It's good to talk

Volunteer Ireland’s Training and Programmes Manager Stuart Garland shares his thoughts on talking, listening and learning from others as volunteering evolves globally.

Learning from others

I am one of those people who will gladly talk to people about all things volunteering, from recruitment to retention, from screening to strategy.

These conversations often start with a Volunteer Manager saying “what I am about to tell you is confidential and you can’t tell anyone”, a conversation follows about the challenges they are facing.  They are usually in shock at the end of the conversation when I say “Do you think you are the only organisation facing these challenges?”

Volunteer Involving Organisations are facing the same challenges in terms of volunteer management and leadership worldwide, the problems facing Volunteer Managers in Leitrim are the same of those in Lagos, Lima, Latvia or Lithuania. The question is are we adapting to these challenges?

Some time ago I met some colleagues from the Venezuela.  They we’re very envious of the amount of formal volunteering in Ireland.  At the time in Venezuela informal volunteering far exceeded formal volunteering.  They were very surprised when I said I was very keen to learn from them.  What could I possibly learn from them? Lots.

What do the stats say?

Recent research (2018) by the UN Volunteers Programme reports that the majority of volunteering globally is informal.  Of the 109 million full-time equivalent volunteers 70% volunteered informally for individuals while only 30% volunteered formally through an organisation.  They go on to report that in Ireland there is a Full Time Equivalent of 132,273 volunteers, 72,533 of whom are involved in formal volunteering.

Research carried by nfpSynergy (2017) reported that 21% of people said they “lost faith in charities” and 40% said they “didn’t have the time to volunteer”. Episodic (short term) volunteering is nothing new and was reported as a growing trend as early as 2006 by Handy et al.

In 2016, Volunteer Now and Colin Rochester reported that 80% of micro volunteering was carried out on line usually on smart phones, mainly by young people and it has been most popular in the UK where more than half of all micro volunteering actions took place in 2015.

From another perspective the Central Statistics Office (2016) report 200 different nationalities in Ireland. There were 535,475 non-Irish nationals living in Ireland.  How many nationalities are represented in your group of volunteers?

Adapting to change

You might consider that virtual volunteering, e-volunteering, micro volunteering, taster volunteering, family volunteering, slacktivism are all fads, perhaps you’ve not have heard of them before. Society is changing around us and our volunteer programmes need to adapt too.

Your volunteer programme may need formal volunteers engaging with you on a regular basis but just think of the potential diverse group of volunteers you could be engaging by changing the types of volunteering you offer.

What works for one organisation may work differently for another, we can’t continue to say ‘that wouldn’t work for my organisation’ without trying, without adapting to the local demographic, not just the current demographic of your pool of volunteers.  We all have to learn – learn from researchers, academics, practitioners, our peers, our colleagues.

We may be happy with our volunteer programmes, we might be dealing with challenging situations in volunteer management or struggling to recruit or retain volunteers, but guess what? Others are having the same challenges as you.

We’ve got to listen to others. We’ve got to learn from others.

“It’s good to talk … about volunteering”

Volunteer Ireland offers a range of training (online and face to face), capacity building events, conferences and seminars throughout the year to help build your networking opportunities to meet with and discuss these topics with likeminded individuals.  You can find further details at

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