February 14th, 2013

     When volunteers raise awareness, what does it look like? Can you define the amount of awareness that was raised? Can you see it? Touch it? Is it a nice tactile and tangible outcome that you can hold in the palm of your hand? For most of us, no. It feels like a vague concept.

Andrea McArthur is the author of the VolunteerGuru’s blog. She completed her Masters Thesis on factors impacting youth providing indirect volunteering: strengths and challenges for engagement.

Many of the volunteer opportunities that young people are taking on involve a lot of awareness and fundraising.  More often than not, this “indirect volunteering” creates an impact that isn’t always clear. As a result, volunteers can become discouraged because they can’t see the results of their hard work.  McArthur wanted to figure out what the motivations and risks were with young volunteers in awareness raising volunteer roles. Her study surveyed youth from the GTA and produced the following information and recommendations for engaging youth volunteers who are working on raising awareness and fundraising for non-profits.

How to Create Great Experiences for Volunteers

From the results of this study combined with the results from Volunteer Canada’s Bridging the Gap report (see page 21 for info on youth volunteers), the following recommendations can be made for organizations who engage youth for indirect volunteering:

Firstly, organizations can empower youth volunteers by defining their volunteer roles as clearly as possible. When volunteer positions are defined clearly and volunteers are aware of what is expected of them (and what the outcomes will be), volunteers are more likely to step up and take on more leadership roles.

As well, organizations should make sure they know the motivations of their volunteers before they start volunteering, and keep them in mind when communicating the impact volunteers are having. When the impact communicated is directly tied to the motivation, volunteers are more likely to feel like they’re successful; like they’ve accomplished the mission they set out to achieve.

Lastly, organizations should also get feedback from all stakeholders associated to a project or campaign. This involves getting evaluations from within the organization, reactions from the people that the volunteer role ultimately affects, and comments from the community as a whole, so that volunteers (and organizations) are better able to see the impact they’re making.

The Motivations of Youth

Youth volunteers play an important role in Canada’s volunteer economy. They can sometimes be a vulnerable group to work with – they’re building their skills and confidence, and often are  just starting to think about progressing in their education and careers. Ensuring they understand the difference they’re making is critical not only for their own sense of empowerment, but for keeping youth engaged as they grow and evolve in their volunteer experiences.

The following images are the motivations, leadership qualities, and barriers to entry for young volunteers:

Volunteer motivations

McArthur’s research also reveals issues around role ambiguity, empowerment and finding meaning with non-linear impact volunteer work:

Empowering young volunteers in their volunteering experience

This is only a brief snapshot of McArthur’s work – you can read more about the outcomes in the full thesis here.

To sum things up, McArthur outlines three pathways that prevent and promote successful outcomes for youth volunteers providing indirect services.

Pathways to successful and unsuccessful volunteerig

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