I think that there is definitely a need for volunteer managers to have the flexibility in their programs to accommodate episodic volunteers. We lead very busy lives and the excuse of “not enough time” probably relates to the perception of the commitment required to volunteer. In the traditional model of volunteering some organisations actually specify a time period of commitment to volunteering; a regular weekly shift over a period of 12 months for example. What if that person is unable to fulfil that time commitment? While it would be great to have that commitment from people, it is not always possible for people to either make or keep that commitment. People are unpredictable and life is unpredictable. Any number of things can impact on a person’s life and their commitment to volunteering; a change in circumstance, loss of a job, gain of a job perhaps in another state or country, commencing study, travel, health issues, either their own or their loved ones, a life changing event such as a death or serious illness in the family prompting a reassessment of priorities. These are all very valid reasons for not being able to commit to a specific timeframe of volunteering.
We, as volunteer managers, need to have the flexibility in our programs to accommodate this emerging trend in volunteering, for to remain rigid in our volunteer program structure may mean the demise of our volunteer programs because they no longer attract as many volunteers. This may be because emerging trends in the way people volunteer no longer match the traditional volunteering model. While altruism may be one aspect of volunteering, many people volunteer for different reasons; for experience for their tertiary study, to gain experience for a job, to practice conversational English skills and for many other reasons. Volunteering needs to fit into study, work, childcare and leisure activities. The structure of our volunteer programs needs to provide a variety of meaningful tasks with flexibility to accommodate changing schedules and volunteering commitments. A balance of traditional volunteering with episodic volunteering provides stability yet flexibility within its structure.
The aove article is a slightly modified version of my response to the OZVPM Hot Topic for June/July 2011 by Rob Jackson. Click on the title of this blog post to read the Hot Topic.