Thinking differently about volunteering

By David McNeill on 25th Apr 2018

Can you think about a service which you use every week which is almost completely run by volunteers?

It disrupted a 250 year old industry and made a Microsoft product irrelevant.

That service is Wikipedia, with 136,119 volunteers contributing in the last 30 days to the English language site.

Clearly people are enthusiastic and willing to give up their time to contribute to shared knowledge, resulting in an arguably better, and certainly more popular product than the encyclopedias of years gone by.

The digital revolution has opened up the potential to connect people in new ways and enable them to contribute to communities. However, the third sector has perhaps struggled to ride this wave which has radically changed the way that we shop, bank, learn and get our entertainment.

The number of people volunteering in Scotland has been static for over ten years – at 27% of the population - and the average number of hours that people volunteer is in decline.

The most common reasons people say would make them consider volunteering are:

  • Making it fit around their other commitments; and
  • Making it fit with their skills and interests.

Now is the time to look at how we can make volunteering more accessible. Exploring the opportunities provided by digital engagement is just one way to do this.

Can we find a way to enable volunteering to fit in around our busy lifestyles where we’re juggling family, hobbies, cleaning, cooking, dog walking, work and much more?

What can we learn from Wikipedia? Well, Wikipedia community members or volunteers don’t have to commit to a regular slot, don’t have a deadline, can drop in and out of volunteering whenever they like and can do it from the comfort of their own home (in their PJs holding a cuppa if they want!). The volunteer is in control, they engage on their own terms and are supported by peers.

Contributing to Wikipedia is just one type of volunteering – and can involve minimal effort – but the broader principle stands. We need to think about what people want from volunteering, as well as what we need as organisations.

What are we doing?

We are working with ProjectScotland and a small number of employers to test ways of better encouraging employees to contribute to communities, taking part in activities which maximise the use of their skills. Do you have a task or a project that you need help with? Get in touch to help us shape the programme.

Have you got new types of volunteering opportunities you’d like to promote? Add them to your profile on Good HQ. We’d be keen for organisations to develop digital volunteer opportunities ahead of Volunteers’ Week (1st – 7th June) as the theme this year is ‘volunteering for all’. It’s therefore a great opportunity to demonstrate a variety of opportunities and the different ways people can get involved in your organisation, particularly one’s that fit in around people’s existing commitments.

Has your organisation embraced digital volunteering?

We’d love to collect some examples of digital volunteering projects in Scotland. If you have a great example, get in touch with us.