How to increase volunteers for workplace events?
March 24, 2018 2:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm part of a civility working group. My first assignment: develop standard language to use when soliciting volunteers for event support to remind people not to rely on stereotypes when deciding to volunteer.

We sometimes have events at work, for example on March 14th we had Pi(e) Day. The volunteers for setup and tear down of these events tend to be of the minority gender in our workplace, and our working group is seeking to increase participation from the non-minority gender members of our workplace when groups solicit for volunteers.

As I said above the fold I have been assigned to develop standard language to use when soliciting volunteers for event support to remind people not to rely on stereotypes when deciding to volunteer.

Have you been in a similar situation where you had to recruit volunteers? What advice would you have for me?

Please, do not rely on stereotypes when deciding to answer my question.
posted by Rob Rockets to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ask specifically for first-time volunteers?
posted by hollyholly at 2:42 PM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

"Bumping in and out is a job for everyone! Do your bit at our events by volunteering for bump duties at least # per X. We need # people for set up and # people for tear down. Put your name on our calendar of duties and join in the fun on the dates that suit you. Thanks!"
posted by Thella at 2:57 PM on March 24, 2018

You need to have a hypothesis about why people are not volunteering:
- Are all of your volunteer events just drawing from the same sub-group of members? In that case, you may have an underlying problem that there is a lack of volunteer culture among the majority group in which case you want to reframe the opportunities in alignment with organizational values (being risk taker and pushing the envelope by doing something new) or you maybe picking the wrong set of volunteer opportunities (try asking people what they want to be doing)
- Are you asking for tasks that they don't feel comfortable doing? Messages about "anyone can do this" or "no experience required" could be helpful
- Are they tasks that are seen as boring and only those with strong social consciousness are volunteering for? Then either make the jobs more rewarding (more fun or with reward or recognition) or rely on good-old-fashioned built (do your bit, everyone relies on you)
- If they might be worried about how it will perceived by others, emphasize group participation - maybe give a prize for the group with highest % participation or if you bring a friend
posted by metahawk at 3:05 PM on March 24, 2018 [12 favorites]

You need to overcome the bystander effect by personally inviting individuals to volunteer. A mass e-mail or social media post is not going to do the job. The way you ask is part of the language of the request.

By "personally inviting individuals" I mean walk over to Bob, or call him, or have lunch with Joan or whomever, and lay it out. Tell them your personal story of why civility is important to you, tell them that the group is going well, but that you'd personally like them to volunteer (no pressure) because X, and it might be good/fun for them because Y.

And, since you can't personally be responsible for all volunteers, do this yourself a few times to see what works, then personally ask one or two current volunteers whom you trust to personally ask one or two other people, whom they know, to volunteer.
posted by amtho at 3:11 PM on March 24, 2018 [11 favorites]

Also, unless this is explicitly volunteer/social matters focused work and workplace consider that people may not feel like being forced to volunteer to do whatever it is you want them to do. They are there to do a job and may already be supporting whatever they want to support in their spare time. So participating in whatever it is that is not part of their job description may not be a priority. And indeed it may be actively resisted. If you ask them to do it anyway, consider under what conditions you do that. We have a corporate volunteer program and in theory I get time off, during my workday, to participate. In practice I already work a lot of unpaid overtime, my deadlines do not move because I spend a day supporting whatever it may be so no, I'm not interested. Spending half my day setting up, manning and tearing down your pie stand would mean I spend an extra 4 hrs working at the weekend or over various evenings that week. And I am guilt resistant and would only obey a direct order to make myself available to participate in this and would resent that a lot.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:19 PM on March 24, 2018 [21 favorites]

Is it possible for you to clarify which stereotypes are presumed to be impeding volunteer recruitment? Does the working group have reason to believe stereotypes are the root cause of the imbalance? Are they considering other possible compounding factors like differences in work scheduling, work duties/roles, or conflicting responsibilities outside of work?

For example, if the non-minority gender employees occupy a disproportionate level of higher roles in your workplace and either feel they 'don't have time' to volunteer or feel it's somehow beneath their level, that will require a different approach than a situation where the non-minority gender employees tend to occupy roles which have less flexibility in scheduling due to meetings or because they can't leave their designated posts. Or consider perhaps whether the volunteering turnout is dependent in any way upon when your events are happening: after-work events make it more difficult for those with responsibilities outside of work, like childcare, to stay late for teardown; workday events can make it more difficult with people for less-flexible schedules (as outlined above).

Also consider whether the people in the non-minority-gender group actually are interested in / are attending the event. Do the people who are volunteering actually enjoy the events, themselves, or are they helping out of a sense of obligation? Are they the only ones who enjoy the events? People who don't really want to attend an event in the first place probably aren't going to be coaxed into volunteering, too.
posted by halation at 3:24 PM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is volunteering actually valuable within the organisation? Is there an expected amount of unsociable hours work? Do they get TOIL for voluntary work? There is a difference between genuine volunteering and the expectation of employees giving up time for the sake of 'civility', which sounds like enforced socialisation rather than real community development. If you want to overcome stereotypes, you have to move away from a committee solutions mentality and start understanding why people are not empowered to self-deliver the beneficial events that your company thinks are valuable enough to appoint a committee to perform.
posted by parmanparman at 3:37 PM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The phrases "volunteers" and "workplace" should never go together unless your employer is a nonprofit. There are no "volunteer" positions in the workplace; there are additional roles and responsibilities that might be taken on, but those things need to come with either more money or a commensurate reduction in other roles and responsibilities while still receiving the typical paycheck. If you aren't doing one of those two things, then the people you get will be the people who are used to doing extra labor for free to make other people happy, which is why they typically wind up gendered. Your company makes money; you should not be asking anybody to do stuff in a way that suggests they do so for free out of altruism. You're asking for labor, so make sure that labor is recognized and compensated and don't ask people to "volunteer" for a for-profit company's benefit.
posted by Sequence at 3:54 PM on March 24, 2018 [60 favorites]

Best answer: This seems to assume that the only gender dynamic in the workplace is around volunteering, and that is hard to believe. Are the genders equally represented at high and low levels? Sometimes high level employees get where they are by avoiding activities where there’s no real payoff. If you want people to volunteer more, there should be some kind of tangible benefit. Which of course is not really volunteering, but I question whether there can be real volunteering in the workplace anyway. I think there’s a problem here that needs to be solved by something besides improved wording.
posted by FencingGal at 3:54 PM on March 24, 2018 [19 favorites]

Best answer: - Are all of your volunteer events just drawing from the same sub-group of members?

This has almost always been the case in the places I've worked and studied. The same group of people would always *say* they hated doing everything themselves, but were hostile to any new volunteers who signed up, or just went ahead and did everything themselves, telling people not to bother, they had everything covered. If this does turn out to be the case, perhaps it could be part of the process to aim for a better mix of veterans and new volunteers at each event?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:01 PM on March 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

It sounds like the hypothesis here is that people aren’t signing up because they think that type of job is for (x gender that is not theirs)? That sounds really odd to me, but I’m trying to extrapolate it out a bit - is it something like, they think the task requires a certain skill that’s stereotypically associated with a particular gender? If so, I wonder if the more effective message might be a little more nuanced than just “(people of x gender) are welcome and encouraged to help out.” Perhaps instead, something that might address those related concerns like, “if you don’t know how to do (z), please sign up anyway, we have lots of roles available” or “we will provide training” or whatever.

But honestly, I think I’d start with finding a helpful person or two of the gender you’re targeting, and ask them for some feedback on their perceptions of the current messaging, why they don’t currently volunteer, and what might change that. (And then whatever you find out and act on, run it by some of your current volunteer base and make sure your change in messaging isn’t at risk or alienating them in some way.)
posted by Stacey at 4:31 PM on March 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

I’m an asshole, but I simply task my male staff with their share of bringing in cupcakes and cards (I pay.) It’s technically “ volun-telling” them, to which I’m theoretically opposed, but I feel I’m serving equality.
posted by kapers at 5:01 PM on March 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

So I guess you either make it non-voluntary or you invite whoever is missing individually. Wording changes to sound more inclusive are a great idea anyway, but imo that’s not going to make people want to do something they don’t want or have to do.
posted by kapers at 5:05 PM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you're convinced that it's due to gender, I would say that the quickest way to shift the dynamic is to have three or so high-ranking members of the dominant gender actually doing the volunteer work themselves, as well as letting their teams and sub-teams know that they are going to be doing that. This will help shift the perception that "this task is not for this gender." If the immediate response is, "No, we can't do that," or "These people are above doing low-level tasks like this," well, that says something about this activity. No one wants to do low-level tasks with no tangible benefit.

If there are tangible benefits of some sort that are directly related to important things like promotions, better performance ratings, or raises, those should be made clear in your messaging. I'm not talking about a nice message from a high-ranking person or a small, tasteful piece of swag, though - I'm talking about it actually counting in terms of people's career development.

But if there aren't any tangible benefits, I wouldn't be surprised that people don't want to do it. As others have said, most people are at work to earn money and otherwise benefit themselves personally, and would prefer not to be inveigled into taking time away from that primary goal.
posted by dancing_angel at 8:26 PM on March 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

I don't think that this is a problem that can be solved by carefully adjusting the wording in an all-staff email. The reason you are getting mostly women (It's women, right? Not sure why we're being so cagey here.) doing this volunteer work is that it's scut work for no pay and women are socialized to go along with that kind of crap much more than men. If you want to get a broader section of people doing this stuff, make sure that the people who do it are rewarded for it. That is to say, make it paying work above and beyond the pay they get for doing their actual jobs. When setting up chairs goes from being "a menial task that nobody wants to do but somebody's got to," to "an easy way of making a few extra bucks," you'll get a more representative set of takers.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:34 PM on March 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

If it is women, which it probably is, I think women are often (not always!) more attuned to the “intangible” (frankly pretty tangible) benefits of doing tasks that don’t have an immediate direct benefit to them. The stereotype is that women plan parties, not because here brainwashed idiots who love to waste their time but because everyone likes a party and women realize they’re the o lot ones who are going to make the party happen.

So I would suggest either cancelling these types of events, or if they are integral, rotating who is responsible for them as part of the job duties. Women are burdened with this stuff because they don’t want to watch the world burn and men know it will get done even if they avoid it.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:51 PM on March 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

Of all the places I've worked, the workplaces that did this best were the ones that made things like this non-voluntary. One place had a committee (fairly balanced between genders) that just did it all and asked for a few volunteers when needed (by name if necessary). People served on the committee for a year and were given time for planning meetings, shopping, etc. Another place had an expectation that everyone stopped what they were doing and all went to help set up (or whatever). If you can get buy-in from managers to do this, that's how I would approach it.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:37 AM on March 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for your inputs. I decided to take an approach and try and come up with words that would aim to increase volunteering in general. Based on all of your inputs and some other research I did I came up with:

“All [Our non-profit's name] employees are cordially invited and encouraged to volunteer. Anyone can volunteer, and no experience is required! First-time volunteers are especially welcome! Open doors and make new connections at [Our non-profit's name] by volunteering.”

and this wording was well-received.

Some of the points covered here in your comments came up during the discussion of the wording we had, and your input was helpful there as well.
posted by Rob Rockets at 6:33 AM on June 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

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