In order to effectively engage volunteers, a volunteer manager needs to understand that volunteers have different skills, needs, and commitment levels. Simply generalizing volunteers can overwhelm new volunteers or dissuade experienced volunteers as they are not leveraged to the best of their capacity.
Leaders in the social good ecosystem were all shaped over time. Normally they will start to volunteer in their own community, in school, or in church. Eventually they’ll start seeking to make a bigger and sustainable impact, deciding to invest commitment and landing them to where they are today. This transformation is what we call the Volunteer Evolution.
Based on the level of commitment, the channels that these volunteers help in, and their devotion to focus on an advocacy, volunteers are grouped into five different stages:
FIRST STAGE: INDIFFERENT
Not a volunteer. This is a starting point for everyone. As human beings, we are born with a natural instinct to focus on ourselves and our personal needs. A person who remains in this stage may potentially not have received exposure outside of his immediate community. With his limited perspective, this individual would likely have a tendency to complain a great deal about social situations and blame institutions (e.g., the government) but at the same time would remain apathetic and not act upon the situation.
In order to catch their attention and encourage them to become volunteers, they first need to be educated and guided. The best way to do so is to find simple social problems that connect with their interests, skills, or hobbies. Their circle of trust (such as family and friends) can also be a way to reach out to them.
SECOND STAGE: INFORMED
Conscious volunteer. This is normally the start of a volunteer’s journey. Once he becomes more aware of social issues, he will be more conscious to do good and participate in activities that make an impact in his community and the people that are most dear to him.
These volunteers in this stage are willing to reach out to informal organizations such as local communities, churches, and schools to help with short term activities such as fundraising for a cause, organizing events, being a reader during a church service, etc.
THIRD STAGE: INTERESTED
Exploratory volunteer. As part of the continuous growth of a volunteer, he will naturally seek to understand different advocacies. Formal institutions such as NPOs, NGOs, and other cause-oriented organizations will start to become visible as he searches for sustainable programs where he can learn and contribute.
He is most likely to go to occasional or regular one-time outreach opportunities in several organizations to learn more about their causes. This is to help him discern the advocacy that he will strongly connect with.
Volunteers at this phase need strong guidance on the things they can and cannot do. They also need thorough monitoring to ensure that they are really able to contribute.
FOURTH STAGE: INVOLVED
Committed volunteer. At the next stage of his evolution, the volunteer will decide to commit to a specific advocacy and support a specific organization(s). At this point in time, the volunteer will pursue a deeper understanding of the social issue that he has a strong affiliation with and will be genuinely committed to the communities he serves. He will seek for mid-long term volunteer opportunities where he will be given given a more specific role to play.
Volunteers in this stage will be more proactive to take initiatives on different tasks and will not need very strong supervision. He can also become a “big brother” to those who are in the Interested stage.
FIFTH STAGE: INFLUENCERS
Leader. This is when a volunteer will decide to make a life-long commitment to social development, focusing on sustainability of impact and influencing the social good ecosystem.
A volunteer can transform into a policy maker, innovator, social entrepreneur, and/or advocacy leader who will find permanent solutions to existing social problems. He can become a leader of a new non-profit, NGO, and/or other institutions who could require engaging a new set of volunteers.
In closing, it is every one’s responsibility to contribute to the social good ecosystem. However, we do recognize that not everybody will reach the Involved and Influencers stages. That’s understandable. Some people may choose to stay in a particular stage or move back from a more mature stage to a less mature one because of differing life stage priorities. Some people choose to stay in certain stages where they are most effective and can contribute the most. There is also no prescribed duration to move from one stage to another; it is really up to the readiness of the individual volunteer to commit at each of the different stages.
Each volunteer experience is crucial in a volunteer’s growth – more so during the earlier stages of their volunteer journey. Adapting the level of engagement based on each volunteer’s commitment, depth of knowledge on social issues and interests will make the experience more fruitful not only for the volunteer and the volunteer-engaging organization but also to the benefit of the communities.
by JB Tan, Executive Director of iVolunteer Philippines
Stage 3: JB Tan