Volunteering trends coming in 2024

The future of volunteering

Last year, around this time, I wrote about volunteering trends to watch for in 2023.

It was quite popular, so I decided to take a second look into my very cracked and cloudy crystal ball and see what I could see for 2024. Here are the eight trends that I think might affect your program in the coming year.

1. Net-zero volunteering

With ever-increasing concerns about climate change, people are starting to look at volunteering and how volunteer programs can do their part in reducing carbon (emissions). Some ideas are to increase remote volunteering options, make it easy for volunteers to carpool to events and provide digital copies of volunteer handbooks rather than paper ones. More ideas can be found here.

2. The rise of multi-generational homes

The cost of living, at least in western countries, is pushing housing into the realm of impossibility for many people. Add that to the rising cost of care for seniors with challenges and it’s becoming more and more common to have three or even more generations in one home. What does that mean for volunteering? Programs need to start looking at ways to involve all generations. Provide opportunities where children, parents and grandparents can all help out together.

3. People working longer hours

Another impact of the cost of living crisis is people are taking on two or three jobs just to make ends meet. That leaves them far less time, or energy, to volunteer. How could you deal with that? Offer shorter shifts and more remote opportunities. Also look at one-off tasks, where people with a bit of time to spare can come in and do something to help without a long-term commitment.

4. Alternative recruitment options

You know volunteers are looking for a different volunteer experiences than pre-pandemic. They’re also looking in different places to find volunteer opportunities. While word of mouth will never go out of style, new ways of attracting volunteers are gaining traction—for example, “timeraisers,” auctions where you pay for your purchases with service hours to a specified charity. Consider different ways you can attract volunteers.

5. Artificial intelligence

AI is only the latest of the tech crazes, but it’s a big one and it will start affecting how you do things in your volunteer program. Many organizations are already using tools such as ChatGPT to write volunteer postings and impact statements. With the speed this technology is moving, I expect to see “chat bots” on the websites of larger organizations answering questions about volunteer opportunities. Also watch for the bigger volunteer management software programs adding AI functionality to their systems.

6. Cyber-security

Technology can be good or bad, depending on whose hands it’s in. The tools that are making it easier to increase our impact in the world are also making it easier for the bad guys to increase their impact. More and more attention needs to be put on protecting the personal data of volunteers and clients. Thinking that you’re too small to attract that kind of criminal won’t cut it anymore.

7. Volunteer passports

This isn’t a new trend, but it is gaining momentum. More and more organizations are seeing the benefits of collaboration and sharing of resources, including volunteers. (This makes me very happy.) Sharing volunteers, though, means that there has to be an easier way for volunteers to move between organizations. Volunteer passports could provide that way. You can read more about them here.

8. Corporate social responsibility

Large corporations, and sometimes even very small companies, are starting to realize the benefits of being seen as community supporters. Having a corporate volunteering strategy not only provides the company with good public relations opportunities, it’s also a great way to attract high-quality employees. People want to have a higher purpose attached to their work so they look for companies that can supply that. What local companies can provide you with volunteers?

So that’s what I’ve seen in my crystal ball.

Some of these trends may affect you more than others but they’re all worth keeping an eye on. The world of volunteering is changing, and taking the time to consider how things in the larger world may influence us can give us the opportunity to be proactive and be prepared for when things change— and they will. Having your head in the sand is never a good look.

I hope this helps.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


The trouble with high expectations of new volunteers

Pre-trained volunteers

What are your expectations of new volunteers?

Over the past month, I’ve had two separate clients express frustration with how hard it is to find volunteers who are already trained. You read that correctly. They are looking for volunteers who can walk right in and start helping with the absolute minimum of training by the volunteer leader.

I get it. We are all super busy, and many leaders of volunteers do that role in addition to other work. It would be so much easier if we could recruit volunteers who already have the skills and experience necessary so that we can put our time and energy into other aspects of the program.

But if your expectations of new volunteers are too high, you’re setting the volunteer and yourself up for failure. And you won’t save any time in the long run.

Training a volunteer does more than just teach them how to do things. The time spent with them starts building the relationship and rapport that will make a new volunteer feel welcome and part of the team. Even if a volunteer comes in knowing how to do the role, by neglecting this step, you leave them feeling a bit like an outsider.

It will take longer for them to get to know you, the organization’s culture and the small differences in how you do things vs how their previous organization did. All of which prevents them from really feeling like part of the organization and leading to less loyalty. Leading to higher turnover. Leading to you spending more time recruiting.

Also, when your expectations of new volunteers are too high, recruitment takes a lot longer.

Let’s face it, many people volunteer to gain or improve skills. If you only take those who already have those skills, you shrink your potential volunteer pool.

Take an organization that is looking for a volunteer graphic designer. Many of the people who are really good at it already do it as their day-to-day job. Doing it on the weekends or in the evenings probably isn’t too appealing. You may find someone who’s retired from the role, or who is a very good amateur, but that’s a small number compared with those who might want to learn the skill or improve it.

What amazing volunteer might you be missing out on because you set your sights too high?

If you take the time to train someone in a skill they value, they are more likely to develop an appreciation and loyalty for you and the organization.

I know, I know. You’ve probably trained a lot of volunteers only to see them disappear after a month. But what about the ones that didn’t? Personally, I know several people who are still with the organization that trained them years later. Some of them are now actually staff members there. If someone hadn’t taken the time to train and nurture them, it is unlikely they would have had that loyalty. Think about the long-term volunteers in your program. How many of them walked in already knowing everything?

But what about the ones who do disappear? There are a lot of them. I’m not pretending otherwise, and it’s frustrating to spend the time training someone who isn’t going to stick around. They’re not a complete lost cause, though, for two reasons. The first is even if they stuck around longer, it’s unlikely that they would ever have become a superstar, long-term volunteer. They may just be the type of person who values change and new experiences. They’ve seen what you have to offer them and now they want to see what another organization offers.

It’s not that they’re “shopping around,” just that they get bored with one thing more quickly than others. That habit may be something you can screen for during recruitment.

The second reason is if the experience they had while they were with you was enjoyable and if they value the learning they received (maybe they even got a new job out of it), they will leave with a good impression of the organization and may be willing to share that impression with other people. Even past volunteers make excellent ambassadors.

The desire to have new volunteers come in already trained is understandable, but counter-productive. Yes, it’s hard to find the time to train everyone and yes, many volunteers you train will not stick around. But having high expectations of new volunteers in terms of knowledge and skills won’t save you time in the long run. Quite the opposite.

Being willing to take on volunteers who don’t have the skills you are looking for widens the pool of talent you can draw from. Training them helps build strong relationships and strong relationships increase loyalty.

All of that saves more time than you would spend in training.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Creative ways to recognize volunteers who help your organization

Creative gifts for volunteers

It’s that time of year again.

Leaders of volunteers are thinking about the upcoming holidays and wondering what gifts to get their beloved volunteers. I wrote about this last year, but this time I wanted to suggest things that are a bit more unusual.

There’s nothing wrong with the old favourites, of course—branded swag, gift certificates or handwritten cards. Sometimes, though, you want something just a little bit different.

I’ve put together ideas for creative gifts for volunteers. Not all of these will work for everyone, and some may take more time than you have right now if you want them for this holiday season, but I can promise you that these gifts will be remembered.

Star naming certificate: Dedicate a star to each volunteer, complete with a certificate commemorating their stellar contributions to the organization.

Time capsule: Create a time capsule filled with photos, notes, and predictions for the future, to be opened by the volunteer on a significant date. This may not work if you have a lot of volunteers, but for smaller organizations, it’s perfect.

Personalized comic book: Work with a local artist to craft a comic book that tells the story of the organization with volunteers in the role of superheroes. This might take some time, but it’s easy to mail and something that you can send to every one of your volunteers.

Virtual escape room experience: Gift volunteers with a virtual escape room challenge, allowing them to enjoy a unique and collaborative adventure from the comfort of their homes. These can be set up for large groups, small groups or even individuals. Some of them are free.

Personalized puzzle: Craft a custom jigsaw puzzle featuring a photo illustrating the impact volunteers have made with the organization. A lot of places that do branded mugs and such will do jigsaw puzzles as well, and a lot of them will give discounts for bulk orders.

Skill-building workshops: Offer workshops or training sessions that align with the volunteers' interests or provide opportunities for personal and professional development. Are any of your staff experts in gourmet cooking, woodworking, or conflict resolution? Ask them if they would put on a workshop.

Exclusive volunteer experiences: Arrange exclusive experiences, like behind-the-scenes tours or special access to events. They don’t have to be major things; a behind-the-scenes tour of the local donut shop would likely be appreciated, especially if there were free samples at the end.

Photo collage or scrapbook: Compile photos and memories into a collage or scrapbook, capturing the volunteer's journey with the organization. Again, this one might not be possible for large organizations with dozens or hundreds of volunteers.

Impact reports: Share personalized impact reports illustrating the specific ways each volunteer has contributed to the organization's success. This one might be best for next year, so that you have time to gather the necessary information.

Plant a tree in their name: Thank volunteers and contribute to environmental sustainability by having a tree planted in honour of each volunteer, providing a lasting and eco-friendly tribute. Everybody loves trees.

As I said, not every one of these will work for all organizations. Remember, the key is not to just have creative gifts. It’s to make those gifts thoughtful and, if possible, aligned with the volunteer's contributions, creating a lasting and positive impression.

If you have any other ideas for creative gifts for volunteers, share them with me and I’ll share them with others. The more ideas the better.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Scaling impact through collaboration

Working together

I have always been a massive advocate for collaboration between organizations.

Working together has always been at the heart of making meaningful change and is, in my opinion, the key to scaling impact in our sector. Not everyone, though, truly understands the benefits, and fewer still really know how to put such a collaboration together.

Let’s start by highlighting those benefits:

Together we do more—When organizations join forces, their collective efforts can achieve far more than what they could accomplish individually. Collaborative initiatives enable pooling of resources, expertise, and networks, resulting in a more significant impact on the causes they serve.

Conserving resources—Collaboration allows organizations to optimize their resources, both human and financial. Let’s face it, most of us run our programs on a very limited (and in some cases almost non-existent) budget. By sharing responsibilities and leveraging each other's strengths, social impact organizations can accomplish more with those limited resources, making their efforts more sustainable in the long run.

Providing holistic services—During the wildfires we experienced in B.C. (and across Canada) this past summer, collaboration between emergency response organizations, animal shelters, mental health providers and other organizations was essential. By working together, pooling their resources, and sharing facilities, these organizations made it possible for affected households to have access to everything they might need. This collaborative approach maximized the impact of relief efforts during these challenging times.

Increased visibility and awareness—Every April, I have the honour to co-host a community volunteer fair. Up to 30 different organizations come together in a local mall to recruit volunteers and raise awareness of the different services that are available in our community. Individual open houses and recruitment drives are useful, but having so many organizations get together in one place at one time draws far more attention from both potential supporters and from the media.

Strengthened advocacy—Collaborative partnerships provide a solid front for advocating for change. As with raising community awareness, social impact organizations can more effectively influence governmental policies and regulations when they speak with a unified voice.

So, assuming I have convinced you of the importance of collaboration, how do you go about setting up such a beast?

First, identify other organizations that have complementary goals. For example, a therapeutic riding association whose mission is to heal through horses could team up with a group that helps women survive domestic abuse. Learning to control a 1,000-pound animal can help the women feel more control in their daily lives. If organizations can clearly define the purpose of their partnership and articulate the common objectives they aim to achieve together, this shared vision serves as the foundation for the collaboration.

Build trust.Trust is the cornerstone of any successful collaboration. Establishing open and honest communication among participating organizations is vital. Transparency about goals, strategies, and decision-making processes fosters trust and ensures everyone is on the same page.

Leverage each other’s strengths. Every organization brings unique strengths to the table. It's essential to identify these and use them effectively within the collaboration. By understanding each other's expertise, resources, and networks, organizations can maximize their collective impact.

Develop clear communication channels. Open, regular, and respectful communication is key to any successful collaboration. Establishing effective communication channels, such as regular meetings, shared online platforms, and collaborative tools, facilitates the exchange of ideas, updates, and feedback among participating organizations.

Constantly improve and celebrate. Learning from challenges and setbacks helps the organizations continuously improve. Reflecting on obstacles faced and finding solutions together strengthens each individual organization as well as the collaboration itself. Equally important is celebrating achievements, no matter how small. It boosts morale and reinforces the value of collaboration. Both improvement and celebrations prepare organizations for future endeavours and challenges.

Collaboration between social impact organizations holds immense potential to dramatically scale impact in our communities. By recognizing the benefits of collaboration and following these steps, organizations can harness their collective power, scale their impact, and create a better world for all.

Together, we can achieve more and make a lasting difference in the lives of those we serve.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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