Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Finding and keeping genealogy volunteers

All family history societies rely on volunteeers. Most have a constant struggle to find and keep them so there should be value in a just released Volunteeer Canada report on what Canadians want in their volunteer experiences, their issues in finding satisfying volunteer roles, and what organizations can do to enhance their volunteer base, achieve their missions and ultimately build stronger communities.

It aims to provide practical information for use by volunteer organizations to attract and retain skilled, dedicated volunteers among four specific demographic groups including baby boomers, the group most pertinent for family history societies.

In general the research finds the optimal formula to build organizational capacity and strategically engage volunteers is one that strikes a balance between:

  • Designing specific, set roles and being open to volunteers initiating/defining the scope of what they can offer; 
  • Being well organized but not too bureaucratic; and 
  • Matching skills to the needs of the organization but not assuming that everyone wants to use the skills related to their profession, trade, or education.
The highlights of the study’s key findings related to boomer volunteers are:

Boomer Volunteer Interests
  • Activities that reinforce their strong sense of social commitment
  • Organizations that allow boomer volunteers to work independently and have a sense of ownership over the project
  • Projects where boomers can clearly see the impact they are making
  • Activities that offer a chance to act outside their skill/knowledge base (boomers perceived activities different from their daily work to be refreshing)
  • Casual or short-term opportunities where boomers can see what the organization is like before making along-term commitment
Barriers to Boomer Volunteering
  • Smaller organizations that need volunteers to do ‘everything’ and don’t match boomers’ skills with tasks
  • The perception that larger organizations are downloading the responsibility of unwanted tasks from staff to volunteers
  • Not being recognized as a person with a wide skill set, but simply ‘a volunteer body’
You can read the research summary at: Bridging the Gap – Enriching the Volunteer Experience to Build a Better Future for Our Communities. The full report should be available on the Volunteeer Canada website by the end of the year.


Anonymous said...

This is a very comprehensive but concise article, and gives us pause to think whether we are recruiting volunteers or are being recruited.

I am really impressed with the amount and quality of volunteer work I see in BIFHSGO.(British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa)
Anne S

M. Diane Rogers said...

I think regularly offering "casual or short-term opportunities", for e.g. helping at events, is really important so new people can meet other members/volunteers and get a sense of how the organization works. 'Long distance' opportunities for those who can't/don't get out much to meetings, events, etc. are important now too, I feel. And nowadays, if someone has a computer, they can help with something, but let's face it - some of these jobs are a bit boring. (I'm always looking for keyboarders and indexers!)
And one big problem for organizations is that some need more hands so badly - no one don't stops to ask if the volunteer is suited or if they 'want' the job, or to offer them more than a bit of training.

Cannuk said...

Right on! I used to work as a Co-ordinator of Volunteers for a Museum at one stage of my career, and can say the advice in the report is so true. Some societies seem to already know this and flourish, while others don't and are moribund. I must compliment the Victoria Genealogical Society in Victoria BC as one of the former. The current Executive implements these principles well and seem to be enjoying themselves, too. The folks at the Resource Centre deserve special mention. There are lots of projects and resources. The place is always active and hums with happy members doing lots of valuable things in just the way the report describes. Just check out their website.