I can make you happy – The Power of Volunteering

The International Day of Happiness is a great time to talk about the benefits of charity shop volunteering.  It’s those 221,000+ volunteers that power the charity shops into creating nearly £300 million profit.

At 21, I was an Oxfam shop manager and I worked alongside the lovely Sadie (left) and Ethel Russell.  Ethel and her husband Jack (yep), gave so much of their time to make the shop a success, just like the other 30 volunteers did too. I was a long way from home, working my first job and they were my new family. Volunteering gave them joy and we were a happy bunch.

There’s been squillions of studies proving the benefits of volunteering… here’s a recent one carried out with 3,500 volunteering adults

76 percent of people said that volunteering has made them feel healthier

94 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering improved their mood

78 percent of them said that volunteering lowered their stress levels

96 percent reported that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life

So it’s a fact – volunteering puts a smile on your face. But volunteering numbers are dwindling in charity shops.   And that’s partly because shop teams aren’t getting the ask right.  We’ve got to stop the “We desperately need volunteers” posters and appeals.  Who wants to give their time to somewhere that’s desperate?!  No one.  People want to spend time do something worthwhile, using and learning new skills, and having fun. So tell them what they want to hear!

As well as simply stating what type of skills and commitment you want, you’ve got to emphasise the benefits to the individual.  Volunteering is a two way thing, so today of all days, let your prospective volunteers know that just like Paul McKenna, volunteering can make you happy 🙂

Six top tips to get young people volunteering in your charity shops

Two weeks ago I presented a plenary session to the Hospice UK retail conference on youth volunteering.  Statistics recently released show that only 13% of the volunteers are under 25, lower than it was five years ago. But according to the BBC, there’s been a 52% increase in youth volunteering in that time. So why are young people choosing not to volunteer in charity shops?

Working with a youth charity, we commissioned some research into why young people don’t volunteer in charity shops and we had some interesting responses.  A key one was that it’s not cool to shop or volunteer in a charity shop – the look and feel of the shop, the stock and the people don’t reflect young people and the shops they prefer.  This is connected to a fear of rejection – some young people don’t feel they will be welcomed or accepted.  On top of this, they may feel they can’t commit the hours the shop might want them to work, and they think they won’t get anything back, such as formal recognition for their work.

So how do we change this?

  1. Firstly, you need to create roles that young people will be interested in, such as visual merchandising volunteer, events planner and social media champion.
  2. Make sure you reflect young people in your publications, newsletters and any imagery in volunteer materials.
  3. Start holding joining and exit interviews to find out why young people come and go so you can identify ways to improve recruitment and retention.
  4. Think about where you advertise volunteer vacancies.  Do you use colleges and universities, and social media?
  5. If you don’t offer training for your shop managers on equality and diversity, then start doing this now.  All of your team need to understand why it’s important to recruit and retain volunteers from diverse backgrounds, so it’s essential they value young volunteers as much as you do.
  6. Get involved in youth volunteering campaigns – join in BBC Radio 1’s pledge to get young people volunteering 1 million hours http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0387cft

And why should you do all of this?  Young people will safeguard your charity’s future, they have a vast amount to give – time and skills, they’re experts in new technology, video creation, social media, they bring a fresh and youthful dynamic to your shop and like attracts like – they bring more young volunteers, young customers and young donors to further increase the reach and value of your charity.