BLOGI: Five innovative days in rainy Holland

Breaking boundaries and discovering creative approaches to volunteering with the help of Erasmus+

Volunteering lies at the heart of Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (MLL), and everyday thousands of volunteers across the country drive the MLL mission forward and strive to make a difference in communities nationwide. However, in our fast-paced and ever-evolving playing field, it’s crucial for organizations like MLL to continuously innovate our volunteer opportunities in order to stay engaging and effective.

Embarking on an Erasmus+ journey

Last November, our team of five coordinators had the opportunity to spend five busy days in Holland getting to know to three different types of civil society organizations that work closely with volunteers. Our aim was to learn how these organizations – in a country where non-governmental and community-based actors and volunteerism is deeply rooted in the society and culture – attract, hold on to and support their volunteers. What does volunteering look like in their own contexts? What could we learn from them and take back home?

During our time there, we got to know to the work Justice & Peace, an organisation dedicated to defending and promoting respect for human rights and social justice, Haagse Helpers, a social initiative creating opportunities for young people to serve the city and help the community, and VIPvoorelkaar, an agency bringing together volunteers, private individuals seeking assistance and organizations within one rural municipality.

Volunteer voices

We met not only with the staff members but also volunteers themselves who got the opportunity to tell what motivated them in their own volunteering work. These volunteers came from diverse backgrounds, each bringing a wealth of skills, experiences, and passions to their work. It was inspiring to see how motivated they were in shaping their own role in the organizations to best suit their needs and wishes. It became clear that by matching the different tasks to volunteers’ skills and interests, the organizations managed to not only enhance their engagement but also maximize the impact of their contributions.

Hence, whether it’s IT proficiency, artistic flair, or cooking skills, tapping into the existing talent and interests in the pool of volunteers keeps them happy and engaged and helps the organization get the most out of them. This was evident in all the organizations we visited.

Learning to experiment and adapt

Flexibility was a word that was repeated countless times during the week. Volunteers appreciated being able to show up when they felt they had the time and energy and, on the other hand, take breaks from volunteering if they needed to. Likewise, organizations felt it was essential to stay flexible and creative in experimenting with new ideas and approaches. This could be done, for example, by creating short-term and pop-up volunteering opportunities and lowering the language requirements to attract non-Dutch speakers. The diversity of the volunteer pool was seen as an asset instead of a barrier.

By empowering volunteers to actively participate in the development of volunteering opportunities, the organizations seemed to foster a culture of collaboration and cultivate a sense of ownership and commitment among them.

Now what?

After five wonderful days we came back home with bags full of new ideas and contacts to further develop all the new ideas we got during our Erasmus+ week. Our colleagues back at the office were also eager to hear what we had learned and how all that could be relevant to MLL.

Some of the learnings we have since applied include, for example, developing ways to attract volunteers from diverse backgrounds, creating ways to better understand the motivations of our volunteers and building ”road maps” for people to move from one volunteering position to another inside our organization.

In fact, these are just some of the things that we took from our Erasmus+ trip. There were countless of ”aha” moments throughout the week – some big, some smaller. At the end of the day, we were all truly surprised how much you could get out of such a short trip! Hartelijk bedankt, Nederland!