Volunteering through the generations

By David Bates, Kaeo/Kerikeri Union Church

The seminar streams I attended at the “Volunteering Unleashed” conference in Wellington November 2009 were focussed on aspects of working with, sourcing and engaging volunteers. From a local church viewpoint, there are recognised problems with aging congregations, low interest levels from youth groups and the need to locate people with the skills necessary to maintain and move the church forward. Commonly recognised within our district is a dire need for youth-based facilities and that does not easily sit with an aging congregation who may not have the skills or patience to meet with and cope with what youth is looking for.

The conference identified and explained the various generations in our population, for example the silent generation (those born mid 1930 – 1960s) moving through the X, Y and iGen generations, their common characteristics, personal wants and motivations; and while there is neither time nor space to expand on these in this article, a Google search will uncover further information and readers who do this will find it a very worthwhile exercise. Try your Google skills out – there is a huge amount of fascinating information awaiting you!

An interesting question was raised asking how we educate our organisation. In considering this, I perceive that in many ways the church on a purely local basis is not dissimilar to a business and faces the same challenges. It may have significant value in its assets, often underutilised, or have financial challenges. It should be considering succession planning in its volunteer-run parts, looking to raise the standards used in its processes, accountability and management standards and identifying how it will meet these challenges when some or many of the required skills are not necessarily available within the congregation. How can we locate and use volunteers who are prepared and willing to make contributions but are not necessarily congregation members? How would we structure volunteering for them?

It was interesting to hear from five young people from the Otago Volunteer organisation who fronted up to 50 attendees at a session and were later called back to face the entire conference in the closing session.

They addressed the audience with confidence and assuredness – their ages ranged from 14 to 18! I was struck by the thought that with those confidence levels at their current age, where could they be in 10 years?

They represent a wonderful resource for an organisation such as ours and attracting them will bring new challenges to us as we will have to use technology to connect Generation Y to work opportunities, and here we are looking at products that are often beyond our technical skills. Examples amongst the most recent being “social media” such as Twitter and Facebook. I have heard of them but I honestly don’t know how to use them – it’s a huge challenge we are confronted with as members of the “silent generation”.

How well will we cope?