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Introducing the Army Cadet Force and the Benefits of Volunteering
For many people in Birmingham, last year was tough. The economy slumped again, the number of jobless increased and the whole country experienced rioting. Birmingham and London suffered the worst of the violence. The deaths of 3 men in Winson Green, Birmingham, shocked the local community and the country as a whole. It seemed like the region was heading in a downwards spiral of despair.
However there was light at the end of the tunnel, and through these riots, we witnessed how volunteering and charity work can improve the community.
As soon as the riots ended locals gathered to help clean the streets and repair the damage. People helped their neighbours whose property had been destroyed, and store owners guarded their shops to help prevent further rioting breaking out.
But why did it take such an extreme situation to make people volunteer their time to a charitable cause? Perhaps it was because people could see an instant benefit from helping after the riots. They knew exactly what they as individuals would gain – cleaner and safer streets for themselves.
As humans it is in our nature to gravitate towards activities that will reward us, and this is where many organisations in the 3rd sector fail when trying to recruit volunteers. In theory it sounds great to offer the chance to do something selfless for charity and the community – but it just doesn’t resonate that well with your average person.
Instead charities could take the approach of telling people “By helping us you can gain _______”.
The thing that goes in that blank varies from organisation to organisation. It can be formal qualifications, vocational training, people skills, business contacts, work experience, a foot up the career ladder or simply an excellent reference for use in the future.
I’ve worked in a number of roles alongside organisations in the 3rd sector, from designing posters for Amnesty International to recruiting adults for volunteering work within the Army Cadets. In my most recent position with the Army Cadet Force I have witnessed first-hand the effectiveness of telling people exactly what they’ll gain from volunteering.
The Army Cadet Force is a citizenship and outdoor pursuits group sponsored by the ministry of defence. Contrary to popular belief the Army Cadets are not a division of the army and neither cadets nor volunteers are required to join the army.
There has recently been a shortage of adults volunteering to help in the service. So what the ACF has done is let those potential volunteers know exactly what they could gain from volunteering. The list is extensive and includes benefits such as formal qualifications in PR training, first aid, leadership management and adventure training. Volunteers also get to participate in activities such as rock climbing and white water rafting.
This is a good example of how to draw more people in to volunteer. By showing the public the great things that they can achieve you are giving them a reason to give up their time for you.
Although not all businesses in the 3rd sector can offer such rewards for volunteering, the point is that all groups could be working harder to make their volunteers feel that they will gain something from helping out.
Working in a charity shop, for example, sounds dull by itself. However, if you tell the applicants that they will gain cash handling skills, get training in balancing books and managing stock, gain first-hand experience of running a store with the option of linking it to a vocational college course AND then receive a great reference at the end to help them gain a paid position in the future – suddenly that offer of working for free seems endlessly more appealing.
This train of thought can be applied to all positions across the industry. Nobody knows the advantages of working within your organisation better than you – so make sure to tell everyone about it.
By taking this approach it’s a win-win situation. Companies in the third sector are going to increase the number of volunteers they have within their organisations, and the general public are going to be more willing to volunteer.
Of course, there’s a much bigger issue here as well. By encouraging more people to volunteer within the local community it helps us all. Local volunteers are gaining the qualifications and experience they need to succeed in life and the third sector is getting some much needed help, which is then being ploughed back into the community. All of this builds towards a better future for Birmingham, the West Midlands and the UK and our international relations too.