“Volunteering is the very essence of the associative movement”

Since the confinement, it seems that some volunteers are missing in the associations. Do you have confirmation of this phenomenon?

Hubert Pénicaud: The situations are very contrasted according to the field of activity and the sociology of the volunteers mobilized. Associations calling on many seniors or whose activity has been seriously disrupted by health restrictions – for example in the cultural or sport sectors – are in great difficulty. Some of their volunteers never returned. Those who, for example, had organized their life around their association before confinement replaced this activity with another and did not necessarily do the opposite.

Other associations, on the other hand, are in great demand. In a great outpouring of generosity, many people spontaneously put themselves at their disposal. Food aid, patrols of homeless people, visits to very isolated people, animation of places of accommodation for people in great difficulty … All these areas of association intervention have seen an influx of volunteers. To the point that some structures even find it difficult to respond to all requests.

How essential are volunteers to associations?

HP: They play a major role. It is estimated that 13 to 14 million French people are involved in associations, with great diversity in their degree of investment. Some will devote two days to it a year, on the occasion of a particular event; others will work there almost full time. And between the two, the whole range exists.

Volunteers give time and provide know-how. Volunteering skills are growing. And some come with an idea and move the structures! I recently met associations of Mantes-la-Jolie which had been approached by young students eager to do something. These structures had neither the time slots nor the activities that could correspond to their demands and their way of life. Rather than turning them away, the heads of the associations decided to expand their opening slots until 8 p.m. and to organize with their help a fraternal meal once a month, during the weekend.

Are volunteers essential not only to the life of associations, but also to their identity?

HP: Volunteering is the very essence of the associative movement. The assured mission is very important, of course, but the association is also the space where the desire to mobilize for society, to participate in the collective is expressed. When we ask volunteers about their motivation, they say that getting involved in the associative movement is above all a way of expressing their citizenship.

How to develop volunteering?

HP: Many associations are currently seeking to bring in people who censor themselves, do not imagine being able to also enter into a process which could nevertheless be very beneficial to them. I am thinking in particular of people with disabilities, young dropouts and migrants.

Should we give more value to the work of volunteers?

HP: They would indeed like their commitment to be better recognized and valued. This starts with the ability of association leaders to say “thank you”! We are also working to recognize and promote the skills acquired by volunteers. They are numerous, including these skills of knowing how to be which are very precise today of recruiters. We have developed the volunteer passport: it is a booklet in which the volunteer keeps track of the missions carried out and the skills mobilized. This formatting is useful when writing a CV. It happens that young people think further and wonder about their career choice, which can sometimes lead to radical decisions. This was true before the health crisis. This is even more true now.


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