Mandela Day Research. The rise of Episodic Volunteering…

In the lead up to Mandela Day 2019, we wanted to share a few extracts from some fascinating research that was completed last Mandela Day by Sara Compion and Bok Jeong from Kean University, New York. You’ll find a link to download the full research report at the end of this article.

This is a global project, including three African locations: Tanzania, Ghana, and South Africa. We’ll be looking specifically at the South African data, which comprises 398 volunteers representing 96 organisations at 90 different events throughout the country.

First, let’s look at a definition of Episodic Volunteering

A recent trend has been a shift away from regular, long-term volunteering to more episodic or project-based volunteering. While this has created significant challenges for many organizations that depend on consistently available volunteers, the reality is that more and more volunteers are looking for ways to get engaged in a short-term capacity.
This is especially true among younger volunteers, students, corporate volunteers and professionals…


INSIGHT #1. There are three types of episodic volunteers (EVs) present at Mandela Day activities:

  • Novice EVs
  • Occasional EVs
  • Regular EVs.

While not too dissimilar, subtle differences exist between novice and regular EVs. Novice EVs are younger, more racially and religiously diverse, less likely to be employed full time, and not big financial givers.

In contrast, regular EVs are older, wealthier and more likely employed; a greater percentage is white, and most donate financially to NGOs.

Characteristics of Mandela Day Volunteers

INSIGHT #2. Most people volunteer for Mandela Day with a group, rather than individually.

These groups span the spectrum of civil society, but roughly 40% of people volunteer with their corporate employer or business. Interestingly, these folks are also the least likely to volunteer in the future. This is the rise of episodic, ad-hoc or once-off volunteering.

INSIGHT #3. How event organisers can better recruit and organise episodic volunteers.

The best method for recruiting volunteers is a direct, interpersonal connection. Mandela Day volunteering is social activity and most people volunteer with their work or social group because they are personally asked to do so. Social media platforms and classic media formats are helpful for sharing event information and logistical details but are not terribly effective for volunteer recruitment.

Focus of Mandela Day Events

Once recruited, few people receive any pre-event orientation/training to prepare them for the volunteer activity. Most training occurs on the spot, adequately so, but over 40% of volunteers receive no guidance, orientation, or training.

People who volunteer for Mandela Day are easily satisfied with verbal thanks and appreciation from organisers and beneficiaries. Expectations for rewards are low, and mostly social and intrinsic. At whole-day events, volunteers appreciate light snacks

INSIGHT #4. Does Mandela Day volunteering prompt further volunteering?

Mandela Day activities attract many regular volunteers, but they also provide an occasion for those truly novice episodic volunteers to engage in a civic way with their fellow South Africans. However, novice episodic volunteers have the least interest in volunteering again, and as such, they are truly once-off volunteers. 

Occasional episodic volunteers are especially well positioned to move into more regular, sustained event-based volunteering if they have a positive, intrinsically rewarding experience at once-off events like Mandela Day. 

Regular episodic volunteers are the most likely to volunteer again in the future for an organisation or group, especially if they are already involved with the group and found the Mandela Day activity subjectively and intrinsically rewarding. 

There’s no difference between novice and regular episodic volunteers and their propensity to volunteer for once-off events in the future. The episodic volunteering experience does not necessarily lead to an increased likelihood of future event-based volunteering. 

Conclusions and thoughts from the forgood team…

  • Mandela Day is a team-building event, alongside the chance to add a little social good to the world. Embrace group activities – and don’t expect to really change the world in 67 minutes.
  • Use volunteer champions and personal networks to recruit people to your Mandela Day efforts – don’t underestimate the power of personal connections in building a volunteer culture or getting signups to a volunteering event.
  • Prepare your volunteers wherever possible – they’ll have a better experience and so will the organisation you’re trying to support.
  • Say thank you – to all stakeholders.
  • If you want to tip a novice episodic volunteer into an occasional volunteer (who has more chance of becoming a regular volunteer) – you need to do more than Mandela Day. Focus on at least 4 engaging events every year to expose this segment to the joys and rewards of volunteering – only then will they really “join the club”.

Thank you to Sara Compion for permission to publish these extracts.

Click here to download the full 30 page research report on Mandela Day South Africa.

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