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Hands up for volunteering

Volunteers for the Red Shield Appeal 2018, Lieutenant Colonels Wes and Daphne Rabbitts.
Posted June 19, 2019

Hands up if you’re a volunteer! It’s National Volunteer Week from 16–22 June, and even if you don’t know it, you are probably volunteering—whether it’s signing up to a church roster or offering to mow your neighbour’s lawn.

Phil Daly studied volunteering as part of his Masters in Education. Growing up in The Salvation Army, volunteering was part of life, he says. During eight years as an educator at Booth College of Mission, Phil found volunteers to ‘be really passionate and inspiring’.

But unpaid workers are a different breed from paid employees—and the reasons why we might ‘put our hand up’ are not as obvious as we might think.

‘Our motivations for volunteering are widely misunderstood, even among volunteers themselves, because the natural tendency is to assume it’s an altruistic motivation—so most volunteers will say, “I want to help”. But underlying that, the motivations are much more complex,’ he says.

One of the benefits of volunteering is the social aspect. ‘People don’t like to say, “I’m lonely”, so the social aspect gets misreported. But young mums, retired people, young people—they’re looking for connection.’

Another big motivator is career experience—and that should be celebrated: ‘If The Salvation Army can give a person some experience and it’s good for their CV so they can go on to a paid job, that’s good for society and good for the individual. It’s part of our mission to transform lives,’ says Phil.

Research says volunteering can be a life-enhancing experience—not just for the community, but for the volunteer themselves. One retired teacher had a life-time of skills, including post-graduate literacy training. In her retirement, she found a new lease of life teaching adult literacy. ‘She said, “I still get to use my skills and it gives me a real buzz”. So it’s really positive, because you feel energised by contributing.’

But there is one big motivator most of us don’t want to admit: guilt. ‘In the church we do use that a lot. We’ll say: “If we don’t have Sunday school teachers, we’ll have to shut the programme down”.’

But guilt won’t keep someone motivated for long. ‘So, sure, you might get someone through the door because they feel guilty about Sunday school shutting down. But if they see the difference they are making to the children, and they feel invested in their lives, then that becomes really positive.’

The key to getting the best out of volunteers is to match their motivation with the work they are doing. ‘So if someone volunteers for a social reason, don’t have them folding clothes out the back by themselves. Or if someone really wants to make a difference, make sure they understand that what they are doing is really meaningful.

‘Volunteering is not free labour,’ adds Phil. ‘If you have volunteers, you should be really busy training them and inputting into their lives. As a leader, think about how you can support them to feel fulfilled in their role. Too often we rely on finding bodies to fill a gap. But you actually need to plan and give your time.’

National Volunteer Week is a great opportunity to remember that volunteers are the heartbeat of The Salvation Army. So, this week, volunteer to make them a cake, or simply say thanks!

By Ingrid Barratt (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 15 June 2019, p3. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.