Volunteers are not paid. Someone once told me that volunteers are paid nothing, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless. So true.
A few years ago I undertook a survey of community groups into their organisational health. I looked at a number of components, including that of the voluntary input into the organisations. I’d like to share some of the comments from respondents regarding volunteers and the voluntary effort that they put in:
“They are an amazing team of people”
“They are GOLD!” “They are hugely impressive people prepared to make a difference.”
“Most of our volunteers have the same or similar socio-economic background as those our services are targeted at helping - i.e. volunteering itself is considered to be one of our services; empowering people.”
“We see our volunteers as a key role in our organisation. They are vital for us and we couldn’t do what we do without them.”
“People learn from each other, but mostly they already have the knowledge required.”
What the survey also showed was that most volunteers undertake the work they do from self-motivation or because of the purpose of the organisation they are working on behalf of. Many find the acknowledgement that they get from the organisations they work with also to be motivating. Whether the work they undertook was interesting was of lesser importance in terms of their motivation. This suggests that the primary motivators behind volunteers in community work are twofold: to work for something of greater importance than themselves and to be recognised as being of value by their peers.
The survey tended to dispel (in part) the myth that it is mainly older or retired people that volunteer their time. Certainly I found that the proportion of older persons volunteering was greater than their proportion in the population generally. In New Zealand, around 16% of the population are aged 50-64, yet 24% of volunteers came from that age group. For those aged 65 and over the proportions are 13% and 21% respectively. However, interestingly the survey found that the percentage of volunteers in the 25-49 year age group was just over 36%, compared to their percentage in the population of 36%. The group that are under-represented amongst those who volunteer are the under 25s. Not surprising really, considering that this group includes children, students and those trying to find work or adapting to their new role in society as adults.
Where there was a clear difference in proportions was that 61% of the volunteers were women, only 39% men. C’mon men, time to join the helping professions.
It should be pointed out that this survey was conducted within established community organisations. There are many forms of volunteering that this survey did not cover, e.g. those caring for elderly parents or those who care for children with disability, or perhaps the friendly neighbour who is always willing to lend a hand to feed the pets or clear your mail while you are away.
Yes, let’s value the volunteers.