June 10, 2012

The Changing Volunteer World

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Professionalism, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:06 am by Sue Hine

Nothing can be certain, said Benjamin Franklin in a letter written in 1789, except death and taxes.  I am surprised he did not include ‘change’ in his aphorism.  He lived through a fair bit of historical change himself, in his enterprising career and as a Founding Father of United States, and he must surely have seen what was coming to France when he wrote his letter.

Well – change in the not-for-profit sector, and in volunteering, is all around the world at present.  I read the exhortations for managers of volunteers to get up to speed with social media – for everything from organising fundraising events to volunteer recruitment, and for regular organisation promos.  And for networking and conversations on common interests for managers of volunteers.

I read about the impact of generational differences and the statistics on who volunteers and what for and why.  Short-term, time-limited assignments please.  A specific focus, relevant to my skills. Or please, some work experience that will get me a job (when you give me a reference).  There are significant increases in prospective volunteers out there.  They are clamouring for roles – particularly the younger age groups.  And despite the huge bubble of older people, the baby-boomers, newly retired, this cohort is not rushing to fill the ranks of volunteers.

There is no denying the global financial crisis (GFC) is creating change, forcing governments to downsize, to rethink priorities for community support and development.

Change is coming from another direction too: the ethos of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is generating waves of corporate volunteering.  Corporates are going beyond conventional sponsorship and funding grants: active partnerships with non-profits are being pursued.  Even ‘Philanthropy’ gets a new connotation, loses its original glow of generosity, munificence and beneficence.  Now philanthropy is about venture capital for social change.

A whole new way of looking at the community and voluntary sector is evolving.  The social value of volunteering is increasingly seen in economic terms.  We trumpet the significant contribution volunteering and the NFP sector makes to GDP.  We are trying to improve reporting on volunteer impact beyond numbers and hours and donations in kind.  We look for ways to measure the social return on investment (SROI) in volunteering.  The word ‘social’ starts appearing in front of words I thought only bankers and accountants used: capital, innovation,  investment – and even New Zealand’s OCVS has a raft of papers and information social finance and social enterprise.  What will these terms mean for volunteers and
the community sector?  They sound good, but will they really do good?

Well – if we want to get volunteering and management of volunteers properly appreciated and recognised by those holding the purse-strings, then we need to learn and understand this language.  We need to be able to promote our causes and to argue our cases on an equal footing.

Yet in all the heady engagement between the not-for-profit sector and business and government, and with current trends in volunteering, I have not seen specific comment on the future for managers of volunteers.  Yes, we need to ride with changing times, adapt programmes to fit with the expectations of new generations of volunteers, be flexible innovative, creative.  But no-one has raised a direct question of what an alliance between public, private and community sectors might mean for managers of volunteers, and what will happen to volunteering further down the track.

What if CSR becomes the dominant source of volunteers, a formal process that may require a different style of management?  Different from the basic model of engaging individuals who want to ‘help’ add value to an organisation’s services?

That’s when managers of volunteers need to rise to Rob Jackson’s challenge: instead of organisations headed by “someone who knows how to make money … what we need is people-raising skills” (my emphasis).

We have been people-raising for several decades.  We have adapted to major change in the past.  Let’s demonstrate for the new era the know-how and can-do of our management expertise.

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