When the ASAE Foundation debuted its initiative ForesightWorks, an evidence-based research initiative which identifies critical trends and issues on the horizon for associations, volunteering wasn’t specifically listed as one of those the drivers. The reality, however, is that volunteers are in many respects central to all 42 drivers. That is, 21 were about our volunteers as much as they were about our staffs and the remaining 21 require that we have an active volunteer pool to activate our response to the trends.
Volunteering was officially named a driver last summer recognizing that associations must innovate their volunteering systems along with all the other systems on which associations depend. In fact, the Mutually Beneficial Volunteerism: Opportunities for Enhancing Volunteer Management Systems sounded the alarm in 2017. That study, led by Mariner Management and Whorton Marketing & Research, provided the data and findings that back up the Volunteer Driver.
Bottom line, what we understand is these cultural, demographic and technological changes are in fact altering not only the association’s work but also their volunteers’ expectations and experiences. We must begin to experiment with more flexible roles and structures in order for us to continue to tap this critical pool of workers.
The driver forecasts*:
- The aging and retirement of a large percentage of older workers will lead to the hollowing out of institutional knowledge of organizations that rely on these older workers serving in volunteer capacities.
- The rise of new business models, including remote work and distributed networks of ad hoc teams, will pose a challenge to established volunteering models. In truth, our rising volunteers will eschew the traditional centralized hierarchies in favor of a bottom up or grassroots approach.
- Improvements in media and communications technology, productivity programs, and association management software will enable more seamless blending of volunteer versus paid staff positions in organizations.
- Different generational experiences and expectations could lead to innovations in volunteering and reshape how volunteering is conducted; for example, micro volunteering features lower levels of commitment and smaller tasks.
Two important opportunities are available to associations when we reimagine our volunteer programs:
- Modernizing association volunteering systems to offer more flexible project focused models will provide opportunities that attract younger volunteers. Such a purpose-oriented approach will be more attractive to incoming generations and career-changers seeking more clearly defined and time-constrained opportunities for meaningful engagement with the association
- One of the hot buttons that came out of ForesightWorks is a call to accelerate decision-making. We understand that the digitization and the increasing rate of change is bringing a greater complexity and uncertainty to many of our organizations. Meanwhile, the traditional volunteer board and committees inherently slow down decision-making processes. So if we want to in essence bring in the next generation, embrace the new technologies and be able to assure that our organizations have what it takes to make the critical decisions in the moment of need, we should take a hard look at the volunteering driver and ask ourselves “How can we take our volunteer game to the next level?”.
Each year April brings us National Volunteer week. It’s April 19-25, 2020. What better time than that to do a deep dive into our volunteering system as an expression of our deep respect and appreciation for this vital part of our workforce?
How will you act?