Being new to this role and to the community sector has its merits. You enter conversations with coordinators and managers like a sponge; to learn and ask questions (sometimes naïve ones) and hopefully draw unbiased learnings.

These chats are invaluable in that they are often mini crash courses into an organisation’s history, culture, challenges, successes. They have shown me different points-of-view in the sector. Now I am enjoying finding common themes (or gaps) in this kaleidoscope of perspectives.

Job-seeking young people volunteering as a stepping stone to paid work have caused frustration to some.  This ‘perception’ forgets to look at the whole picture. So I was interested to meet  an organisation last week who gave me a view of another side of the coin. United Nations Youth New Zealand, taps on this very insight (young, short-term, stepping stone) and uses it as an opportunity to maximise the mileage it receives from and gives back to its volunteers.

UN Youth is a nation-wide organisation that is made up of 88 volunteers, all under 25. They organise a National Conference every year and conduct events and outreach programs that reaches over 1000 youths directly every year.

What struck me was the model they use extremely effectively for recruitment and retention; volunteers who take up roles with UN Youth NZ do not stay in these positions for very long. The roles are set-up so that there is always movement and progression.

Volunteers are encouraged to progress, take on new projects but more importantly, there is always a plan for succession. UN Youth NZ strives to provide their volunteers with enriching experiences, skills and nurturing relationships that they can take with them to university and into their careers.

And guess what? Many of these amazing UN Youth volunteers go on to successful positions in the private and public sectors, but they go on to give back – many back to the UN in one form or another.

Of course we aren’t all associated to an international brand name with a massive nationwide structure. I believe though, we all have the ability to create creative roles that are enriching and rewarding for our volunteers.

We also have the capacity, no matter how small an organisation we are, to support and celebrate volunteers utilising skills that he/she has gained from working with us. And that has proved to be a stepping stone into paid work.

And chances are, if we can do that and do it well, they will inevitably give back many times over.

(as published under “Talking Shop” in Volunteer Wellington’s Newsletter July 2012) 

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