The Case for Slow Volunteering…
One of the assumptions that are lot of us make when thinking about ways of encouraging more people to volunteer is that people don’t have enough time to get involved. That the pressures of a 21st Century life mean that we are time poor; with jam-packed lives that squeeze out certain kinds of activities.
As someone who shuttles daily between work, the school gate, and suffers the 1950’s gravitational pull of family household chores and a background hum of guilt about not doing – or being – more, I can sympathise with this point of view.
The response to this belief about time poverty in a volunteering context has been to think about designing short, sharp volunteering opportunities; micro-volunteering that might only take a few minutes, or one-off opportunities that might just take an hour or so. There are a number of initiatives which focus on flexible volunteering and micro-volunteering emerging, and of course technology allows us to accelerate this idea of micro-volunteering either through offering more opportunities online, on phones or as a route to identifying slivers of need out there in the real world.
Through this fund, we’re interested in knowing more about the potential impact of micro-volunteering, hence supporting research by the Institute for Volunteering Research to explore just this issue.
But is this assumption right, that people don’t volunteer because they don’t have the time? I wonder. I’ve been thinking that maybe we are colluding with this idea of time poverty and that the only answer is to break things up into bite size chunks, create opportunities that can be squeezed into the nooks and crannies of every day life as a route to getting more, new people into the habit of volunteering.
Let’s get off that trip momentarily and make a case for Slow Volunteering. A nod toward the Slow Movement and what it stands for…
A recent research report from the Association from Psychological Science claims that giving time away, volunteering to help others actually increases the sense of having more time. Research from Volunteering England suggests that volunteering is good for your health and according to the American Psychological Association it could actually lengthen your life – so not just that it feels like you have more time, but you actually have more time.
Being a Games Maker was a fairly hefty commitment of time. Volunteering at Kings College Hospital requires a serious commitment; one year minimum and a minimum number of hours per week – and both (and many other more intensive volunteering opportunities like the Samaritans) have turned large numbers of people away due to over-subscription. Time poverty, in these examples, doesn’t seem to present a problem.
And at its heart it’s because these experiences foster feelings of quite deep connection with other people, an increased sense of purpose, of being needed and a more expansive view of care; care beyond our pitiful selves and quiet concerns about our own well-being, toward greater compassion toward others. That takes time. Could micro-volunteering take you to that place? I don’t know.
Posted by Lynette on December 5, 2012
Standing Out From The Crowd
One of my favourite things about these amazing Olympics has been the Games Makers. That’s the 70,000 or so volunteers that can be seen across Central London and at Olympic venues all over the country.
Whether you like the colour or not, there is something inarguably cool about a bunch of ordinary people standing out from the crowd in their Games Maker kits (kudos to Adidas). You know there’s no pretensions, no cynicism – just great people giving up their time for someone or something else.
Are they motivated by the chance to be part of something bigger; to be a part of the greatest show on earth? Of course they are and there’s nothing wrong with that.
These people are literally making the games possible by giving up their time to do everything from directing the flows of people at tube stations to mopping up the sweat on the badminton courts. It’s social action on a massive scale.
What’s even more striking is how the rest of us respond. We smile at them in the street and say hello, I’ve seen people stand on crowded trains to offer their seats to weary looking Games Makers on their way home and they’ve even got battle-hardened commuters like me having conversations early in the morning as we eagerly ask them what venue they’re at and what it’s like.
A few months ago I was in Cambridge town centre on what happened to be the day of Race for Life. That’s another huge display of collective social action, as hundreds of thousands of women run 5k to raise much needed funds for research into cancer. It is though, much more than a fun run. The runners dress in a uniform of pink and wear on their backs the names of the mums, aunties, sisters and friends who have suffered that disease. It is a collective act of solidarity with intensely personal motivations on display. Too easily taken for granted, it is a remarkable thing.
That morning we went for brunch and again I was struck by the way that the “rest of us” reacted to the runners as they started to arrive for some well-earned food. As each woman in pink arrived, the owner of the restaurant welcomed them with a glass of fizz on the house and a little cheer went up across the dining room.
So what do the Games Makers and Race for Life have to tell us about social action and what are the lessons for the many innovators that are trying to find ways to get more of us to give our time and money to causes we care about?
First, we need to look at the potential for collective action to engage new people in giving their time for causes they care about. It’s a reasonable guess that many of the Games Makers and Race for Life runners were first time volunteers (if anyone’s got the data, let me know) and now that they’ve taken some social action, it’s more likely that they’ll go on to do something else.
The catalyst that got them giving might have been the excitement of being part of the Olympics or the pain of losing a loved one, but the effect is the same: they have taken social action and that will have changed their perceptions of themselves (see Timothy Wilson’s excellent book on how this happens).
And you don’t need an event as big as the Olympic Games to harness the power of collective civic acts. New York didn’t win the Olympics and it didn’t stop them mobilising an army of volunteers through Mayor Bloomberg’s City of Service initiative. They famously called on citizens to paint over 1 million square feet of the cities roofs white to help reduce carbon emissions from air conditioning. Now hundreds of cities across the US regularly mobilise an army of ordinary people to take social action together.
Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t happen here. Team London has been around for a few years now and is building a British version of the US Cities of Service in our capital. Perhaps it is time we created Team Swindon, Team Leeds, or Team Calderdale?
Alongside mobilising people to do some good together, we need to think more creatively about how we make giving visible and celebrated. Games Makers and the Race for Life deploy the very simple technology of clothing – a uniform that signals to the world that you are giving your time for others. It’s an incredibly powerful mechanism, but it’s not the only one.
Increasingly we all define ourselves to the world through social media. Innovations like Givey and Blue Dot are exploring the potential for these new social identities to capture information about our giving habits and make it part of the story we tell to the world.
Is there a possible future where alongside telling the world about our education, jobs and favourite films, social media platforms like facebook prompt us to say what social action we’ve taken?
Posted by Lynette on August 8, 2012
Giving against the grain?
Nick Webb 12.6.12
A striking characteristic of many round 1 innovations is the effort put into getting the mechanics of giving right – that’s to say how to successfully tap into giving motivations, ‘onboard’ users in large numbers and make the process of giving simple and efficient. As a supportive funder, Nesta certainly wants to see the projects it backs succeed in a tough and well-trodden marketplace.
The challenge of getting this right makes me think about a deeper test: how to create innovations that go with, not against, the grain of contemporary culture. A cynic might say that the act of giving suffers from connotations of ‘worthiness’. A deeper criticism, I think, would be that it is somehow ‘on the margins’, an ‘add-on’, an ‘afterthought’ in the hierarchy of everyday concerns. The ‘chugger’ invading your personal space, disrupting the familiar flow of your journey from A to B, the work colleague asking politely for sponsorship to run yet another marathon (or even triathlon!), the act-of-God disaster that tugs us only momentarily towards a bigger drama.
This test is just as much about engaging givers on their home turf (go to where they already are online at Facebook!) as it is about fitting in with people’s core activities and concerns. A good example is payroll giving. I think this is powerful because it embeds the act of giving firmly within one of the building blocks of life – work – rather than leaving it sitting uneasily on the margins. It makes giving habitual and structural, not occasional or incidental.
My reflection is really that a great deal depends on the cultural and social place of giving, both now and in the future. Giving has always been part of the public imagination and social fabric of this country. Think of the vast sums raised by charities every year (estimated at £11BN, yet dwarfed by the estimated monetized value of volunteering time), or the incredible acts of individual giving that have helped to shape our public realm and preserve our rich heritage (National Trust). How far are we able to insightfully describe the place of giving in modern culture?
Perhaps much current innovation in giving is coming from ideas that tap more effectively into age-old human motivations; specifically, the evolutionary urge towards cooperation and reciprocity. There is now a burgeoning of successful innovations that support sharing rather than one-way direct giving, or that involve clear return for the giver, for example in social recognition and stronger social networks. If this is true, then we might have cause to be optimistic that giving will flourish as an ingrained element of our personal, social and civic identities, going with the grain of how we want to live and work.
But, of course, I’d be interested in your views!
Posted by carrina on June 12, 2012