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Attracting and retaining volunteers

A guest blog from Helen Hasan from Living Connected

Our organisation, Living Connected, is a not-for-profit social enterprise working to improve digital literacy and digital inclusion of older Australians. We have set up a network of centres offering services along the South Coast of NSW from Bulli to Bega. These services include Drop-in centres open to the public, computer clubs in aged care facilities and home visits. Most of our clients are in their 70s and 80s and even a few over 90.

We aim to complement classes for seniors offered by TAFE, public libraries, and U3A with a personalised service where our mentors sit with clients to help them with their individual challenges. We focus on what our clients want to do with the technology and not on the technology itself. When possible, we encourage our clients to learn on their own devices.

Personal help by volunteers of all ages

Our program is very labour intensive and depends on the hard work of our volunteers. We are fortunate that people recognise the importance of what we are doing. Some of our volunteer mentors are retirees or university students looking to be involved in an interesting and worthwhile venture. We are also fortunate to be a start-up enterprise at the University of Wollongong where students get recognition for their volunteer work.

We also get students who do an internship with us to learn how we run a networked social enterprise. They have helped us with applying for grants and running events to publicise our venture. This picture shows our intern, with some local politicians at the Living Connected publicity event she helped organise in May 2018.

Some of our mentors are people of all ages who are temporarily between jobs or underemployed. Those who take a leadership role in our enterprise are paid for the hours they put in in this capacity. We are proud to say that their experience with us and the references we give them have led some into permanent jobs.

During school holidays we occasionally get high school students to come in as volunteer mentors. Next year, we are planning to formalise this activity in partnership with local high schools. Not only does it help our clients but the students learn a lot from the seniors, particularly about life before the days of computers and the internet.

To attract both new volunteers and new clients we take every opportunity to attend local expos and to speak to local groups such as Rotary and Probus and any organisations connected with health and aged services.

All new volunteers attend induction and training sessions and are mentored on the job by more experienced members of our team. While most have plenty of IT knowledge, but we teach them to slow down and have the patience to work with older people and to admit when they don’t know something. We try to attract volunteers who use different types of technology so they can learn from each other. We encourage them to google solution to problems to which they don’t know the solution and to show our clients how to do this for themselves.

We encourage all our sessions to be interesting and fun, which help us retain both volunteers and clients. We hold social get-togethers of clients, have meetings to include them in decision-making and finish with a party at the end of each year as shown in this Picture.