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4 New Volunteer Trends To Watch

Lori Halley 15 January 2014 0 comments

Most non-profits and membership organizations depend on volunteers in order to meet their mission. So at this time of year, many of you are either in the midst of orienting a new wave of volunteers or realizing that you need to recruit additional support. If that’s the case, there are a few shifts and trends impacting volunteerism that you might want to consider.

Last week VolunteerMatch presented a Nonprofit Insights webinar called:  Future Forecast: Four Big Shifts That Will Change Volunteerism...for the Better. While I was unable to attend the live session, I watched the video and wanted to offer a recap of some of the highlights. 

The webinar was led by Tobi Johnson, a non-profit consultant who helps organizations attract, inspire and mobilize volunteers. Tobi started by reminding us that today’s world of volunteer management is very different than it used to be. It is more public due to social media, which offers challenges as well as new opportunities for engagement. In addition, technological advances and societal changes are forcing volunteer managers to become more sophisticated to keep up. To help, Tobi outlined the impact these changes will have on volunteering and identified 4 shifts and trends to consider as you plan for the coming year. 

Trend #1: Advances in brain science & neuroleadership

While these terms sound very scientific and academic, the key points Tobi made here were that if we develop an understand of how brains function, we can better understand and empathize with our volunteers in order to offer an optimal volunteer experience. In her words, we can develop “volunteer administration practices that work with human nature not against it” 

Tobi offered a number of insights, but one that was key for me was that…

“work productivity does not generate happiness. In fact it is the other way around – happiness generates results in the workplace”

Apparently, there is research that indicates that “happiness is something we can promote and cultivate”. So, for example, when volunteer leaders or staff get stressed out, instead of forcing volunteers to share in this stress, we can find ways of encouraging happiness and developing “gratitude rituals” to “inoculate against negativity.” 

What does this mean for volunteer managers? 

Tobi’s suggestions for shifting to “using brain science” with volunteers include:

  • Moving away from “legacy volunteer program policies and procedures” and toward “use of human motivational triggers to develop leaders”
  • Instead of relying on “charismatic (and rare) volunteer leaders... focus on minimizing threat and maximizing reward in organizational cultures”
  • Substituting “traditional volunteer reward and recognition activities” with practices that ‘cultivate team happiness “through evidence-based practices and team traditions.”

Trend #2: Discoveries in human performance & talent development 

Since, as Tobi noted, “non-profits are all about collaboration”, she suggested we should look to research on “talent development” to help us “better understand what motivates and inspires human performance to develop volunteer training and onboarding that is inspiring, fulfilling and makes the most of volunteer skills and talent.” 

For example, in terms of insight into motivation, Tobi noted that researchers have discovered that rather than being concerned about efficiency, today workers (and volunteers) are focused on finding meaning in the workplace. We all know that the key reason most people volunteer is to “make a difference."  We’ve also blogged about research into volunteer motivation that also confirms that what folks want most from their volunteer experience is to understand how their efforts have made a difference.   

For insight into trends on “talent development”, Tobi noted that new research suggests that people learn better with informal versus formal, classroom-style training. Peer-to peer training is especially effective. 

Challenges for volunteer managers: 

Tobi's suggestions in terms of human performance and talent development included:

  • Informal volunteer-led learning networks [e.g., peer-to-peer]
  • Use of best practices in talent development, directly aligned with program goals
  • The deeper meaning of work [should be] reflected in volunteer recognition [and allowing volunteers to be more empowered and “have a say in their work” – rather than “plaques and pins”] 

Trend #3: Migration from solely virtual to virtual and mobile 

Tobi noted that many organizations are already using virtual volunteers and allowing volunteers to work remotely.  But with the ever increasing Smartphone usage for web access, and the growing numbers of telecommuters and virtual teams, Tobi suggested that organizations need to start thinking about how they can better enable volunteering via mobile. This, she suggests, means “aligning organization and volunteer and communication media and methods”. For example, 

  • [Rather than over-reliance on a single communications method] Volunteer communication strategies [should] align with mobile lifestyles
  • [Instead of one-way volunteer information blasts, organizations should work towards] two-way, social communication that fosters a greater sense of community
  • Deliberate strategies to reduce perceived virtual distance [e.g., having information on a wiki that volunteers can access via mobile; websites that offer responsive design; video training that can be viewed on a Smartphone, etc.] 

Trend #4: The increasing importance of data 

The final trend that Tobi noted in the webinar was the importance of “harnessing and analyzing data in manageable, affordable and scalable ways in order to improve individual volunteer programs and the field of volunteerism as a whole.”  This means we need to establish industry benchmarks but also that each organization should think about what data you can gather on, for example, the number of volunteer hours; retention rates; level of involvement; return on investment, etc. 

Tobi suggested the following examples as to how data could be used to better manage our volunteers: 

  • Common performance indicators and benchmarks used for program accountability
  • Global collaborative data sharing to inform evidence-based practice
  • Experimentation and failure embraced for what it can teach us 

Applying this insight to your volunteer program

Tobi finished the webinar by reminding us that “volunteering is really about self actualization”. So if and when you decide to make changes to your organization’s volunteer procedures or programs, you need to ask yourself “will the change help facilitate a deeper sense of connectedness between our volunteers, our community and our cause?” Tobi suggest that if it doesn’t tap into that deeper sense of connection, it probably shouldn’t be your top priority.

Check out the entire webinar presentation

This is just a high level overview of this great VolunteerMatch presentation by Tobi Johnson. If you’d like to watch the entire webinar video (via YouTube) – you can download it here: Nonprofit Insights Webinar: Future Forecast: Four Big Shifts That Will Change Volunteerism...For the Better.

How do you think these four trends will impact your volunteer program in 2014? Let us know in the comments below.

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 15 January 2014 at 8:30 AM
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