People Need Connection. Can They Find it Volunteering with You?
Bryanna Jew | Published on 8/17/2022
Bryanna works as the Strategic Engagement Manager at Venture 2 Impact, a Canadian-based charity that leverages human-centered design and design thinking to solve complex challenges related to education, empowerment, and economic development by linking volunteers with meaningful projects requiring their skills. She is also one of the leaders for Sunday Suppers, a community and a meal for the hungry in Halifax, Nova Scotia. If you would like to connect about volunteering and friendship or about Venture 2 Impact or Sunday Suppers, Bryanna would love to hear from you! Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The original version of this article was published on the Venture2Impact blog.
As volunteer engagement professionals, we often hear “What’s in it for me?” or “What about this volunteer opportunity makes it worth making time for, when I have so much else on my plate?” We like to think that doing good, making an impact, and helping others is enough reason for people to volunteer, but in a world with so many competing priorities, it often isn’t. When you recruit volunteers, are you considering one of our deepest human needs – to connect?
Did you know that nearly two-thirds of Americans reported experiencing loneliness in 2019 - and that was before the pandemic began? Research shows that one of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to commit to a shared activity together. As someone who works with volunteers in my professional life, and has always engaged in volunteering in my personal life, I’ve seen volunteering, and the connections that are built there, combat the universal challenge of reducing loneliness.
Why Making Friends is Hard
I often reflect on how easy it is to make new friends as a child when you go to school with other kids and participate in so many activities together. But it’s hard as an adult! There aren’t as many opportunities to meet new people, it can seem like others have already found their people and aren’t interested in investing the time and energy to build new relationships, and it is hard and vulnerable and scary to put yourself out there to make new friends. Plus, if you’re shy or introverted, it’s exponentially harder! If you feel this struggle too, know that you are not alone! One study showed that the average American hasn’t made a new friend in 5 years and that forty-five percent of adults find it difficult to make new friends.
My Experience Making Friends through Volunteering
When I moved to a new city 8 years ago, one of the first things I did was find someplace where I could volunteer. (Hint: Reaching out to newcomers in your community could be a great recruitment strategy!) I was primarily motivated by my desire to help others, but I also wanted to meet new and like-minded people. I wanted to feel connected to my new city and community. Sunday Suppers (fondly called the Sups), a meal and a community that serves about 200 hungry people in our city each week, was recommended to me by a colleague, and to this day, it is where you can find me on Sunday afternoons.
As we set up the tables and chairs, prepped snacks, scooped casseroles, and poured coffee for our guests, I slowly got to know my fellow volunteers. After a few weeks, a fellow volunteer who knew I was new to the city invited me to a clothing swap. Another invited me over for dinner. Over time those relationships grew and to this day, some of my closest friends are my Sups friends. Because I know that I will see them every (or most) Sundays, they are some of the most consistent relationships I have!
Adventuring with some Sups friends during summer 2020
Create and Highlight Opportunities to Connect
The way we approach volunteering and volunteer recruitment at Venture 2 Impact is in large part impacted by my own personal experience being a volunteer and believing that feeling seen and known is one of our greatest needs and desires. And that we are better able to serve others when we are experiencing genuine connection.
When recruiting new volunteers, have you put yourself in their shoes and thought about how they might feel in a new setting where they don’t know anyone? How can you get your fellow staff and volunteers to remember what it is like to be new and equip them to welcome new volunteers into the fold? Perhaps you can ask a few longer-serving volunteers to serve as a buddy to new volunteers or intentionally pair a new volunteer to work alongside someone who you know will be intentional about connecting with them.
The need for connection was one of the bigger revelations that came from the pandemic. Make the most of this revelation by talking about the opportunity to connect when recruiting new volunteers and by intentionally building in opportunities to connect in your volunteer programming!