In 2010/2011 The Men’s Network ran an ‘Action Men’ volunteering project to inspire more men and boys to get involved in volunteering. We also wanted to understand what barriers prevent men volunteering are what action the voluntary sector can take to help overcome these barriers.
We were inspired to develop this project after responding to a consultation on the city’s Volunteering Strategy in 2009 which revealed that women in Brighton & Hove are twice as likely to volunteer as men.
We wanted to find out what action we could take to harness the untapped potential of male volunteers in general and more specifically we wanted to develop our knowledge of what it will take to involve more men in developing the men and boys’ sector in our city and beyond.
The Men’s Network currently sits on the steering group for the city’s volunteering strategy because we fully support the strategy’s vision:
“That Brighton & Hove is a City where residents feel inspired to volunteer and participate in community activity, have the opportunity to do so and are celebrated and recognised in their efforts”.
And if we want to inspire more men to volunteer and participate in community activity then we need to understand what might be stopping them. With this in mind we have identified 10 key barriers that in our experience can get in the way of men volunteering.
The Top 10 Volunteering Barriers Faced By Men
- Lack of time
- Lack of advertising
- Lack of male focussed roles
- Lack of male focussed services
- Negative stereotypes about men
- Low male social capital
- Financial pressures
- Lack of inspiration
- Desire to make a difference
- Institutional sexism
The barriers we have identified apply to men in general – not all men – and are listed here to help anyone who wants to involve more men in volunteering to become more effective at recruiting and retaining male volunteers.
If this is useful to you then please take from this list eveything you find resourceful and discard the bits you don’t. If you think you can improve on this list based on your experience of volunteering then do please let us know.
Women may also encounter a number of barriers to volunteering and they are not covered here as our area of expertise is men and boys.
Barrier 1: Lack of time
One of the most common barriers to volunteering is lack of time. This is particularly relevant to men who generally spend more time in the workplace and commuting. Men are also more likely to be unemployed and looking for work.
There a number of ways that time acts a barrier:
- Some men say they are too busy with work or looking for work to do more volunteering ‘work’ on top of that
- 82% of fathers say they want to spend more time with their families and so giving time to volunteering is not a priority
- Many volunteering opportunities are offered in office hours when many men aren’t available
- Many volunteering opportunities require a regular and consistent commitment which can be a barrier
Some ways to overcome these time barriers include:
- Offering volunteering opportunities through work
- Developing volunteering opportunities as a route back to work
- Creating family volunteering opportunities where dads and children can volunteer together
- Offering a variety of fun volunteering opportunities that occur like a break from work, rather than more work
- Creating volunteering opportunities that are flexible and outside normal office hours
- Creating ad-hoc volunteer opportunities making it easy for more men to get involved without first having to make a big time commitment
Barrier 2: Lack of advertising
One of the most straightforward barriers to men volunteering is the lack of marketing and advertising targeted directly at men. Some ways to overcome this barrier include:
- Designing recruitment drives that target men
- Using language and imagery that makes it clear you are targeting men
- Designing campaigns that are mindful of the barriers men face
- Advertising volunteering in places that are more likely to reach men
Barrier 3: Lack of male focussed roles
The public and not-for-profit sector is broadly dominated by women, who tend to account for around two-thirds of the workforce and in many cases significantly more. Men who work or volunteer in workplaces where they are in the minority often report finding these places unwelcome, uncomfortable and in extreme cases hostile.
Many of the jobs in the voluntary sector are seen as “women’s jobs” and so it can be assumed that men are not to the role or may not want to take on doing a “woman’s job”.
This type of gender segregation can negatively impact both men and women and there are two key advantages to addressing this issue from a male perspective:
- Getting more men into the voluntary sector improves the gender diversity of the sector and makes it more able to serve the diverse communities it represents
- Breaking through gender stereotypes in volunteering can help to create the social change necessary to reduce gender segregation in the workforce in all sectors
There are three key ways to overcome this barrier which are:
- Playing to gender stereotypes to increase the gender diversity of volunteers by creating/highlighting traditionally male volunteering activities – driving, fixing things, sports activities etc
- Challenging stereotypes by inviting/promoting men to volunteer in traditionally female caring roles – home help, carer, counsellor etc
- Positively encouraging and welcoming men into volunteering roles where men aren’t just under-represented, but also positively sought after – e.g. male mentoring roles
Barrier 4. Lack of male focussed services
As well as being in the minority in the not-for-profit workforce, men are also under-represented as service users in general across the sector. For example, local research has shown that projects focussed on women received 13,000 times more funding than men’s projects and council funding for community organisations is 50% more likely to benefit female service users.
This can be a barrier because:
- Men may be uncomfortable working in a service that predominantly serves women
- Female service users may be uncomfortable accessing a service where men volunteer
Some ways to overcome this barrier could include:
- Harnessing male volunteers to help develop the capacity of the men and boys sector in general, by developing projects within existing services specialising in working with men and boys
- Harnessing male volunteers to help develop the capacity of the men and boys sector in general, by supporting them to develop their own projects targeted at men and boys
- Identifying existing services and projects where the majority of service users are male and recruiting male volunteers to these services
- Finding ways to address the concerns of female staff and service users about including male volunteers within a service
Barrier 5. Negative stereotypes about men
Men who want to work or volunteer in certain traditionally females can face some very unpleasant negative stereotypes. One of the common barriers to men working and volunteering in projects involving children repo – for example – is the fear of – and direct experience of – being labelled a paedophile. For example we met a teenage boy who was called a paedophile by male and female students for choosing a nursery for his school work experience.
To overcome these barriers it is important to:
- Positively welcome and promote male volunteers into these roles
- To support people to challenge these prejudices internally
- To ensure rigorous safety systems are in place and applied equally irrespective of gender and not built on an assumption that a man is a greater risk and a woman is less of a risk
- To provide support structures for male volunteers and workers to discuss these issues and concerns
Barrier 6. Low male social capital
We generally define male social capital as the ability for men in a particular community to give help and get help. A community with high social capital is not only able to provide men and boys with the help and support they need, but is also enriched by having an abundance of men who are willing and able to provide help to others (e.g. through volunteering).
The under-representation of men in volunteering is both a symptom and a cause of low male social capital. In communities where men and boys are not getting the help and support they need and are not seen to be giving help and support to the community, men are far less to likely to be invested in their community and willing to volunteer.
To overcome these barriers it is vital to:
- Positively promote the difference that men make to communities
- Build a culture where it is normative for men to get help and give help
Barrier 7. Financial Pressure
Family men are still more likely to be in the role of primary breadwinner and so volunteering can be seen as a waste of time, not just by the men, but by their families. Some possible ways of overcoming these barriers include:
- Promoting the non-economic benefits of volunteering – improved health and wellbeing, making social connections etc
- Promoting the potential economic benefits of volunteering – acquiring new skills, enhancing your CV, using volunteering as a stepping stone into a new sector etc
- Developing workplace volunteering schemes, particularly in settings where the majority of staff are male
- Promoting a culture of using your skills to “give something back”
As with time pressures, promoting more ad-hoc opportunities to volunteer could help overcome concerns about engaging in unpaid volunteering
Barrier 8. Lack Of Inspiration
Our experience locally is that where men are inspired by a particular project or role then they are more readily willing to get involved in volunteering and make a difference. We noted that this is particularly the case with the abandofbrothers project that has captured the imagination of male volunteers and is oversubscribed.
Barrier 9. Desire To Make A Difference
Following on from the previous point, we have found a significant number of men what to make a difference in a very particular area that isn’t readily addressed by the mainstream voluntary sector. With this in mind we created the Community Leaders Programme where we train participants to create and leader volunteer projects. This approach has enabled a number of men to take on volunteering.
Barrier 10. Institutional Sexism
Within the predominantly female not-for-profit sector, it is not the cultural norm to consider men and boys to be a distinct group with specific needs. While some individuals and organisations openly welcome interventions to target men as workers, volunteers and service users, it is still quite normal to overlook men and boys as a distinct group and in some cases be openly dismissive and hostile towards addressing the specific needs of men and boys.
There is no quick solution to overcoming this culture of sexism, though volunteer recruitment is as good a place as any to start when considering:
- How equally a service treats men and boys
- How this is reflected in terms of the proportion of men and women employed by a service
- What proportion of men and women access your service (relative to need)
- The different quality of outcomes that men and women get from a service
Finally, to demonstrate how things do change, check out this short report from the British Heart Foundation which reported a doubling in male volunteering over a 3 year period – click here for article.
Thanks to Sussex Community Foundation for funding the Action Men project that enabled us to find out more about men and volunteering. If you have any questions or feedback relating to this list or men and volunteering please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07981 334222.