Fit for the Future of Volunteering

10th May 2019

Sally Higham

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When it comes to Charities and the Voluntary Sector wanting to bring volunteers together – tracking what they do, helping them communicate and keeping everyone safe – the most common objection I get from organisations against using an online platform is that their volunteers are ‘older’ and not interested in technology.

Is it really the case that older people are not interested in technology?

According to the U.S. Pew Research Center (bear in mind this was 2017 and think how much we have moved on in two years), senior members of the public are more digitally connected than ever. In fact, for some categories, older people are using technologies at rates similar to adults under 65.

In the US in 2017, four in ten seniors now own smartphones. 59-65% of 65-69 year olds own smartphones, whilst 49% of 70-74 year olds own a smartphone.

In 2017, Ofcom recorded a quarter of over 75’s are using tablet computers. Just think about how much your own tech usage has changed in the last two years. I know my own has grown in terms of number of gadgets I use, plus the portability of the technology I use.

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Technology usage is changing everything in volunteering

Here’s the thing; the ‘style’ of volunteering is changing. It’s changing to something that is much swifter, with less long-time commitment.

We find that many people want to ‘task volunteer’ – or – and this is especially the case with the older generations,  some now wish to be a ‘laptop volunteer’. This means they never actually visit the activity taking place that they’re supporting.

I know several retired people who volunteer in this way. They don’t want to leave the house after dark, and the local community centres have closed. This means they can be a part of something, but in their own environment.

We are helping volunteers of all ages

The other crucial bit is the ‘on-boarding’ of the volunteers. At Groop we hand-hold the volunteers we support, and we are supporting those from ages 16-86. Some volunteers require more support than others, but they all know we’re here for them.

We are real people, with real names, on the other end of the phone or a computer, 7 days a week. We aren’t hiding from anyone; we are there for them and this is why so many organisations join us. They know we will look after those most important to them, their volunteers.

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The future of volunteering

As a society, we now need to enable volunteering that is fit for the future. We have to change the way communities think and operate and meet the needs of the next generations, who will undoubtedly be increasingly tech savvy.

In fact, the current younger generations – our future volunteers – want everything to happen faster and to experience more instant gratification in whatever they undertake.

If we want to engage those next generations, and I mean those from 14-60, then we need to move to meet their needs. That means adopting easy to use technology that makes their volunteering easy.

But we also need to be much bolder with our volunteers, enlisting their help to change that face of volunteering and yes, potentially risk losing some along the way, whilst gaining many more in the future.

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Written by Sally Higham