Unpaid does not mean unprofessional

It’s all too easy to judge a person’s ‘worth’ by the fee or the salary they command, and to make assumptions about what their pay says about their professional skills or talents.

Unfortunately this means that volunteers can often be perceived as lacking in all sorts of areas – lacking in skills, in experience, professionalism and even basic value beyond being a ‘pair of hands’.

But consider this: statistics show that people in full or part time work are more likely to volunteer than those who are not. People in middle age have higher rates of volunteering than other age groups.

Translated, this means that volunteers are often mature, employed people – people with plenty of professional skills and experiences to offer. The reasons most people give for volunteering—to make a difference to their community and feel a sense of purpose—also suggest a strong motivation to share those skills.

Added to that, many people volunteer in order to gain new skills and experiences. A volunteer program that trains its participants well (with or without a formal qualification) is more successful not simply because the volunteers ‘do what they’re supposed to do’, but because the volunteers can deliver a highly professional service.

A professional, well-organised and well-trained volunteer force is not just essential to the success of the event, it is also deeply satisfying for the volunteers themselves and of enormous value to the organisers, who can look forward to continued high engagement from skilled and enthusiastic volunteers.

Volunteers genuinely want to share their knowledge and skills, and also want to help organisers to make their events successful. So it’s also very important to communicate with volunteers, recognise their efforts and provide ways that they can feed back their experiences. Being heard is also a win-win for the volunteer and the organiser, because the volunteer feels that their experience and insights are valued, and the organiser of course can get the benefits of those insights by using them to improve future events.

Great volunteer programs don’t just deliver great events, they also develop, employ and reward the professionalism of the volunteers.

Volunteering may not be a traditional economic exchange of money for labour, but it is nonetheless a value exchange—volunteers give their valuable skills and time, and in exchange they deserve positive experiences, recognition and personal reward.