People power: exploring the main types of volunteering

3 December 2013

By Iain Delworth, Volunteering Services Manager

When researching content for our new First Steps to Involving Volunteers course I stumbled upon a very interesting article.

It outlined a model for looking at different types of volunteering. Admittedly the article is an old one, first published in 2006, but it generated some discussion in the office.

The catchily titled The Multi-Paradigm Model of Volunteering by Nancy Macduff and Mary Merrill describes four types of volunteering:

  • Traditional Volunteering – one we are all familiar with and is characterised by roles and tasks set by the Volunteer Manager and delivered by the volunteer at a set time and place. Interestingly Macduff and Merrill also include episodic, or short-term, volunteering within this category.
  • Serendipitous Volunteering – you are probably familiar with these types of requests, if not practice. People have a few hours to give and believe in your course and want to be put to work. This can be challenging as tasks need to be thought up in advance allocated as and when this type of volunteer has the time to give.
  • Social-Change Volunteering – the type of people who want to volunteer in this way are motivated by change. They have spotted a gap within a cause and want to develop a solution to plug it. They do not fit easily into structures and whilst happy to work with others they don’t want to be ‘managed’.
  • Entrepreneurial Volunteering– the example given to illustrate this type of volunteering is a group works to clear a beach. Another entrepreneurial volunteer spots an opportunity and sells the collected rubbish to local artists and donates the cash to the charity that organises the beach clear ups. All of this is done out with the charity’s structures.  

The discussion focussed around the last two types of volunteering; how can organisations or groups harness the power of these people? It all boiled down to having a volunteer centred culture that welcomed new ideas and people. Which is all well and good but volunteering needs resourcing whether that be staff time, space for meetings or simply cold hard cash.

The question for those who support volunteering is to take each offer of support on a case by case basis and judge whether or not it can help achieve the organisation’s stated aim be that supporting people with visual impairment or keeping a beach clean.

Let us know what you think. Do you have these types of volunteers? Would you and your organisation welcome them? What are the barriers to harnessing their energy?

We would also recommend having a quick read of the article as it has suggestions of how to work with the different types of volunteers. 

Tags: Practice
Categories: For Organisations
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