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​Attracting and retaining volunteers (with a little nudge from your friends)

Blog post   •   Jun 08, 2016 11:35 BST

Nudge, or behavioural science, has become one of those buzz concepts in recent years; a bit like social capital a decade or so ago. It is a simple notion, like all good ideas. It is based on the premise that human behaviour can be altered with just a little helping hand or nudge from designers or policy makers.

A new study from the Olympic and Paralympic legacy charity, Join In, suggests that it might have something useful to say about volunteering.

Join In was set up to capitalise on the amazing outpouring of volunteering which flowed from the 2012 Games. I volunteered for the Paralympic Games as a London Ambassador and still get a tingle down the spine recalling how for a few short weeks volunteering was literally front-page news and the coolest thing in town.

Numbers of people volunteering went up in the immediate aftermath, assisted in no small measure by the great work of Join In (of which in the spirit of openness I should declare that I am a trustee) but have since dipped back down.

So with the Rio Games about to kick-off and Volunteers’ Week and Small Charity Week just around the corner, the timing of the release of this new research from Join In into what more can be done to stimulate volunteering couldn’t be better.

The report organises its findings around the mnemonic GIVERS and offers some great insights and practical hints for organisations keen to engage and retain their volunteers.

For example, we should be:

  • offering opportunities for volunteers to learn and grow
  • letting them know the impact they are making
  • adopting the right tone of voice when making the ask – the research suggests that people respond better to a request to volunteer from an individual rather than a nameless organisation; that they like being offered a challenge: ‘are you up for it?’; and, bizarrely, that they are more likely to agree to volunteer if they have been asked first to think about their favourite super-hero!
  • making sure they have a great experience - the study talks about the importance of ‘peak’ experiences and of how organisations need to give volunteers something positive to take away
  • thanking volunteers as much as possible through events, parties and the like, and
  • providing opportunities for social engagement and fun, recognising that the collegiate element of volunteering is important.

So GIVERS – growth, impact, voice, experience, recognition and social.

The research adds to our understanding of the importance of the psychological contract in involving volunteers. In the absence of a pay cheque organisations don’t have the same control over volunteers as paid staff. To motivate and retain their loyalty managers need to hone their skills of negotiation and engagement.

Givers offers some useful insights into how this might be done. With Small Charity Week almost upon us and with Rio rekindling memories of 2012, now might be a good time for organisations to try it out. 

Justin Davis Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness

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