Thursday, 23 June 2011

Six Key Trends (and what they might mean for volunteerism)

I recently came across a good resource for small businesses called Start Up Donut. Their blogs and articles are helpful and I can reccomend following them on Twitter for their best links and bits of bit sized wisdom.

Last month, one of their articles caught my eye, "Six key trends to bear in mind when planning your business".  I thought the issues highlighted were potentially transferable to leaders and managers of volunteers so this blog aims to draw out what those parallels might be.

The tyranny of speed
We live life at a faster pace than before. We used to be content with 28 days delivery and now get stressed if delivery isn't available next day.  The expectations of volunteers and those seeking to volunteer are equally high. We need to respond quickly, making people wait wil communicate that we don't care and they'll end up going elsewhere. Even if all we do is acknowledge (and thank!) volunteers for getting in touch and advise them of when were likely to give a fuller response.

Like it or not, speed is of the essence.

The impossibility of controlling the market
We're starting to see websites that allow volunteers to rate their volunteering experiences (e.g. Timebank and Charity Republic). We're likely to see more of this in reponse to encouargement of such initiatives in the recent Giving White Paper.

The broader policy agenda of Big Society and associated deregulation efforts are encouraging more people to take action to meet social needs. Alongside this we have the growth of social entreprenurship and shifts to more volunteers wanting a say over their volunteering and having considerable skills to bring to the party.

We have less and less control over how people engage in volunteering and what they tell others about it. We need to be more agile, more flexible, more adaptable. We need to offer better experiences for volunteers and focus as much on their needs as what we want from them.

Be authentic in whatever you're planning
Following on from the previous trend, if we market volunteering as one thing and then deliver something very different people will glady share their bad experience with others. Using social media such messages can quickly travel far and wide leaving our reputation damaged.

We need to be able to walk our talk and deliver on what we offer volunteers. This authenticity and integrity is critical if we want to run a succesful volunteer programme.

Add more choice
When I was a child we had three TV channels. Now we have nearly 600 available in the UK.  We live our lives in an endless barrage of choice, from the coffee we drink to the destinations of the holidays we take.

We need to reflect this comfort with and desire for choice in the volunteering opportunities we offer. People don't want to see that they can do a couple of things with you, especially if they want a variety of experiences. So evaluate what your organisation's needs and desires are and explore the potential for a wide variety of ways for people to give you their time and skills.

Can you outsource any skills or processes?
As I mentioned earlier we have a richness of skills possesed by volunteers and potential volunteers like never before. From baby boomers with long high powered careers to some amazingly bright young people.

Many organisations have less money than in the past, especially with the cuts hitting public and voluntary sectors hard at the moment. Yet demand for services is increasing.

Faced with such challenges we have the opportunity to re-evaluate what volunteers can bring to the table. We mustn't limit our vision to that which we can afford to pay people to do. We have to look at the needs we must meet and decide how best we can meet them, incuding the powerful potential of volunteers.

The definition of scarcity has changed
The things we have a more freely available than ever before. The demands on our lives are greater than ever. Today, time is scarce. We all have the same amount each day but it is under pressure like never before. Even in this challenging financial season, our time is our most valuable resource.

So when people freely pledge their time to us we must not waste it. We need to make sure our volunteers have a rich experience and make a real difference to our causes.

So, those are my thoughts. Please share yours by making a comment below.

If you'd like to discuss what these trends might mean for your organistion then please get in touch to see how Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd might be able to help you.


  1. I am positing this on behalf of Alison Marino, Project Leader at Volunteer Centre Brighton & Hove.

    "I really enjoyed this article Rob. The 6 themes provide a thought-provoking architecture to what we are trying to achieve here at VC Brighton & Hove where, with 24hrs of paid staff time, we are trying to morph into a more modern, flexible and agile service. Anything that helps underpin the thinking behind our transition is really helpful not only in articulating our development to the outside world but also internally - change and transition is often difficult even when the path ahead has been consulted and agreed upon!"

    "It's also important, I feel, to be kicking against the Big Society 'slur' which, I fear, may immobilise much of the development needed in volunteering (re. outsourcing services). There have been times in the last few months where having a 'sensible' conversation about volunteering has been virtually impossible... as if it didn't preceed and won't succeed the current political agenda."

    "Lastly, whilst I would obviously shout about the value and role of Volunteer Centres, there is also something (as picked up above) about responding to change and recognising that gatekeeping information under the pretext e.g. of safeguarding volunteers may be a self-defeating notion. Volunteers (people) are intelligent in their choices, pro-active in where they seek them and ultimately go where they get results."

    "This must have been a thought-provoking post as I never write comments like this!"

  2. Great article Rob. It articulates really well the issues we need to address if we are going to successfully attract volunteers and ensure that they have an experience both meaningful for them and useful for the organisation/group they volunteer with.

  3. Volunteer Management (and the nonprofit sector in general) does not operate in a vacuum. Sometimes I see signs that this gets forgotten. This article serves as a good reminder of the realities in which we live.