Volunteer work, in addition to being one of the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, is the engine that drives the organization. It’s thanks to the work of the volunteers that the Red Cross has the capacity to help thousands of people year after year. The importance that volunteers have for the organization is fundamental and essential, and it’s for this reason that we must work to strengthen our volunteer base day by day and that it grows in the appropriate way, adapting to the new challenges that arise in our societies.
That said, it’s considered necessary to make a diagnosis of the volunteer and youth situation of the National Societies (NS) in an ongoing manner, in this way the results can be used in the development of strategies for the strengthening and adequate development of our volunteers and the voluntary services that we offer to the communities in our humanitarian actions.
This study is the continuation of chapter 5. Results of the base studies 2013-2015 included in the “Analysis of Volunteering and Youth in America” prepared by the Volunteer and Youth Development Unit for the Americas, published in 2016. This chapter was carried out based on the data collected in the years 2013-2015. Also, the results based on the baseline study surveys of 2016, 2017 and 2018 are presented as a continuation to the previous studies.
It’s important to clarify that the participation of National Societies in the surveys hasn’t been constant, so there is a bias in the results due to a greater or lesser participation depending on the year by each country. However, in the heading of each section (both volunteer and youth) it’s clear how many National Societies were included for each year.
The survey was sent to the focal points of Volunteering and Youth of each National Society by email in January 2019. In the years 2013 and 2014, Microsoft Excel was used to collect the information, and for the results from the year 2015 the SurveyMonkey platform was used. Some questions were added to the instruments of the years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, so, for some questions only the data of those years are available.
Adapting to a changing scenario presents great challenges for National Societies and the volunteer and youth directorates. These challenges don’t only arise in the elaboration of programs and projects for the attention of people in a situation of vulnerability, but also in the recruitment of volunteers to meet these needs.
The challenges of social organizations that use volunteers as a base for their operations, coupled with a lack of planning in the management of volunteering in National Societies, have led in the best of cases to a stagnation of the number of volunteers or a contraction, according to more pessimistic analyzes. This reduction or stagnation in the volunteer body is a wake-up call to the National Societies and leads to reflection on the attraction and maintenance strategies of the volunteers.
However, the challenge isn’t to attract as many volunteers as possible, the defiance is to guarantee a qualified volunteer body for the performance of humanitarian activities. This is achieved through the creation of volunteer profiles and descriptions of the work that they wish to carry out in order to facilitate the recruitment of suitable volunteers for humanitarian work.
The involvement of volunteers in the decision-making processes is fundamental for programs and projects to be implemented effectively and to maintain relevance in a dynamic national and international context. The strength of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement lies in its network of volunteers, in the knowledge they bring from the communities and in their capacity to represent vulnerable populations and the target public of community projects. On this statement, it is essential to transfer this representation to the decision-making levels of the organization. The political participation of volunteers in the institutional life of the National Societies is low. Two factors can explain this phenomenon: an institutional legal framework that has no mechanisms for this purpose and the absence of a culture of participation.
One of the main concerns from the National Societies, gathered in previous studies and in the Volunteer Development Seminar (2016), is the high turnover of volunteers that is presented in the Red Cross. The situation is experienced by the majority of NS in America and largely responds to the lack of appropriate structures and volunteer management that promote constant motivation to the volunteer.
From the previous studies its gathered that there are two determining factors for the retention of the volunteers: continuous training and motivation, both areas in which at national and regional level there is a pending debt.
The motivation of the volunteer can be promoted from the recognition of voluntary work as well as the granting of opportunities for individual development. The Red Cross must guarantee its volunteers optimal conditions for their voluntary service in order to avoid the obvious consequences of the lack of trained and motivated volunteers. Therefore, it must be ensured that volunteers also receive an individual benefit for voluntary participation, which may be at the level of personal, professional, academic or other development. There are also tools for the self-training of the volunteer made available by the National Societies and the International Federation. The base studies and previous studies show that not all volunteers know or have access to these tools.
Volunteers may find themselves in situations of great vulnerability during their service to the Red Cross. Annually, incidents are reported of injured volunteers or those who lose their lives in the performance of their duties. It’s the responsibility of the National Societies and the Federation to minimize the risks for the volunteers. Several tools have been designed for this purpose, among which the training in safety issues through the “Stay Safe” courses stand out. However, our region still has a pending debt in training and insurance for our volunteers. This should be one of the priorities in the management of volunteering.
Peer exchanges have proven to be a powerful tool for the promotion of good practices and the exchange generated through experience in humanitarian aid. The base studies shed light on this practice. And although it has spread in recent years, it’s not all National Societies that put it into practice. The International Federation must facilitate these processes of knowledge exchange and encourage National Societies to participate.
There are great institutional challenges that threaten the proper development of volunteering at the Red Cross in America. As an organization, it’s our responsibility to guarantee the structure and tools necessary to motivate, protect and train our volunteers. This responsibility entails a constant review of the management of volunteering in the National Societies and in the Federation. Generating academic studies with updated statistics allows us to know the composition and structure of the volunteer body and thus better understand the needs of volunteers and measure the impact of our work in the communities and the volunteers themselves.
It’s important to emphasize the importance that National Societies have to be involved in the research and diagnostic processes carried out by the Federation, in order to have more representative data and be able to get closer to the reality of the development of volunteering in the region. It’s vital to know the challenges and improvements presented by the different National Societies from different countries, as a process in which solutions can be built together.