The Big Picture

Andy Fryar October 9, 2010 1
The Big Picture


By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar

As a commentator and trainer in the field of volunteer management, I am often asked to talk about or cite major trends which I see emerging  which are likely to have a direct effect on volunteering and our ability to recruit, attract and retain volunteers.

Largely, it’s the same old list that many of us are discussing.

How can I recruit more volunteers to replace those who are ageing?     Recruiting and engaging younger volunteers     The impact of Generation Y on our programs     Social networking and the growth of technology as a tool for engaging and communicating with volunteers     Episodic volunteers     Engaging the corporate sector     The increased dependence of the not-for-profit sector on government handouts

In and of themselves, these are all important issues that deserve much attention and serious debate. After all, programs that wish to flourish must continue to seriously investigate  new ways to engage volunteers so that they can ensure the longevity and survival of their programs.

However focusing wholly on these issues as standalone problems and seeking only ever to find a quick and easy resolution of the same, can create the potential for a much greater oversight to occur, and it is this which I wanted to discuss in this month’s hot topic.

Have you ever become so engrossed in something that you lose all track of time? Can you remember a Sunday afternoon when you were doing a jigsaw or reading a book, only to look up and realise that the afternoon sun had long ago slipped over the horizon and darkness now surrounded you?

I am wondering if many of us are becoming so focussed on dealing with specific issues, that we are no longer properly observing our changing environs?

Here’s my point.

While individually the types of demographic and other social shifts I have outlined in the dot points at the top of this hot topic are all important , it is what happens when these issues begin to play out upon one another that is so much more worthy of our attention.

Or to put it another way, where these individual issues converge, we don’t simply have an individual ‘issue’ to deal with, we actually have a whole new environment in which we need to operate.

Consider the following:

Example One:

A decade or so ago, there was very little involvement in the voluntary sector by either the government or the corporate world. That is, the not-for-profit sector, government and the corporate world were all clearly distinct entities with largely separate roles. In recent years, the corporate world has increasingly entered the territory once ‘owned’ by NFP’s and government departments representing volunteering have in many cases taken away some of the traditional space filled by Volunteer Centres.

No longer is there a clear delineation about who does what – and more importantly, the challenges are far larger than simply discussing questions like ‘how do we engage corporate volunteers?’ or ‘how do we attract additional government funds?’

More pertinent questions exist such as ‘how do we survive and find a sense of place in this new landscape?’ or ‘what new opportunities and threats exist for the NFP sector in this new realm?’

Example Two:

Not so long ago, volunteer management was largely run on the premise that the Volunteer Manager was effectively the ‘boss’ of the volunteer program, and what he or she said, was what the volunteers of the program did!

The evolving involvement of Generation Y and the traits that they bring to the volunteer workplace, along with the increasing retirement of the Baby Boomer generation and the skills which they have to offer a volunteer workforce, demand that we ask questions much deeper than simply ‘how can I get more Gen Y volunteers involved?’ or ‘how do I deal with episodic volunteering?’

These new volunteers bring to our workplaces a vast array of skills and they are not afraid to say what they want in return. Simply seeking ways to engage these people is not enough. Instead, we need to be open to implementing fundamentally different models of leadership than those used in the past. Shared leadership and power. We need to be rethinking almost every sphere of our programs to ensure that people are engaged actively and effectively, and that they have a role in decision making.

Example Three:

It seems that for many, technology has been narrowed down to the following question – ‘How can I create a Facebook page to engage my volunteers?’ Again, I think that for many of us, we have focussed so much on this one small part of electronically engaging with volunteers (and most of us don’t do that well either) that we have completely missed the extent to which a whole array of technological processes are now contributing to the development of the voluntary sector.

For example, I read only recently that by 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access device in the world (*)

Are you exploring issues such as ‘how can volunteers interact with your agency electronically while they are on the go’? ‘How  are you using technology to engage volunteers in ways beyond Facebook’? and ‘how many Gen Y volunteers do you have working with you on these projects’?

The problem or a solution?

I am often asked what I think the solution to all this change will be, and my response is a simple one – Generation Y!

The significant challenges which are facing so many of us at this time – technology, change, differing models of leadership, adaption to new work settings and new players in the field, the ability to forge change, the need for flexible work places, entrepreneurial vision oh and did I mention change (!) are all things which Generation Y are ideally suited to not only cope with, but cope with easily

So, my challenge for all of us this month is to lift our eyes from the individual issues which are consuming us and take a broader look around at the changing landscape

I’d love to hear your thoughts about these musings and particularly any strategies that you have put into place to begin dealing with these issues

Over to you!



One Comment »

  1. andyf March 13, 2012 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Response posted by Sue Hine, Volunteer Management Advocate, Wellington, NZ on 18th October 2010

    Thank you Andy, for putting pieces of the jigsaw into place. As in other spheres, the pieces are part of a larger context, and we sure need to be aware of them in doing our planning and finding new strategies or solutions.

    I have been aware of your example one since the mid 1980s, when I first noticed the subtle shifts in demands on the NFP sector, particularly in funding and accountability, and a regulatory environment that put such emphasis on privacy, consumer rights and health and safety. This shake-up got us out of a mode of complacency, assuming all things come to those who hold out their hand long enough. We have not yet grasped the implications of the encroachment of corporate interests and government departments dedicated to the community and voluntary sector. A two-edged sword I think. We can be flattered by the courtship and material contributions, and see opportunity in influencing government policy decisions. But the threats of government and/or corporate takeover are there in the shadows if we have eyes to see them. There is no ‘solution’ – the issue is part of an evolutionary process. We should be debating “Do we join them, or strive to maintain our identity?” There is more than organisational survival at stake here.

    In your example two I think we should acknowledge that ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ are words that invoke ‘power’. Regardless of our humility and respect for volunteers it is what we do as managers and leaders, it is our behaviour – in communication, relationships and policy decisions – that demonstrate our exercise of power. I have always thought ‘leading from behind’ was the best way of managing, even though a former colleague said that was ‘pushing’! The art of leading volunteers is about enabling and facilitating, making the best of their skills and talents. Which gets me into the realm of sharing power and leadership. Which gets me into being creative and innovative in ways of connecting with volunteers, in meeting their interests, and most helpfully, sharing my responsibilities and workload.

    You are putting much store in technology Andy (example 3). Using technology is not my long suit. I have to confess I belong to the pre-baby-boomer generation, which makes me a bit of a dinosaur. Now I get on my hind legs and do a bit of a pre-historic roar to say just because I don’t know how to use the technology does not stop me understanding its power and advantages. Which is why engaging with Gen Y is exciting (1) because they can take charge and sort out those techy bits that need fixing; (2) they can design, plan and implement those new-fangled programmes that are going to keep attracting volunteers, and to keep them engaged; and (3) I might just learn a few tips to bring me up to speed, a little bit.

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