Seems like a lot of work just to volunteer!
Not long ago, an old friend (and by that I mean a long-time friend and an older guy) told me he'd decided to try volunteering as he'd been on a medical leave from his paid work for quite some time. I thought this was a great idea since he was not quite feeling ready to return to regular work, but he was feeling ready to get back into the world and felt he could contribute in other ways.
He'd never volunteered formally before. He was shocked and frankly, I'd say he felt a little insulted that his offer to help was met with what he perceived as hurdles to leap over, before he could get started.
"They wanted me to fill out an application. Then, they wanted me to come and meet with them!" he exclaimed! "All I want to do is volunteer!"
He was genuinely dumbfounded. He saw online, in newspapers, on TV and the radio that non-profits cry for volunteers. They rely on them to do their work. Volunteers are needed, and here he was ready to fill that need, but first...he had to do all of this?
Having worked as a volunteer manager for many years, of course, I completely understand the need for this kind of process when engaging volunteers. I explained to him that he could not walk into say, a fast food chain that is constantly recruiting team members (and by my understanding, that's most of them) and say 'I'm here to work'. Although the company might be happy to see him, he'd have to apply, have an interview, etc. and if he was a good fit - only then would he get the job. I told him it's no different with volunteers. If the organization works with vulnerable people, then screening is even more important for the clients, and the volunteer.
He thought about it and it seemed to make sense. I hope that helped him to understand why these processes are in place. I haven't talked with him in a while so I don't know the outcome, but I hope he persisted and he didn't give up on volunteering.
I will admit, I kind of "get it" though, when people feel they are giving a generous gift of time, and the recipient seems lukewarm to the offer. It is a generous gift. In my opinion, time is the most valuable currency we posess. We are all given a certain amount of it and we have to be careful to use it wisely because we don't know how big our time banks are. So, to choose to give it freely to a cause to help others, then to be told "thanks, but um...can you fill out these forms first, schedule an interview, provide references, submit a criminal record check, interventions check, sign more forms, attend training, and maybe more, that can feel demotivating - especially if it's your first time experiencing formal volunteering. Honestly, I do think that some organizations are a bit over-the-top in their screening. Do they really need a criminal record check for a race marshal who is volunteering at a fun run for a 4-hour shift? Risk can be mitigated, reduced and maybe even eliminated in other ways besides traditional methods of screening, but that said, due diligence is important to the organization and its clients and all of these steps in accepting and placing volunteers is ultimately also important to the volunteer.
Imagine working at a place that accepted whoever walked in off the street, regardless of qualifications, attitude or motivation. It would be chaos. I know it's not a place I could work in for very long, and I'm willing to bet that company wouldn't stay in business for very long either. It's no different with charities and non-profit organizations, just as volunteers are not very different from paid staff.
So, if you want to volunteer, be prepared for what's involved in getting started. It may take a little longer (or sometimes a lot longer) than what you were expecting but it will probably be worth the wait...and the 'hurdles'
you've had to clear!
To learn more about what to expect, click here.