As a field, we've become much more savvy in developing meaningful and appealing work for a wide range of volunteers way past the old model of regularly-scheduled helper. We've learned to run single days of service and deal with spontaneous volunteers. We can assign projects to corporate employee teams, intergenerational families, and those who want to volunteer virtually. Yet we are still missing some opportunities.
What kind of volunteer work might you design for the following less traditional prospects (and this is only a partial list)?
- Seniors over the age of 90 (the fastest growing age category today)
- Children under the age of 14
- Newly-unemployed people wanting a bridge between their old job and finding a new one
- Voluntourists (people spending vacation or conference time in your area - from one day to a season - and who want to be of use to the community)
- Current clients who want to get involved to help others
- The CEOs of the major companies in your area
- University professors (not just their students!)
- Blue collar tradespeople
I'm not suggesting that every organization needs the sort of help these people might offer. But how did you react -- in your gut -- to each group on this list? If you can get past some preconceived notions about who is a potential volunteer, you can vastly expand the pool of community resources available to you.
Sometimes we simply avoid potential resources because we can't picture how we would work with them. Maybe that's why so many senior volunteering programs are focusing on people in their 50s (who don't identify at all with the concept of "senior") and not on healthy nonagenarians. It's just easier -- and there are fewer transportation and health concerns. It's the same with engaging young children in service. Yet both ends of the age spectrum offer unique perspectives and skill bases.
Sometimes we can't imagine that a group might even be interested in volunteering with us. We approach students, but not their teachers or professors -- and who is more skilled? We recruit secretaries and salespeople, but not their managers and certainly not their CEOs. And why not? Do we offer any volunteer work executives would find appealing? What do we think that is?
In a similar vein, it's fascinating how rarely we reach out to labor unions, trade councils, or blue collar businesses. We won't think twice about asking a white collar professional to volunteer as a consultant or donate training services, but do we invite plumbers or roofers to give their labor (also professionally skilled) pro bono? Why not?
Bet you're wondering how you'll ever be able to coordinate and support these populations, who will need extra time and attention. Don't forget the strategy of recruiting interested volunteers knowledgeable about each group to run a pilot project with the target population, or to be team or shift leaders for the group.
If you find yourself with a very homogenous volunteer corps, it may be because you are gravitating towards the "usual suspects" in your recruitment. Whether you intended to or not, the volunteer assignments you offer appeal to a narrow slice of the community. Try welcoming people who fall outside the norm you've established of age, status, schedule, and other factors. They may be delighted at the invitation to get involved and you'll expand the value of the volunteer effort for your organization.