Volunteer for Hire (for Free!). Why No Takers?

As this year progressed, I found myself with more free time than I want. So I began to look around to volunteer for other organisations. So far, I’ve drawn a blank! I’m a free volunteer, looking for work, but none is to be found! What’s the problem?
I feel under-employed…in the mind

Weekly, I run an environmental volunteer friends group of 500 members, have life drawing, bridge, tennis, choir and grandchild-minding commitments and try to write a blog. To many people that sounds a lot – too much for some.

But people have different levels of energy, and my mind – in particular – is under-employed. Having held a full-time academic job and simultaneously run a part-time consulting practice (yes, I worked a lot, but I loved it), I have energy and ideas I’d like to use to help other organisations.

Trying to volunteer…but for what?

So I decided to try to volunteer…but how to go about it? Eventually, after looking at a local council website for opportunities to go to their ‘volunteer night’. This forced me to think carefully about what I wanted to do as a volunteer and who I might want to volunteer with. I realised a lot of volunteer opportunities don’t interest me (eg bus driving, gardening, opp shop worker, meal preparer) and I don’t have what it takes to work in heavy social welfare organisations, even though there are great needs there.

This made me wonder what skills I actually had that might be valuable! I’m not technically skilled, I’m not patient, my attention to detail is not as good as I thought, my social media skills are limited…but I’m pretty good at strategic thinking, organising work and finding ways to make organisations work better.

The council’s data base had a large number and wide range of volunteer opportunities, so I went to the ‘volunteer night’ – where organisations pitched their needs to potential volunteers – with some optimism, though uncertain and unsure how this would work.

Over 20 organisations pitched to around 40 volunteers. Several were initially attractive, but I quickly eliminated some when I learnt more about the actual opportunity or the organisation’s background (eg I don’t want to work for a religious-based organisation and I want to work on local issues where I can make a real difference, not be a small part of a national organisation’s new campaign).

In addition, some other opportunities also arose. I decided to offer my services to an independent member of parliament who I thought might be short of resources. I made an offer to a friend taking up a powerful new position in an area of social policy I supported. I put my name on an online mentoring database and also on a state-based board of directors database.

What’s happened so far?

Of the six specific opportunities, there’s been little response so far! Four have failed to respond at all so far and one thanked me for the offer. I have had several fruitful discussions with one organisation, but progress has been slower than expected. As the new year begins, though I’m now wiser about the opportunities, I’m still ‘unemployed’…and available for free!

What have I learnt?

Although my environmental group has over 100 Active Volunteers (including me), I’ve learnt a little about the other side of volunteering. Volunteers want quick responses to their offers. Speed is important. Enthusiasm wanes quickly if an offer isn’t taken up.

Volunteers have a context and situation for their offer. The organisation has to fit their offer to the volunteer’s situation…which means they need to explore the volunteer’s background and desires if their offer is to be successful.

What a volunteer might actually do for the organisation could be quite different from what they first offer, if the organisation can get to know the volunteer and can tailor some organisation needs to the volunteer’s specifics.

There are many organisations needing many different types of skills, competing for volunteers. But, unless volunteer skills are in social media, which every organisation needs, it’s hard to get the type of match you need.

Also, the culture of an organisation is really important to a volunteer. How welcoming are they? Do they see you as part of their team? Can you get to know the full-time people and other volunteers, or are you just there to do a job? How organised are they? Is your time used well? Do they look after you, thank you?

So I’m still waiting, but I’m looking for the right opportunities to arise, not willing to just take anything to fill my days.

Got a job for me? That fits me?

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