Planting a tree

People might volunteer to use their skills for meaningful purpose, or just to have a change of scene from their workaday lives. Finding out their motivations can help with retention and engagement.

Robyn works in child protection. On the weekends she volunteers for the local bushcare group and likes nothing better than to pull out weeds and plant trees. 

"It's very restorative to get out into nature. It's social too - I've been doing it with the same people for years. The paid work I do is pretty stressful and often rather negative. With bushcare I've learned so much about native plants and ecology. I completely forget about work when I'm doing bushcare. It's healing for myself as well as the bush." 

Chris on the other hand works in IT, and does more of the same on his day off. 

"I volunteer on Fridays for an NGO without much money. They are really friendly, which makes a change from my paid work. Some people can get quite rude when IT breaks down, they expect me to have an immediate fix or kind of blame me for it breaking down in the first place. When I volunteer people are super appreciative, and more open to learning how to fix things themselves without expecting me to show up at short notice. Also I think the work there is more worthwhile than for a lot of my commercial clients who mainly care about making money."

Madhu does admin at the same NGO as Chris, but with a view to expanding her skills and experience with a view to employment in the future.

"I like the people and I've learnt how an office works. The experience should help with my employability... I can't really compete if I don't have it."

When managers take the time to learn why people are volunteering for a particular organisation they can direct them to the work that best suits their needs. Two people who volunteered at a zoo had contrasting experiences:

Volunteer 1: "I wanted to work closer to animals, but I was stuck at the gate greeting the public for two years. It was okay because I became friends with the other greeters, but eventually I got bored with it and quit."

Volunteer 2: "I did studies to complement my volunteering at the zoo. Through the youth program I learned how zoos work and I got some training too. I studied biology and zoology and now I'm a full time employee - it's my dream job."

Others might join an organisations not knowing quite what they want to do, but gravitate to certain areas. SES volunteer Daniel Doody is a good example of someone who found their niche. He joined to "meet new people and gain new skills", and found himself "more drawn to administrative roles" that echoed his day job. See his 90 second video on youTube.

An initial interview followed by periodic review is a good way to ensure volunteers are placed in the most suitable roles available.