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HEALTH CARE VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS

This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs in health care settings.

~December 2009~

Recruiting: A Different Perspective of Long-term and Short-term Volunteers

Recruiting: A Different Perspective of Long-term and Short-term Volunteers

If you’ve been in the healthcare volunteer management arena for any length of time, you are probably aware of the volunteers who have been with your program for many years.  These long-term volunteers are more often than not, members of the Veterans era generation.  They are generally willing to do whatever is asked of them and loyal to the end.  Some of these folks may have even been instrumental in developing the volunteer programs they participate in, bringing along a sense of “ownership.”  If these folks worked outside the home, they likely worked for only one company during their career. 

Along come the Boomers whose enthusiasm overflowed while leading the charge for so much innovation in today’s business world. And while some of these folks went to work in the manufacturing plants of the world, this group measured their self-worth by what they accomplished.  As they worked towards their full potential, that sometimes meant moving from company to company in their quest for advancement.  I often heard early in my career, that this generation of the workforce would be employed in no less than six companies during their lifetime.  As the largest percentage of the US workforce, the Boomers took control, setting business and industry standards in so many ways.  Because they were used to changing jobs, they also approach volunteering in much the same fashion, thus becoming what is known as short-term volunteers.  Like their employment, most Boomers don’t want to feel as though they are signing on for life.  And if they feel they can make a bigger difference elsewhere or it’s time for them to learn something new, they will often move on to another opportunity.

Enter the current economic situation.  Boomers are a little less likely to “retire” in the traditional manner that the Veterans era folks did.  Not only will more Boomers than previously thought need to continue some type of employment to supplement retirement income, with the smallest population Gen-X on their heels, is it any wonder that the Boomers don’t want to retire?  Who will fill the vacancies of the largest workforce the US has seen?

Let’s not forget that Gen-Xers came from a time when, as latchkey children home alone after school, these folks learned to be self-reliant in a time when things were being done in the workplace in groups and teams.  With the beginning of today’s technological acumen, these folks want to do it all in the minimum amount of time required because they watched their “workaholic” parents labor many hours for no apparent reason.  And when this generation gets bored, they move on to different opportunities, again reflective of the short-term volunteer.

The Millennials are now beginning to enter the workforce and are more often compared to the Veterans era values than any other.  As they enter the workforce, they exhibit a quest for a chance to play meaningful roles in meaningful work that helps others.  With technological expertise, this generation can multi-task in ways most of us have never heard of.  Early studies indicate this generation is not opposed to structure and authority but they still like a fun work environment with growth opportunities and flexibility.  After all, this generation was more “scheduled” in their out of the classroom life than any other before them.  So flexibility is very important, also reflective of the short-term volunteer. 

So what do the employment habits of people have to do with recruiting volunteers?  All you have to do is look at their pattern of employment to understand if they will be with you for a brief amount of time (Millennials/Gen-Xers), a short amount of time (Boomers) or a long time (Veterans/some Boomers).

As you plan your recruiting efforts, understand that the majority of those capable of volunteering in today’s world will be juggling their desire to help others with the other factors in life demanding their time (job, family, childcare, etc).  Short-term or Episodic volunteers are here to stay.  The challenge to all of us is to think in terms of short-term opportunities. 

  1. Can you think about filling opportunities with “teams” of people so volunteers can get coverage when needed and no one person feels so overwhelmed and over-committed?  Maybe with a “team,” someone would be able to make a commitment to donate their time and efforts once every other week or once a month rather than on a weekly basis. 
  2. Do you have a source of potential volunteers nearby?  A high school or college that can feed new volunteers into your organization as some leave?  Maybe a local corporate partner that can take on or “adopt” one part of your program to keep it adequately staffed.
  3. Can the work itself be packaged differently?  So often the focus is on the people, but maybe time would be well spent looking at the work.

Like it or not, the days of long-term volunteers are gone.  We, as volunteer program managers, must begin to think like creative human resource folks in the recruiting approach for the volunteers of tomorrow.


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The author of the Heath Care Volunteer Programs column is Mary Kay Hood MS, Hendricks Regional Health, Danville, IN (317) 745-3556. With a BS degree in biology from Marian College and a Master of Science in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University, Mary Kay has been involved in volunteer management over twenty years with a zoo and in the health care field. During that time, she completed the Management of Volunteer Programs course offered at University of Indianapolis, several supervisory training programs as well as the Indiana Hospital and Health Association’s Management Institute offered by the Executive Education Program, School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Mary Kay served on the Nonprofit Training Center of United Way from 1993 to 2006. During that time, she taught many workshops also facilitating speaker arrangements for the Basic Volunteer Management series. Additionally, she has presented at various national and international conferences. Mary Kay served as president of the Central Indiana Association for Volunteer Administration (CIAVA) from 1993-1997 and the Indiana Society of Directors of Volunteer Services (ISDVS) from 2006-2008. She was also the recipient of the 1995 Outstanding Director of Volunteer Services Award and the 2002 United Way of Central Indiana Volunteer of the Year Award. Most recently she served on the Steering Committee for COVAA resulting in the formation of a new national membership organization for those in volunteer management, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE). With several published articles, she is also author to two books: The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions and The Volunteer Leader as Change Agent.

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