Volunteering in Europe

Categories: Community Engagement.

Inspired by the 2011 European Year of Volunteering, the project explores how to create a more supportive environment for volunteering in the EU, focusing on the 3 ‘R’s of Recruitment, Retention and Recognition of volunteers. 

The study over the past year involved the participation of many different types of organisations with very different political and institutional contexts for, and perceptions of, volunteering in each country. However, consensus and common themes emerged once the discussion got on to how individual organisations support volunteers and the policies and processes that help them to do this well. These include

  • the importance of volunteering being a central part of the ethos of the organisation 
  • the importance of managing volunteers (and therefore of volunteer managers) to ensure that it is a positive experience for them, for the organisation and for service users. 

Looking at the ‘3 Rs’, it became apparent that these don’t exist in isolation: the way that volunteers are recruited and supported, and the extent to which their contribution is recognised and valued by the organisation, can have a direct impact on retention. 

The key is understanding what motivates people: most volunteers are motivated by a combination of altruism and self-interest. People want to give something back to their community or support a particular cause. But they also want to learn new skills or make use of skills they already have, develop confidence or self-worth, or simply to meet new people and have fun. Successful recruitment therefore involves finding out what motivates people and giving them good information about the organisation, the role and what is expected of volunteers. 

Belinda Patten, who reported the study in the Civil Society and Governance blog, concludes “we had begun the project thinking that recognition should be a formal process, perhaps leading to accreditation. That will be true for some people. But the experience of these organisations is that volunteers are more likely to stay with them if their needs and interests are taken into account, their role is appreciated and they can see that they are making a difference.”