Exploring the social side of volunteer involvement

Andy Fryar June 1, 2004 3
Exploring the social side of volunteer involvement


By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar

A recent feature in my local Sunday paper got me thinking.

The article, titled “How all work and a little play pays” (Sunday Mail 23.5.04) examined a growing trend in the business world, where the creation and promotion of staff social clubs are becoming an increasing popular method of maintaining staff morale and ultimately retention rates.

Now at the outset, let me acknowledge that there is nothing new about staff social clubs. In fact if we were to turn the clock back just a few decades, we would find a proliferation of similar social groups in organisations of all sizes.

Most of these were operated and funded by employees through membership fees and/or fundraising activities. They offered staff (and often their families) the opportunity to participate in a range of recreational and social activities that helped build rapport in a work team and recognised the importance of the workplace as being more than simply a location where employees spent eight hours a day in return for monetary reward.

The reality however is that over the past 25 years there has been a steady decline in the number of workplace social outlets for a variety of reasons. These may include an increase in working hours for many and the plethora of other avenues now available for networking, especially through mediums such as the internet.

Regardless of the reasons, there appears to be a new push to develop and support workplace social clubs and other group activities in order to bond staff groups together as part of the workplace agenda – but this time it is being driven (and often subsidised) significantly by the employer.

A survey of clients by South Australian human resources company Hender Consulting reported that workplace social clubs do in fact increase staff productivity and produce a happier workplace environment. It is also recognised that this type of workplace bonding offers a great environment in which to foster staff loyalty and retention.

So why discuss this in a hot topic about volunteer management?

There are two reasons.

Firstly, I wonder how many volunteer agencies effectively use social clubs and other recreational activities as a means to involving their volunteers more fully in the life of their organisation? Involvement of this kind may be by way of a stand alone volunteer social group run exclusively for volunteers, or it may facilitated by inviting volunteer staff to become involved in existing social activities being operated by &/or for paid staff of the agency.

Volunteer social clubs can:

  • provide a great opportunity for volunteers to share their workplace and experiences with families and friends (which may in turn lead some of these individuals to      become a volunteer with your agency)
  • offer the chance for volunteers to get to know one another outside of their regular volunteer routine
  • allow a medium for volunteers from different areas to meet one another
  • enable volunteers to meet new people and experience new things

When we consider that the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 17.9% of all people volunteered because they wanted increased ‘social contact’ ** maybe we really should be focusing more on these types of outlets for our teams.

On a personal note, my own experience in helping to establish a volunteer social club at the Lyell McEwin Regional Volunteer Association has been very positive. Not only has it proved to be an increasingly popular and accepted social outlet (a river boar cruise at the end of the year is currently filling its fourth bus full of participants!), it has also created a valuable and meaningful volunteer role for the group’s coordinator. (Read more at the Lyell McEwin website)

The second reason I believe this to be a topic of interest lies in the fact that workplace social activities, as already stated, are seen to be a means of creating happier and more productive places of employment – where amongst other things, existing staff members are more readily retained because they share enjoyment in the workplace.

Now I don’t know about you, but I tend to think that as a profession, we may actually have something we can teach the ‘for profit’ world in all of this!

After all, aren’t we the experts?

Day in and day out we:

  • create enjoyable places of work for our volunteers, where they choose to come and contribute their time free of charge
  • achieve amazing results by leading and retaining teams of individuals who have the choice to walk out the door at a moments notice – never to be seen again
  • create work environments which are enjoyable – and often even fun!
  • do all of the above so well, that our existing team actually tell others to come and join in (…yes you too can come and do all this work for free. You’ll have a great time!)

Are these not many of the same qualities that the business world is looking for by creating greater social interaction opportunities for their employees?

Maybe we should be doing more as a profession to promote the amazing range of management skills that are unique to our sector – the very management skills that may just give both the government and the ‘for profit’ sector the answers they are looking for in developing these new social initiatives.

So what do you think?

  • Share your experiences (good and bad) about the development of volunteer social groups
  • If you don’t have any social outlets for your volunteer teams, what are the barriers?
  • Do you think that the skills we develop in volunteer management are easily transferable to other sectors?
  • Do you know of any examples where this has occurred?
  • Do you have ideas about how we might do that as a movement?


  1. ozvpm_andy April 14, 2012 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Posted on June 15, 2004 by Belinda Stevenson, Volunteer Coordinator, Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria, Australia

    This was so timely. I have recently sent all volunteers a questionnaire and one of the questions was “do you want a social club?” and “would you be interested in taking on a leadership role”. The results to date have being very promising with 37.5% saying “yes they want a social club” and 1/3 of them wanting to take on leadership roles.
    I instigated this firstly because some of our volunteers are needy and secondly because I hoped it would have a networking ripple effect amongst our volunteers. I am keen to hear how other organisations started it and if you allow the volunteers to organise everything themselves and if more turned up than expected once it started.
    Reading with much interest.

  2. ozvpm_andy April 14, 2012 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Posted on June 11, 2004 by Michael Loh, Volunteer Coordinator, Dover Park Hospice, Singapore

    I fully agree that social groups are important for networking amongst volunteers in any given organisation. Far more than this, it provides the basic platform for support, sharing of experience and forming friendships. All of these will help to prevent burn-out as volunteers will then be working in convivial environment where there is always someone they can turn to when feeling heavy-laden or ‘down and out’.

    Over the years, we have formed different social groups at Dover Park Hospice. The most recent social group to be formed was the line-dancing group which started with just 5 volunteers and has grown over the last 2 months to about 15. I expect and believe this group will grow to at least 30 by end of the 3rd quarter. In this group, volunteers let their hair down and have fun. What is more important is that they come with similar interest and enjoy doing what they do outside of their voluntary duties. They meet weekly on a Wednesday evening.

    Another group is Pearlie’s Angels which started off as a social group of ladies interested in cooking. This group has developed into a minor business venture – catering food for small events hosted by the Hospice Centre with all proceeds going to a special fund used to buy necessities for patients.

    Another social group (if we can call it that) comprises mainly Buddhist volunteers keen on the Dharma. They meet monthly at the Hospice to evaluate their commitment to helping dying patients and how Dharma has helped them cope with dealing with death and dying issues. It is like a support group in itself but more than that. They have outings for vegetarian meals, attend Buddhist conferences, organise pilgrimage to India & Nepal etc.

    The list can go on and on. The most wonderful part is that these social groups are volunteer initiated and continue to be volunteer driven.

    As Volunteer Coordinator, I see this as a positive move. These social groups help to motivate our volunteers, give them direction and sense of belonging.

  3. ozvpm_andy April 14, 2012 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Posted on June 9, 2004 by Jordan Kaslin, Director of Volunteer Resources, Chicago, USA

    In my organization we have used a volunteer social club as a means of having volunteers interact with one another for many years. My experiences have been extremely positive and I can only encourage others to develop similar avenues in their own programmes.

Leave A Response »