Blog | Volunteerism: Time to Think Outside the Box

Understanding why people want to volunteer is the key to engaging dedicated and talented people who want to give their time and energy to your organization or cause.

It’s time to rethink how organizations utilize volunteers. There is a talented, community oriented work force available; the key is for organizations to understand how to utilize the individual candidate’s unique skill and availability in a win-win scenario for both parties.

That was a theme at a recent symposium on attracting volunteers and interns for innovative projects, hosted by the Older Adult Task Force and the Santa Monica Commission for the Senior Community at the Santa Monica Public Library.

According to keynote speaker Carla Campbell Lehn, Library Development Services of the California State Library, organizations need to think beyond answering phones. Volunteer candidates should be asked “what skills do you have that you would like to share with us” Lehn explained. She said that volunteers do not come to serve you; they want to make an impact.  This is especially true of the Baby Boomer generation, those who were born from 1946 – 1964.  Lehr, who is a baby boomer, shared “we have skills and we want to bring them to organizations we care about.”

There are 77 million Boomers. This is a generation of activists and they need meaningful opportunities that inspire them. They are consumers and need options and flexibility because many are still working full time.  They have valuable skills and are accustomed to being in the workplace thus your volunteer program needs to provide proper training and expectations. “Boomers are not retiring, they are recalibrating. “ Lehn pointed out. They are transferring from career to civic engagement.  If you understand their mindset, you have a better chance at reeling them into your organization or cause.

There are benefits to be had – work can get done when office staff is not available; volunteers bring new energy and ideas along with special skills such as web and graphic design; and an opportunity to gain community connections and new supporters who understand your organization’s cause.

Volunteers need to get something back. For many Boomers, it’s the chance to make a difference. For career focused younger generations, its work experience or connection, a future reference or job referral. According to a Volunteer America, Generation X (those born 1965-1981) makes up the largest volunteer workforce.

I am a Gen-Xer and we are busy. Work, family, aging parents all biding for our time. We are independent and self-reliant and we volunteer because we want a connection to our community such as our kid’s school, our religious group or we get involved through a corporate volunteer program.  

The Millennials, those born after 1982, also want work experience and connections. They are a lot more civic minded than their parents. They like a balance between work and lifelong learning. They are multi-taskers and live in a world of social media.  They are more apt to volunteer because a friend on Facebook invited them to. Forget about snail mail, this group will apply or donate on-line.

So, how do we attract these different generations of eager volunteers? Carla Campbell Lehn advises starting with a good solid job description. Include how the volunteer job makes a difference. Be specific with time commitment and expectations.  Don’t just wait for people to come to you – outreach. I recommend volunteermatch.org, volunteerlosangeles.org, Craig’s List or right here on Santa Monica Patch.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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