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Well done Lord Coe for highlighting the importance of volunteers and for calling on the nation to step up its efforts to encourage more people to give their time.

After the boom in enthusiasm for volunteering focused on the Olympics last year it appears the 70,000 “games makers” is not translating into a sea change in volunteer involvement in the UK ( Sunday Telegraph). But one of the key PR messages to come out of the Olympics has perhaps been missed.

The secret to encouraging people to give the time to good causes is not their recruitment – important and challenging though this is – but in ensuring that the people who do volunteer are appreciated and valued for their input and rewarded when they perform well. For too long volunteering has been seen by the Third sector as “free labour”, and the culture has been one of organisations taking rather than giving. This, in my opinion, is partly why volunteering in the UK never takes off in the way it could.

Traditionally there has been too much focus on the role of volunteers and too little on what the volunteers themselves get out of the experience. Certainly the Olympics couldn’t have happened without the volunteers – and whilst altruistic desire to see the games succeed will have been part of what made individuals come forward, the real drivers were much more personal factors, such as challenge, personal development, developing business opportunities, learning new skills and let’s not underplay it – sheer fun.

People working in the Third Sector responsible for persuading people to volunteer and for managing them when they do come forward need to switch their messaging focus from what’s in it for the charity or cause to what’s in it for the individual.

In 1961 JFK said “… ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Perhaps managers and communicators in the Third Sector could re-phrase this and say “Ask not what your volunteers can do for you – ask what you can do for them.

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