How Ireland's CUs Are Answering Three Questions About Volunteers

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There are three questions to be asked when it comes to credit union volunteers, according to one person: Do we know how to recruit volunteers? Do we know how to retain them? And how do we know they will be any good?

Samuel Adair, who has been serving as a volunteer at Waterside Credit Union in Derry, Northern Ireland, and who is vice president of the Irish League of Credit Unions, offered Ireland's experiences in answering all three of those questions in remarks before the World Council of Credit Unions' World Credit Union Conference here. In Ireland, volunteers are far more involved and prominent in running credit unions than in the United States, which is one reason Adair noted such emphasis is placed on finding and keeping good people.

"Volunteerism is the basis on which the Irish credit unions were founded 44 years ago," said Adair, noting Ireland's credit unions have 9,500 volunteers. "There is a competitive side to volunteering. It is important that the volunteer position be exciting and challenging, or people will drift to other types of volunteerism."

Research has found that the "stereotypical" volunteer in Ireland is employed, has a good education and occupation, and is middle class. He is also stereotypically male.

While women represent more than 52% of CU members in Ireland, 75% of chairman's roles and 65% of vice chairman roles are male. Irish league just elected its first-ever female president: Anne O'Byrne.

"One way to attract more women is to alter the times of meetings and offer reimbursement for child care," suggested Adair.

As is the case in the U.S., the average volunteer in Ireland is older, with Adair noting the word "volunteer" doesn't have a good image among those 18-25.

To recruit younger volunteers, candidates have been enticed with work placements, been asked to provide assistance in development of websites, to participate in a youth committee, and offered university bursaries for CU studies.

"Perhaps the most important way to attract young people is to ask them," said Adair. "People join when asked, and stay when made to feel welcome. Invite them to a function. Ensure that their contribution is seen in their and others' eyes to be significant. Some credit unions have a requirement that they have at least one board member under the age of 35."

How does a credit union know if the candidate would make for a good volunteer, or develop into one? The key, said Adair, to getting the best is to ensure there is an induction period, when the volunteer is feeling at his or her most vulnerable.

CUJ Resources

Ireland's Samuel Adair directed credit unions to visit www.creditunions.ie to view an "induction training pack" and governance packs created for new board members by the Irish league.

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