For over a decade, NGO activists have complained about low levels of volunteering in Estonia, compared to other European countries. The latest issue of Hea Kodanik (Good Citizen, the civil society quarterly published by NENO) explored why volunteers have trouble finding things to do and how organizations continously mismanage the few volunteers they can find.
Okay, perhaps that was a bit of an overstatement. There are many organizations in Estonia that have no problems at all with finding volunteer help. The Black Nights Film Festival has been making use of volunteer labor since its very inception, and not only does the festival not have problems with finding volunteers, it has to turn people away. Similarly, the Tallinn 2011 culture capital project utilizes about half a thousand helpers, most of them first time volunteers.
Yet nevertheless, organizations and volunteers often fail to find each-other. For that reason, online portals have sprung up over the past few years, in an attempt to bring the two together, with varying degrees of the success. The oldest website, vabatahtlikud.ee functions as an old-fashioned classified page, where organizations can post ads and volunteers can respond to them.
Help.ee, a new start-up promotes charitable giving, by promoting various causes ranging from blood donations to raising money for expensive medical equipment.
Finally, onnepank.ee, perhaps the least successful of the three, encourages people to do small good deeds for their neighbors, via yet another classified-like page, powered by Google Maps.
Yet the lack of opportunities is not the only thing holding volunteers back. Jaan Aps, of Heateo SA notes that often organizations don’t know how to manage their volunteers. Often, organizations forget about their volunteers, do not give them enough work or fail to instruct them on how to perform their tasks. This can lead to disappointment and failure, not to mention bad press. Organizations should truly take care of their volunteers, not just take them on because it feels like the socially acceptable thing to do, notes Aps.
Good management, on the other hand, can pay off, as organizations such as Let’s Do It, can confirm. On the one hand, volunteering can lead to employment opportunities as employers want to keep enthusiastic volunteers on board. On the other hand, good experiences create good word of mouth and can bring more volunteers into the ngo-community.