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«Volunteering has changed»

Swiss clubs and associations rely on voluntary work, but clubs report that they are finding it increasingly difficult to attract volunteers. An expert explains that the key is to frame the assignment in the right way.

2 june 2020, text: Felix Mätzler, photo: Deposit

A group of people happily holding a hand in the air

According to figures published in a study by vitamin B, an information and advice centre for clubs and associations, two thirds of over-15s in Switzerland belong to a club or association and a quarter of the population works for a club or similar organisation on a voluntary basis. No wonder, then, that the Swiss are seen as club enthusiasts; there is an old adage that says wherever three Swiss people meet, they're certain, sooner or later, to set up an association.

«People want to make a difference»

However, this fine tradition now seems to be faltering, with associations increasingly complaining that it's becoming more and more difficult to find people willing to make the commitment. Will that mean no more treasurer, no handball trainer and no one to accompany the elderly on a walk in the park? «Not quite,» says Thomas Hauser, director of the volunteering organisation benevol Switzerland. However, he feels that many people's motivation has changed in recent years. Most, for example, no longer seem to be motivated by altruism alone. «People no longer simply want to “do good”. They want to have fun or they want to join up with other people to make a difference.»

Soft factors are more important

According to Hauser, people are also less willing to make a long-term commitment for years or even decades. However, this doesn't have to be a problem if organisations adapt accordingly. Hauser cites an example from the field of mentoring, involving support for young people as they look for work: «If we only ask people to commit four months of their time to help, we have no problem finding the volunteers we need.»
Volunteering or holding an honorary post on the committee of an association is an important pillar of club culture in Switzerland. There is no financial gain, although expenses are paid, but this makes soft factors such as appreciation, a sense of purpose, enjoyment or social contact all the more important.

Support for clubs and associations

The mission of benevol is to bring together volunteers and associations. It has 16 regional centres throughout Switzerland and also runs an online volunteer recruitment platform. The vitamin B centre, run by the Migros Culture Percentage initiative, provides support for association committees, for example with legal or financial matters. Both organisations offer advice and training – including for committee members who are looking to adapt their traditional club to present-day circumstances. In Ticino, the associations» interests are the responsibility of the Conferenza del volontariato sociale (CVS).

Major regional differences

Swiss clubs and associations are not funded at the national level. Despite this – or perhaps as a result – the landscape for clubs and associations varies hugely, with a whole range of advantages and disadvantages. Circumstances differ from place to place; while some local authorities offer local associations training, provide infrastructure or even have their own association coordinator, others offer none of these. There are also major differences between the language regions. Support for clubs and associations is organised along different lines in German-speaking Switzerland and in French-speaking Switzerland, and the situation is different again in Ticino.