a crime against humanity and social media isn’t all just about celebrities and abuse.

Opportunity, because volunteering for young people has to be at least in part about building their career and help bolster their CV. And – for those not looking for retirement activities – volunteering needs to be time limited, flexible and available in small bite size pieces. Jobs and even careers are no longer for life and charities need to realise that young people will expect the charity world to mirror the flexibility of the working world.

Community, because I think people want to be part of something they can see, contributing to a cause they understand and can relate to. In this era of climate change and perceived global threats, ‘Think Global Act Local’ has never been more relevant. They want to be empowered and to influence the shape of their contribution. Volunteering can be the new cause which people sign up to as their way of changing the world, but only if it gives them real influence and power in their local community and environment. And that’s the key.

People volunteer for a host of reasons, but in a world where it can be hard for young people to see how as individuals they can effect change and where cynicism about politics is rife, charities have a massive opportunity. If we can show people a way to make their actions matter, we will bring a new generation to volunteering.

This blog was first published online by Third Sector

If we can show people a way to make their actions matter, we will bring a new generation to volunteering.

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