It is unsurprising that altruism is the most common reason people volunteer. In 2005, nfpSynergy’s The 21st Century Volunteer report found the motivations most often cited by volunteers are a belief in the cause and a desire to make a difference. But in today’s world, motives for volunteering go beyond altruism. We have seen the rise of ‘selfish volunteers’- “people who are as interested in what they get out of volunteering as what they put in.” As the public become more demanding as consumers and service-users, they are expecting more from the volunteering experience.
Career benefits are one of the most prominent examples. A TimeBank
survey showed 94% of workers who volunteered to learn new skills had benefited by getting their first job, improving their salary or being promoted. The survey also showed that among 200 of the UK’s leading businesses, 73% of employers would employ a candidate with volunteering experience over one without, while 94% of employers believe that volunteering can add to skills. 58% of employers even said that voluntary work experience can actually be more valuable than experience gained in paid employment.
I think I approach volunteering with an element of selfish altruism. This time two years ago, I was finishing university and looking for the opportunity to apply the skills I had learnt to the real world and to keep on learning. After several uninspiring career events, I hit the jackpot with a talk on working in the non-profit sector. Volunteering had always appealed to me as I wanted to give my time to a cause that I believed in. But a different key message came out of this career talk; as a recent graduate I could gain significantly more valuable experiences for my career development through volunteering than in paid employment. The 21st Century Volunteer
report shows that volunteering gives the opportunity for more responsibility, road testing of different careers and to develop a professional network.
Charities have to be open to harnessing this selfish altruism among recent graduates and broader social groups. If they don't use use the skills and enthusiasm available for the benefit of both parties, they are missing a massive opportunity.
There are some key issues to consider:
1) Does the individual benefit more from career-orientated volunteering than the organisation?
With high expectations of what they will get from the experience, career-orientated volunteers could be more demanding about the type of work they are willing to do, meaning they are less inclined to cover the menial tasks. Organisations need to stimulate and challenge their volunteers, whilst also addressing any need for administrative support.
2) More professionalisation of volunteering?
Our Charity Awareness Monitor
consistently finds that those of a higher socio-economic status are more likely to volunteer. Additionally, the reduced public services expenditure has created pressure to recruit more high-skilled volunteers into previously paid jobs. Would catering for career-minded graduates further reduce the number of volunteers with lower socio-economic status or additional social needs?
3) What level of long-term commitment can a career-focussed volunteer offer?
For most office-based voluntary positions, organisations ask for a commitment of 2-3 days a week for at least a few months. For many individuals this is an ideal platform to improve their skills and gain experience. However, this may not be sustainable long term, as the volunteer inevitably will be looking for a source of income.
Last year I applied to be a policy and campaigns volunteer for an organisation that I actively support. It seemed like the perfect fit as I had the experience they were looking for and could offer to volunteer with them one day a week for a year. I was disappointed to hear that, although they wanted me to volunteer for them, they had another candidate who could work more frequently. The structured and formal nature of their volunteering guidelines meant they were unwilling to take me on in a smaller capacity.
Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Perhaps. But I strongly believe that organisations should be harnessing individuals who can offer the skills they are looking for, even if it is through smaller ad-hoc projects. Even if the volunteer cannot offer much time now, there is a greater chance of them becoming an advocate for the cause or even a future employee if some level of connection is maintained.
Altruism is still the most likely reason for volunteering. However, volunteering also gives a lot back to the individual. With an increasing number of graduates struggling to get onto the career ladder, I strongly believe that charities must embrace people with the ‘selfish’ reason of volunteering for career benefits. Otherwise, everyone could miss out.
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