Gemeinsam in Europa

Learning Points

The partnership would not have been successful without taking away important learning points which our, and we hope other, volunteer-involving organisations can use to further strengthen their engagement with volunteers.

Our learning came from the following lead questions:

 

  • What are the tools for attracting new volunteers and providing them with new learning opportunities?

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    It is always difficult to find new volunteers. Here are some ways how the opportunities that volunteering poses can be used as tools to attract new volunteers:

    • showing volunteers that they will gain skills in many areas:
      • in their personal development
      • in their professional development by gaining important skills and qualifications
    • on-going supervision and monitoring
    • realizing the problems/dangers of not recognizing volunteers
    • recognizing volunteering experience officially on the labour market, e.g. Europass CV
    • a standardized system of recognition (pan-European) of voluntary work and gained skills
    • adding value to volunteer time (e.g. tax reduction, one can do it for donating money to charity, but what about time donation?)
    • transfer social needs to municipal bodies, teaching children responsibility and active citizenship
    • databases, networks
    • using more social networks for recruitment and networking and using “voices of volunteers”
    • using experience of current volunteers in on-going campaigns as “living examples” à letting them speak and giving them an opportunity to speak about their experiences
  • What are the personal development opportunities for volunteers?

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    Volunteering offers a lot of opportunities for volunteers. Below are listed the opportunities that volunteering poses for their personal development:

    • improve social skills
      • ability to interact with people, especially with people who have less opportunities
      • make new contacts
    • ability to take responsibility – for someone else, for my work, my education etc.
    • self-awareness – what are my strengths, weaknesses, my best role?
    • gain more self-confidence – e.g. speaking in public
    • gain the experience, that they and their skills are needed and appreciated
    • develop an idea of active citizenship
    • realize the importance of their contribution to society
    • feeling as a part of a community
    • learn more about you own culture, generation, language, identity, country, city etc.
    • they can broaden their horizon in general
    • creativity
    • leadership
    • personal fulfilment and satisfaction
    • enhancement of personal development
    • experience in volunteering has impact on personal development
      • overcoming personal barriers
      • trying new things out without being punished
      • practical experience helps in future job interviews
      • discover hidden talents
      • help with further job orientation
  • What are the effective ways and tools for recognising voluntary activities?

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    There are many way to recognize the volunteer’s work. In the following list, there are some suggestions how the volunteers and their commitment can be appreciated:

    • using instruments like volunteer contract, job description
    • motivate other organization to use this method
    • use informal recognition
    • awards to volunteers/NGOs/journalists/companies (not for charity in general)
    • provide special trainings as learning opportunities
    • send individual letters/ birthday and Christmas greeting cards
    • ability to give volunteers more power/responsibility for the project/giving them a voice: include them in the decision-making process/in the boards of NGO/association; send them to represent organization to conference/workshops
    • give them opportunity to pursue “career” in particular volunteer programmes – to become e. g. volunteer coordinator
    • ask for constant feedback, open dialogue or constructive criticism, asking about their opinion, listening to them, from the side of the professional not to take things for granted = this ability says thank you
    • media coverage: visibility, publicity
    • enable more formal approach to volunteer projects: precise job description, contract
    • support feeling of loyalty to NGO/volunteer community: create and use user forums, where all users and participants can come together or exchange ideas
    • organizations recognize ideas of volunteers and try to put them into praxis
    • provide letters of reference (very detailed), particularly important for job finding
    • use tools as for example “Volunteer Cards”, certificates, diplomas
    • financial tools: offering expenses to be refunded, allocating finances for recognition
  • How to improve skills and qualification gained through volunteering?

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    People often do not know all the advantages of volunteering. These are professional skills and qualifications one can gain by volunteering:

    Professional skills

    • improve presentation and communication skills – e.g. experience how to teach
    • improve conflict and risk management skills
    • improve problem solving skills, finding new strategies and ways of overcoming barriers
    • improve intercultural, intergenerational skills, improve skills to work with people from different backgrounds
    • access to and gaining of new information
    • team work
    • leadership
    • gain specific knowledge in a certain area – e.g. health assistance, work with young persons, social work, psychology
    • language skills
    • IT skills
    • improve organizational skills
      • time management
      • coordination and project management
      • financial and resource management
      • identify funding opportunities, budgeting
      • writing proposals, reports, applications
      • evaluation and monitoring
      • follow-up
    • entrepreneurship – implementation of ideas, innovations
    • networking
    • PR, outreach to the public and media management
    • content of the programs and project often different from professional orientation or previous experience à the opportunity without real stress to try out new activities, get to know new situations through friendly, safe and supportive environment in the organizations
    • capacity of some programs for self development/self-knowing
    • accredited trainings
    • learning by doing things, achieve practice
    • the opportunity to be in direct contact with users, clients
    • opportunity to get to know personal limits
  • How best to professionalise and standardise entry into volunteering?

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    Through the Partnership we established that, on the one hand, there exists a great diversity of volunteering initiatives/projects/interventions that address different societal needs, but on the other hand we also encounter the following problems:

    1. Volunteering is at times perceived (and also in some countries the case in reality) to be an activity for the privileged – e.g. white, middle/upper class, academics, well-educated, can afford the time to volunteer;
    2. Volunteering is linked to an old-fashioned stereotype of “do-gooding”, which also includes gender-based stereotyping (and reality): women involved in “doing charity” (with the negative connotations this brings), men involved in sports-based or rescue/emergency or leadership (e.g. sitting on organisations’ Boards) volunteering;
    3. There still exist many barriers to volunteering. Some of them result from bureaucratic and legal obstacles, such as the amount of hours a person can volunteer while unemployed, so as not to lose benefits. At the same time, some barriers are more institutionalised: intrinsic to the volunteer involving organisations themselves. For example, traditional-type volunteer involving organisations, including those organisations that have been around for a long time, are less willing and/or prepared to modernise and professionalise their volunteer management, volunteer engagement, volunteer recruitment, etc. There is also the issue of volunteers picking up activities “left over” from paid staff – “filling the gaps” – the ethical problem of misusing the commitment and energy of volunteers.

     

    In the light of the fact that volunteer involving organisations are the closest to volunteers, they have the responsibility to professionalise and modernise volunteer management and the way they engage, and reward, volunteers. The Partnership therefore recommends that it is necessary to empower organisers of volunteering to improve the quality and recognition of voluntary activities. For example, the P.A.V.E.[1] document, developed by volunteering practitioners from across the EU during EYV 2011, recommends:

    1. The introduction of quality principles, volunteer agreements, monitoring systems and mechanisms to ensure that volunteers are more involved and have influence on the management and decision-making in volunteer involving organisations;
    2. The promotion and support of recognition, training and development of volunteers.
    3. The Partnership signs up to these recommendations, stressing the need for volunteer empowerment and recognising a very important issue: while volunteering is time given by individuals for free, a meaningful, structured and well-managed volunteering activity does not come cost-free! This means that also funding bodies need to recognise the fact that, in order to achieve the best possible results from a volunteering intervention, some investment has to be also made in the actual capacity of an organisation that manages the volunteering activity. This includes the need to invest in crucial