The Changing Face of Volunteerism

volunteersI have worked with non-profits for a long time and over the last several years I have noticed a difference in how people volunteer. Most non-profits work with a lot of committees staffed with volunteers to get things done. But over the last decade, those committees have seen a significant decline in participation.

While serving with Clovis MainStreet, the board president, Lisa Dunagan and I began to explore different ways to engage volunteers.  MainStreet is a local, grass-rots organization that builds a foundation on the National MainStreet Four Point Approach and those Four Points represent four working committees. Or at least that is how it is supposed to work.

We found that those committees stumbled along staffed with 2-3 board members and occasionally engaging another volunteer or two.

Now this is not just about MainStreet, because I have seen the same trend in churches, civic organization and other volunteer based projects.

You know – the old 20-80% rule.

20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work.

It. Was. The. Same. Everywhere.

Occasionally, we would run across an anomaly in our conversations, but they were mostly in very urban areas and on the east or west coasts. Since we are based in New Mexico, it was easy to observe what was happening there and in neighboring states like Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona and Colorado. And we found that…

It. Was. The. Same. Everywhere.

There are lots of reasons why people are not engaging, but when we asked, we primarily heard these reasons:

  1. I volunteer because my heart is engaged with the mission of the organization.
  2. I don’t have time to waste. I need to get in, get something done and get out.
  3. I hate meetings.
  4. I want to get something out of volunteering.
  5. I am not sure what they want me to do.
  6. Give me a task and let me do it.


This led to a lot of brain-storming, more questions and a lot of research.

We learned that there are generational statistics that support our ideas.

We did an informal survey and found that 87% of the leaders we spoke with were frustrated with volunteer engagement and about the same number of volunteers were frustrated with the volunteer process/activities of the organizations they volunteered with.

We stumbled across the phrase “episodic volunteerism” and it rocked our world.

We began to look at the whole committee thing in a different light and ultimately migrated our program away from committees and to task squads.

The bottom line? Volunteerism is a changing and it is important for organizations to evolve and meet the needs of those volunteers to continue to receive their support.


Planning for Transitions

Change ahead isolated sign

Change is hard. Whether you are the one doing the changing, or if you are affected by someone else’s change… it is hard.

It is also hard to plan for change.

Recently, I stepped down from directing a non-profit that I had contracted with for over eight years. We had talked about a change in leadership, but it was always someday… down the road.

Then suddenly, a few things shifted around and it was clear that a change was coming.

Luckily, we had a couple of months to plan and strategize through the change to a new director and search for a new office, but I know that is not always the case. Either way it will not be easy, but here are a few things I found were helpful in planning for the transition in leadership and location.

1. Write things down. Take some time to record schedules, due dates, reporting deadlines, grant cycles, web addresses, contact information and passwords related to the organizational activities.  I created a spreadsheet with weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual dates (or approximates) for all of the organizations activities, reporting and projects. I also created a document with lists of websites, log-in information and general information related to all the activities, reporting and projects. Finally, I created a timeline and plugged the quarterly and annual items into each month for a quick overview. It would be a great idea to have this information available at any time because change does not alway warn us that it is coming.

Hopefully someone is there to train the newbie, but sometimes there are situations where this is not the case. It is really frustrating to come into a new position and not know the basics of the day-to-day operations of an organization or business.

2. Get things done as early as possible. If there is maintenance that needs to happen to your office, equipment or supplies, get it done. Call and schedule the maintenance to have it completed before the transition. Our copier was due for a cleaning and the company scheduled to come pick it up and have the work done before being delivered to the new location.

3. Get the word out. It depends on the type of business or organization you are working with, but this nonprofit needed to let the community know that leadership was changing. Once the new director was hired, we sent out a press release to all the local media and announced it on the website and Facebook page. This gives partners time to see the transition and to be comfortable with the new leader.

4. Let go and step aside. Give the leader time to find their feet without your presence standing over their shoulder. A new leader will do things differently and it is important to give them the freedom to move forward, make their own decisions and set their own course for the organization.

Some of these are harder than others, but taking the time and effort to plan for a transition prepares the organization you have invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears into, to continue to thrive and grow.




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