Engaging young people in a long-term project that involves some investment in acquiring knowledge about specific and complex topics such as combating bullying, gender violence, dating violence and non-violent conflict resolution can be a difficult task.
One thing that we have to keep in mind is that we have to captivate and engage volunteers using the right strategy.
There are several steps to take and we can’t face them as a linear order but as a dynamic process. “We are talking about an itinerary that develops in a spiral way, where there isn’t a first moment followed by a second, and so on. All the moments are interconnected.” (Aranguren, 2010, p. 39)
In a time when there is so much talk about the profile of today’s young people who live from immediacy and to connect to gadgets, asking them to connect with people and engage in long-term volunteering seems like something that goes against their “nature”. And yet we are proposing this in this toolbox. We do it because we know that this is possible and that it is a very adequate strategy for the intervention that is intended.
Getting their attention requires a strategy. For instance, we have to clarify with them that this is a kind of volunteering that it is an opportunity for them to exercise their citizenship and to train personal and social skills that will be useful to them in their life. It is a volunteering that encourages their autonomy and their critical capacity contributing to the empowerment of those involved. It is also an opportunity for them to create or strengthen their interpersonal relationship network.
In other words, we have to think of a strategy to reach them, knowing already that we want to involve youngsters that see volunteering as an action of social transformation and not a charitable action.
If we decide to establish a methodology for coordinating volunteers, we must manage volunteering with the same degree of seriousness as salaried human resources. In that case, we will need to spend some time in the planning phase and it will not be a waste of time.
There are a few questions we have to answer before we start contacting the volunteers:
- Do all the people working in the organization know that we are getting ready to start a volunteering project, and everyone who gets directly involved with the volunteers know what their role is?
- What is expected of the volunteers in terms of work?
- Have we identified a good working environment for volunteers in terms of work space, equipment, etc.?
- Do we have a plan to look for volunteers?
- Do we have a strategy to identify candidates with the appropriate profile?
- Do we have a plan to prepare volunteers?
If the answer to these questions is positive you can start the search for volunteers.
1.2. Defining the profile of the volunteers
Motivations can be diverse and all valid but we have to match the NGO and the volunteer expectation so that a commitment can be made that satisfies both parties.
Volunteering programs are successful when volunteers do what they want. We fail when we assign functions that volunteers do not like and do not want to do. Therefore, in order to attract and retain volunteers, we must assign them roles that they wish to carry out.
As they gain confidence in the work they are doing, the volunteers can make suggestions about how they can change the profile they had been given in order to be more rewarding. That is, even if negotiated at the beginning, this profile must be adapted to new circumstances.
Not everyone has a profile to volunteer in organizations that work with people. There are characteristics and requirements that must be met:
- Share the mission, vision and organizational values of the host entity;
- Take responsibility for the volunteer commitment established with the host organization;
- Consider training as essential for a good development of volunteer activity;
- Have the ability to work in a team;
- Have the ability to identify and combat their own prejudices;
- Have the psychological conditions necessary for the roles they assume.
In short, it is very important that the host organization defines its needs and to what extent the volunteer can satisfy them and doing so, also feels satisfied himself or herself.
Aranguren, Luís (2010), Os Itinerários Educativos do Voluntariado. Caderno Voluntariado 01, FEA, Évora