Addressing The Real Issues With Volunteering

I've just read that the volunteering charity V is going to start referring to volunteering as 'favours', because apparently their research shows that two-thirds of young people find the word 'volunteering' a turn-off. Haven't they ever heard the phrase 'calling a rose by any another name...'. In this case if young people think its a pig, calling it a tiger isn't going to change anything.

Let's look at the two issues they point to... the reasons why young people don't volunteer.

  1. They see it as signing up to the unknown - If you look carefully, there are two issues here. The signing up - in other words a commitment issue, and the unknown - in other words lack of clarity around what they are going to be doing
  2. A third said volunteering was geeky - I'm guessing 'V' haven't taken into account the effect of the Orange Rockcorps campaign on shifting the perception of volunteering amongst young people.
Asking young people if they have volunteered, most said no, but 80% said they'd done someone a favour. So V have decided that renaming volunteering as favours would get more young people excited. Personally I think that's a poor approach. 'Favours' inherently suggest obligation. Does V realise that it might effectively be building a culture of young people who associate donating time and effort with actual return and reward?

In any event, renaming something does not in any way address the underlying issues, and therefore quite frankly should not be expected to do anything to improve the numbers of young people getting involved.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I believe there are 4 reasons why young people (16 - 35) don't volunteer. The barriers come down to perception, but usually underpinned by reality.
  1. Effort required to find opportunities to help - I challenge you to find somewhere to volunteer for an hour this evening
  2. Physicality and localisation - having to be there in person and doing something physical
  3. Commitment - having to sign up to something regular and ongoing. The issue here is backing out rather than signing up. We have busy and social lives. A lot of people would rather not get involved at all, than face the embarrassment of telling someone after who needs help that they can't continue any more because they've got some other social activity that overlaps.
  4. Kudos - personal kudos is a huge factor in young people's lives and right now there are no avenues to highlight anyone's volunteering efforts to their friends and networks. Even giving someone a ticket to a concert in return for volunteering as Orange Rockcorps are doing, is reward without kudos. Encouragement for one-off volunteering rather than a culture of a volunteering.

This project, through, is explicitly aimed at removing these barriers by tapping into existing social networks and enabling real-time crowdsourced virtual-volunteering. By addressing the issues rather than playing with semantics, we can start to build a real culture of volunteering, enabling people to help each other and make a difference to millions.

As mentioned before, I'm going to be applying for Google's Project 10 to the 100th, so do help by spreading the word, subscribing to the blog at and passing the link on to your friends and colleagues.

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