Episode #014: New Volunteer Vision with Rob Jackson

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you. 

TOBI: Well, hello there, and welcome to another episode of Volunteer Nation. This week, we are talking with Rob Jackson about a new vision for volunteerism, specifically in England. 

In the UK, a Vision for Volunteering was released on May 6th of this year, and it’s a collaborative effort by several organizations and we’re going to get into it and talk about our responses to it. But basically, what we wanted to do was amplify this fantastic work.  

But before I get started, I want to introduce Rob. Rob and I have known each other for, say a decade. What do you think, Rob?  

ROB: Yeah, I think Florida 2016 rings bells, but it might’ve been longer ago than that.  

TOBI: Yeah, I think for the hybrid conference with Better Impact and Alive. But I think before that we met at a Points of Light conference. 

Rob is the director of Rob Jackson Consulting Limited, a consultancy and training company that helps engage and inspire people to bring about change. Rob has almost 30 years’ experience working in the voluntary and community sector, including a variety of strategic development and senior management roles that have focused on leading and engaging volunteers.  

We have a lot in common, you and I, Rob. Robert has run his company since 2011, working with a wide range of clients in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the USA and Canada. Rob is the coauthor of the Complete Volunteer Management Handbook and From the Top Down, which I think you wrote with the late, great Susan Ellis, yes?  

ROB: Yeah, that’s right, back in 2015.  

TOBI: You also do a few other things that aren’t in your short bio that I just wanted to mention, and we’ll put links in the show notes to these things. You also, with Erin Spink edit or co-edit the Engaged Online Journal for Leaders of Volunteers, which is a fantastic journal. Rob is also the host of the podcast, Advancing the Profession, which I was on as a guest at one point.  

So you’ve done a lot. Written books, run a podcast, edited journal and continue to do those things. Been a huge voice around the world in volunteerism and leading volunteerism. So, I am really excited to have this conversation.  

We can be a little wonky, little pundit-y, which is always a joy, but I also think the work is so important. The way the work was done to create this new volunteer vision that I think it is an inspiration for the world. And I think other people should continue the work even further. So, let’s talk about this.  

So, the Vision for Volunteering was just released as we talked about, I just mentioned on May 6th. It’s a collaborative effort by NAVCA, NCVO. Volunteering Matters, The Association of Volunteer Managers and Sport England, and offers several aspirational goals about volunteerism and what it should look like in about 10 years. 

And gang…I will put tons of links in the show notes so that folks can check out these organizations and their important work. But let me ask you, describe what you know about the inception of the project and its ultimate aims. And we’ll kind of work through what this is all about, what they came up with at the end, what the recommendations are, et cetera.  

ROB: Sure. Thanks, Tobi. So the Vision for Volunteering is, as you say, an initiative, a number of different organization. Work started on it probably about a year ago, but the history of this kind of thing, you need to go back to 2008.  

So 2008, there was a piece of work published called the Manifesto for Change. So it was the result of something called the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, something that the Volunteering England, which is in 2013, got rolled into NCVO, did to set an agenda for the future of volunteering. 

Really interesting piece of work. And about two years after it was launched, we had a change in a national government In the UK. We went from a labor government to a coalition government led by the conservatives. And inevitably when you get a big change in government like that, the work that was done before just kind of disappeared. 

it was never funded. It just kind of petered out. And NCVO and those other agencies that you mentioned, about a year ago recognized that we were at that point where vaccinations were being rolled out, there was hope that the COVID would subside.  

There’d been a lot of talk and debate about the potential growth of volunteering over the first year or so of lockdowns, and whether there was a moment here to set an agenda, to think about how we might want volunteering to transform over the course of the next decade, partly because of the transformation that we saw during the worst elements of the pandemic, but also because it just felt like the right time for a bit of change.  

So they, they convened themselves together. They did a lot of the legwork of interviewing people and holding focus groups and getting submissions in. And I think the original intention was this was something that was probably going to take six months and inevitably it kind of grew a bit of a life of its own and took almost a year to do. 

And I think that was a good thing because it allowed for more input, it allowed for more reflection. And so what we have now, it’s not a roadmap. It’s not a strategy. It’s not funded. It is very much an aspirational vision based on the input of loads of different people.  

This is where we would like to see volunteering being in England in 2032, and it’s now down to anybody who considers themselves a stakeholder in that. Volunteer manager, volunteer evolving organization, public/private voluntary sector, government funder, to make commitments as to how they are now going to take that work forward and make that vision a reality in your own program, in your own organization, in your town, your city, your country, however you want to go about doing it. 

TOBI: Fantastic. I mean, what a great initiative of leadership. What I found really interesting first off was the very design of the project. The way input was collected speaks to some of that vision, right? It could have just been okay, we’re going to send out a survey, we’re going to collect responses via a questionnaire, and we’re going to aggregate that. 

We’re going to do some cross tab analysis. We’re going to understand the trends and we’re going to report it back, which is great. I mean, the time well spent study was amazing.  

The results from that, it was very helpful. So there’s a role for that type of research, but this is different. This is coalition building is almost baked into the process of input. Would you agree?  

ROB: Absolutely. And, you see that right from the organizations who are leading on this piece of work. So NAVCA, the national body who represent local councils for voluntary service, so local infrastructure bodies who support the voluntary and community sector.  

The Association of Volunteer Managers is our equivalent of AL!VE. And NCVO is like the national representative body for voluntary sector organizations. Volunteering Matters is a national body around volunteering. Sport England is a bit does what it says on the 10, you know, there are, are kind of lead agency. Sport is the biggest form of volunteer involvement right across the UK.  

So right from the start, it’s kind of, as you say, baked in at that top level, but then when you look at the, and you can see the list on the website, you look at the list of people who were on the steering group and organizations, including government and youth organizations, funders, local agencies.  

And then you go down that list and you look at all the organizations that either submitted or were involved in some way, shape or form. It’s hugely diverse. I mean, we’ve got hundreds, tens of thousands of charities in this country. So of course, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all of them.  

But if you look down that list, it’s a really diverse dynamic array of organizations who’ve really proactively put a lot of work and effort into coming up with something that on the one hand, I don’t think anybody could disagree with. I think if a lot of people looked sick, they will go well. Yeah, that kind of makes sense. I haven’t, we seen something like this before, but I, I think that misses the point, because it’s, it’s aspirational.  

There’s enough touchstones in there for people with their current practice, but to connect with it, but also to be really challenged and inspired to kind of think, if we get 10 years on from here and we’re exactly the same place with volunteering, dealing with exactly the same issues and exactly the same questions.  

I know you’ve talked about this on this podcast and on the Time+Talent podcast as well, and we’ve spoken about it separately, then we will be doing a huge disservice to the moment of opportunity that we have at the moment.  

TOBI: Yeah. Yeah. And so needed. I mean, do you think there is a breakthrough moment happening right now due to the pandemic epiphany? You know, epiphany’s around the pandemic as well as world crises as well.  

I mean, it’s just a very turbulent time on a lot of different and sometimes turbulence creates disruption in which creates space for change. Do you think this is one of those moments, I guess, where we’re sort of predicting a little bit, it’s kind of interesting to think about 

ROB:  It is. I don’t know, is the honest answer. I mean, I, I think probably the biggest moment for transformation and change in regard to volunteering in the pandemic was when we got to the end of our first lock down here, which was almost two years ago, because I think that first locked down was a really transformative moment when, for the first time since the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012, when everybody was like, whoo-hoo volunteers! And that, you know, volunteering was cool and sexy for the first time, probably ever. 

That moment of that first lockdown, when even if people weren’t calling themselves volunteers and they weren’t talking about volunteering, they were talking about mutual aid, neighbor looking after neighbor, helping out, helping everybody out, something as simple as what everybody did was stand on the doorstep at 8:00 PM every Thursday and clap people in the NHS and key sector workers, just all of that really felt like volunteering had been elevated to a different position in society. 

It wasn’t something that people did to take paid jobs off people. It wasn’t something that was kind of second tier menial. It was really high profile. And that moment was kind of there for that first lockdown. I don’t think that moment’s been there in the same way since.  

I mean, pro bono economics over here, they estimated that there were 6 million fewer volunteers in our second lockdown, which was kind of November 2020, compared to the spring of 2020, because people got used to working from home. Not so many people were furloughed. There was homeschooling, there was all of those.  

So part of me thinks that moment passed two years ago, but then another part of me says actually, one of the really good things, probably the only really good thing to come out of COVID is it has given us all an excuse to hit a really big reset button, whether that’s in how we live our lives individually, how we conceive of our place within society, within an organization, what the role and status of volunteering is we all have this kind of moment, hopefully coming out of the pandemic If the trajectory keeps going the way it does, that we can say, do you know what those last two years of behind us, we’ve ended up doing things out of necessity rather than out of choice.  

Some of it’s been really bad, and we want to lose that. Some of it’s been really good, and we want to hang on to that. So, now’s the time to press the big reset button, and what the vision does is I think provide some provocation for the conversation that needs to happen when we press that reset button around volunteering.  

So, I know we’ll come on and we’ll talk about the different aspects of the vision, but I think some of that’s going to be quite challenging for organizations to think about.  

TOBI: Totally agree. Let’s dig in a little bit to the vision. It includes five pillars. We’re going to go through these. I’ll list them off. And then maybe we’ll talk about what you find most interesting about these themes. One of the things that I, you know, when I was reading through these, I thought, well, this is just really good “business” when it comes to leading.  

But when I looked at this list, I said, well, these, any of these or all of these in combination will create better outcomes for purpose driven organizations. It’s just good practice, right? Yeah. But let’s go, let me just re read them off. And then maybe you can respond.  

One is awareness and appreciation. And again, this is aspirational, so that language, and I’ll post a link to the entire website in the show notes. There’s a lot of additional info, but we’re going to do a sort of Reader’s Digest condensed version, but awareness and appreciation. We want a future in which a culture of volunteering is further imagined in this collective psyche part of everyone’s life.  

And I think that’s true, as you said in the pandemic, but, you know, informal volunteering, we don’t even know the extent of it. And we know around the world, it’s much more prevalent than formal volunteering.  

Power, which I I’ve been talking about for a long time volunteers in the communities, they serve have power and our leaders. So, there’s a shared aspiration for shared power. 

Equity and inclusion, which sort of goes without saying that it belongs here. We want volunteering to be accessible and welcoming to everyone everywhere so that the benefits of volunteering to individuals and communities are equally distributed. 

Collaboration. We want a future where collaboration is a fluid, flexible, and spontaneous part of volunteering. And I think that kind of goes along with power and equity as well. And collaboration is the new competition. I mean, you don’t get anywhere without great collaboration.  

Experimentation. The COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us innovate, experiment, and embrace flexibility like never before, as the crisis abates, we must ensure that that spirit is not discarded. This is my favorite part. Experimentation should become a natural part of volunteering, not a temporary bolt-on. I love that.  

So of those, which pop out to you, or which are the most interesting or intriguing to you, or which have the most promise?  

ROB: All of them, 

TOBI: Well, you don’t have to, you don’t have to pick a favorite child. It’s okay. 

ROB: I didn’t write a report, so I don’t have to say that, but I mean, I think some of them are obvious, you know, we, the equity and inclusion, I, I took people around the world. Talk about the EDI. I talk about, I, I prefer to use IDEA. So it’s about inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. That’s the bit that a lot of those acronyms miss out.  

And I think, you know, since the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, this has been a debate that’s raged in many countries, yours, mine, others around the world. I think it’s absolutely spot on that. It’s happening in volunteering. It’s absolutely spot on that is happening around inclusion, diversity, equity, and access in a whole range of different ways.  

So, I think that one’s probably the most obvious one in there, but one of the things that I think, I actually think this is the one where organizations are going to have to grapple with it more quickly than possibly some of the others, because we’re living through a cost of living crisis at the moment.  

You know, the UK in particular is having this, not just because of all the global turmoil, but because of the economic impact of Brexit as well, which is why we’re performing so badly as an economy compared to other developed economies. I’m already seeing this in hearing from organizations about volunteers who’ve never claimed expenses before are now asking to claim, about volunteers asking to be able to claim more money than before.  

And people might be listening to this and thinking, well, that’s expenses. What’s that got to do with anything? It, reimbursement of expenses is an inclusion, diversity, equity and access issue. If we’re not offering people that money, we’re saying only those people who can afford to be out of pocket, come volunteer for us with shrinking that pool because more and more people are struggling to pay the bills, put food on the table, heat their homes for crying out loud, let alone think about volunteering as well.  

So, I think this is going to be, that’s going to be the most immediate test. I think for organizations, some of them are much longer term. I mean, I love it when I used to come to the states, I hope I’ll get to come to the states regularly again, because there’s this real, I feel anyway, as a Brit coming over there, there’s this real celebration and acknowledgement of the place of volunteers in day-to-day society.  

You know, I, I got to Walmart or Costco and people are there proudly wearing their “I Volunteered Today” t-shirt. And then maybe it’s just the British reserve, but we’d never kind of do that. We’d never shout about ourselves in any way, shape or form, but volunteering in our society.  

And, you know, I said about sport, the vast majority of volunteers in this country get involved in sport. If you took all volunteers out of sport, sport at an elite and a local level just stops, the criminal justice system stops. The health system stops. The education system stops. Just isn’t the appreciation that actually volunteers are pretty fundamental to the day-to-day operation of our society.  

And for me, one of the things that came out of COVID is, you know, most of our programs certainly here in England, that we’re getting the COVID vaccine into people’s arms. You pretty much had a 50-50 chance as to whether you were going to get that injection from a professional nurse or from a trained volunteer. 

You know, now before COVID, if you’d have said, volunteers are going to do exactly the same, same job as a paid professional people would have thrown their toys out of the pram. They would have been screaming. You can’t have volunteers doing that work. As soon as it comes to major crisis and a public health issue like that.  

But for once is do that every day. If you get in trouble off the coast of the United Kingdom, you’re rescued by the RNLI. They are volunteers. If you don’t want to have, you want to wait to be rescued by a paid member of staff you’ll die before they turn up, because they’re just not there. So, I think that that awareness and appreciation is going to be something that’s going to be longer. 

Are we going to hit it in 10 years? I hope so. I’m not sure that legacy of the Olympics hasn’t happened, but you know, we’re 10 years on from that, but we’ll see, we’ll see. But some of those things about power structures, that’s not new. They were talking about that 12 years ago when we had a change in government with something called the big society where it was about pushing power down to local communities. 

It never happened. Cause it got tied up with public funding cuts. So, it was seen as a substitution for something, but he’s absolutely right and commend the authors of the vision that that should be in there. It should, you know, local people have the solutions to local issues.  

They have the potential, it’s not all vested in top-down infrastructure through government, through volunteering community sector. Collaboration should be baked into the way that we go about doing this thing. And experimentation for me, there isn’t a charity in this country, pretty much that didn’t start with volunteers experimenting with a solution to something.  

And we almost got to the point where we’re so terrified of risk and we’re so desperate to avoid it, that we kind of design experimentation out of our organizations and away from volunteers. And actually, volunteers remain a really exciting dynamic potential way for new solutions and new things to be true.  

You look at groups like Extinction Rebellion. They’re not paid staff trying to tackle the climate crisis. The example I quite often give is look at the women’s suffrage movement that was led by volunteers. Nobody was paying Emmeline Pankhurst and, and others to do what they did. They were doing it because they were passionate about that need for social change. And they went and did it, risky and dangerous as it was. 

Susan Ellis, you mentioned earlier, always used to say, nobody gets paid to start a revolution. You know, Paul Revere was a volunteer that way from a perspective like that. And you can argue, you can argue that the whole Declaration of independence, the Constitution was there, you know, in some ways is the ultimate act of experimentation by volunteers.  

TOBI: Yes. Yes. And it’s interesting now. I mean, I won’t get too political, but it’s interesting how the revolution is being used now to speak about people’s individual rights. When the reason our revolution here in the U S anyway, before it was US, the colonies, was the only reason it was successful was through massive collective effort, you know, massive collective.  

ROB: Yeah. Well, and I’ve gone on record as saying as well, you know, you go back to that idea that nobody gets paid to start revolution. We’re comfortable talking about volunteering that we’re happy with, you know, the envelope stuffing, all of those. 

There’s also volunteering that happens that we may feel really uncomfortable about, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it was volunteering. You know, the people that stormed the U S Capitol building in DC on the 6th of January were volunteers, whatever we think about and not trying to make a political point, but whatever we think about that, they were volunteers, nobody was paying them to do that. 

Experimentation means we have to broaden our concept of who volunteers are and what they’re trying to achieve. And I think that’s a healthy thing, at least for us to have that debate.  

TOBI: I think too, I think that does point out that didn’t come out as one of these themes was, you know, what exactly is for the social good or the collective good? What is for the greater good? And I think that also that level of, you know, ethical consideration and, you know, I think it’s an interesting thing to consider.  

Let’s take a break and right after the break, we’re going to talk a little bit about the three horizons model that emerged from this work.   

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TOBI: Okay, we’re back with our discussion with Rob Jackson about England’s new volunteer vision. Let’s get into more about how this might impact the field going forward. And let’s talk about this idea of the three horizons model.  

So it emerged from the initiative. It almost feels like we’re moving from an HR-based volunteer model to a more grassroots organizing model in the way that this is laid out as a type of evolution in three phases. 

You know, it feels like we’re redistributing power a little bit. What are your thoughts on these? And I’m just gonna quickly do our, again, our little Reader’s Digest condensed version.  

Horizon One: business as usual. For example, the idea of a “volunteer army,” the notion of a civic corps, “paint the fence” CSR volunteering, we all know what means.  

Horizon Two: disruptive innovation. For example, COVID-19 local mobile mobilization partnerships, digital technologies role in brokerage, growth in informal volunteering,  

And then Horizon Three, which is more into the future, or at least more evolved emerging futures. For example, decentralized power, people-driven activism, and open data.  

Where do you think people are at, most organizations are at on that continuum now? 

ROB: So, I think most volunteer involving organizations are probably the majority in business as usual, with some thinking about disruptive innovation. And I think the disruptive innovation element is what’s changed out of necessity due to the pandemic.  

So, we don’t have volunteer meetings anymore in person, we do it on zoom, all of that kind of side of things, and where organizations are in that process, thinking about how do we go about doing what we do in a future? That’s been shaken up by the last couple of years.  

So, I think most people are business as usual with a little bit of disruptive innovation. But I think where this, these horizons are particularly powerful is when you link them with the fact that what the vision does is it puts the volunteer at the heart of things. 

Doesn’t put the organization, it doesn’t put the volunteer manager, doesn’t put the funder, it puts the volunteer at the heart of things. And I think that for me, is both the most powerful part of the vision in many ways, but it’s also the biggest challenge because that does require business as usual to really be rethought. 

A lot of disruptive innovation to be done in that, a lot of thinking about where we’re going to go in the future, if we’re going to transform the relationship that we have, as you say, away from that HR model to a much more volunteer-centric, empowered model.  

I mean, I, for me, I’m not sure some of the examples are particularly helpful. I mean, we brought in, in the UK or in England, sorry. And I should say, just to explain to people who don’t get it, why are we talking about England or the UK interchangeably?  

So the UK is made up of four nations, well, Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and volunteering politically and practically is a devolved responsibility. So each of the four nations sets its own policy and it has its own infrastructure around volunteering.  

So, when we talk about this, being a vision for volunteering is actually only a vision for volunteering in England. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland have their own separate setups, but we English are renowned for saying stuff as if it applies across the whole UK when, actually on the applies to us.  

 So, in England, we had our first online equivalent of Volunteer Match in the U S, which was called Do It in 2000/2001. So you could equally argue that digital technology and the role of brokerage isn’t really disruptive innovation, unless you think of it as something that’s almost 22 years old.  

So for me, that example might not be the best example, but it might be around the growth of online volunteering over the last couple of years, which Jane Cravens would always tell us is not a new thing, but we’ve all embraced it in a different way in the last couple of years.  

What do we then keep online on? What do we bring back to in-person? So, one of the fascinating things for me, you mentioned the Time Well Spent research earlier that said the 18 to 34 year old’s where the age group that were most likely to say that volunteering was important to them as a way of combating social isolation. 

So, I take that to mean 18 to 34 year old’s in a pre-pandemic research said volunteering was important to them as a way of meeting people, making new friends, having that social connection.  

Coming out of the pandemic, that’s the age group we’re targeting online volunteering more than any other. Yet Time Well Spent suggest they want in-person experiences. So for me that’s a better example of disruptive innovation. Are we asking the right questions? Are we making the wrong assumptions? Are we not being volunteer centric in thatThinking? 

That to me is I think where organizations really need to be strategically thinking, not just the leader of volunteer engagement, but the whole organization. Are we doing this right? Are we building our future models of service delivery and organization on the right assumptions or the wrong assumptions about volunteers and volunteering? 

TOBI: Yeah, I would completely agree about the focus on and the need for tech evolution and tech maturity. You know, we’ve asked about that in the Volunteer Management Progress Report for a few years and tracked it through three years pre pandemic to last year. And it was really interesting because the overall self-assessment of the organization’s digital maturity went up year two and then went down last year. 

And what that tells me, I’m inferring a lot here, gang. I don’t know if this is absolutely true, but what it made me, you know, things that make you go, Hmm. I thought to myself, Hmm. I wonder if people now, because they’re getting more in touch with different types of tech options that they’re realizing, oh wow. 

And they wouldn’t call their tech stack. I mean, I run a digital business, we have a tech stack. That’s not common parlance in the voluntary sector, but they realize that the tools they’re using are not up to the task of what’s available out there and what’s possible with technology.  

I mean, technology doesn’t mean that you’re – you can use technology to help improve face-to-face volunteering experiences. It’s not necessarily just about virtual volunteerism or online volunteerism. And content marketing, volunteer recruitment, collaborative spaces, the way we share information. That just way more possibility out there.  

I mean, we’re always pushing on it, you know, at our end, but people really don’t have even the basic understanding of how technology could be harnessed to really like make things happen. You know, and everybody is now on their smart phones. If we don’t know how to communicate to people through their smartphone, we’ve lost.  

Even, you know, my mom’s 79 years old, she just turned 79 years old. She’s on Facebook daily. If we cannot say older people don’t use tech. And I would not say that she’s very tech savvy, but she’s still on Facebook daily. She knows what she knows.  

ROB: And it’s, I don’t think, I think this is the thing. I keep coming back to this. We have done what we’ve done for the last two years out of necessity, not out of choice. What we need to be doing now is in an intentional informed and thoughtful way, thinking about what do we keep, what do we drop and how do we adapt for the future?  

So, I was talking to an organization the other week. They’ve adopted new communication methods. That mean that they can get their comms into the hands of volunteers, via email, et cetera, really, really quickly, really, really easily. That’s brilliant. But what it means is this: now everybody just thinks, oh, if I clicked send, I can get something out to the volunteers.  

So what the volunteers are saying is it’s great that we can get information, but now you’re sending us too much information. So, it’s almost like the ease of it has actually similarly, if I’m aware of organizations that have said for perfectly good data security reasons that I totally get, the it department said none of the paid staff are allowed to do online calling on any platform other than Microsoft teams.  

Okay. I get why they, it departments told them to do that. The problem is if you’re trying to dial into a Microsoft teams call from outside of a network using a web browser, it’s like somebody invented a new level of hell. It’s a nightmare.  

So, it’s creating a barrier for any of their paid staff to communicate with volunteers outside of the organization. So it’s just about, it’s about being intentional. It’s about being thoughtful, but it’s also about this Isn’t just the job of the leader of volunteer engagement. The whole organization has to think about this. And the only way we’re going to make that vision a reality is if everybody gets behind it  

TOBI: Completely agree. It’s more about the organization’s digital maturity, vis-a-vis whatever way it’s engaging the community. And we know volunteers are donors, and donors are volunteers. So engaging the community. People are not, they don’t live in buckets,  

But I, you know, going back to the horizons model, I thought what you said was really important to think about when it comes to technology said, you know, volunteers are at the heart of everything. That’s the shift.  

Well, when you think about technology and I don’t think, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think there are a lot of volunteer management platforms out there that are really leaning into yet that the platform should be more about how to improve the relationship with volunteers than it should be about collecting the data, the waivers, the application, the completion certification or completion of training requirements, et cetera, et cetera,  

That is great, that the collection of volunteer hours that’s great data to have, but that data almost should be happen as a natural circumstance of volunteers being involved. You know, I mean, the good news is technology’s evolved so much in the past few years that this is all possible.  

It is now possible to have your volunteer hours start ticking away when you walk into a brick and mortar with your phone, and to stop ticking when you walk out of these things. Feel me?  

ROB: Yeah, absolutely. Look, if you can walk into an Amazon grocery store in Seattle, grab what you need and walk out again, and then Amazon charge you for what you’ve taken without having to do anything else. Why can’t it happen with volunteers?  

I think though, this, this point about volunteer centric, there’s two really important things. I think we need to recognize in there is there will be some people who are thinking well, that’s all very well and good. Whether it’s about being volunteer centric or what, what you’ve just been saying about data, but we still need our data. 

The two are not mutually exclusive. Ironically, when we talk about digital, as you said earlier on, we’re not always, we’re not always facing a binary choice. But the second one is actually, it goes to the, it cuts to the actual heart of the definition of volunteering.  

So they have a definition of volunteering in the vision, but like most definitions, and it’s a good one, I’ve got no problem with it, but like most definitions it’s written from the perspective of an institution or an establishment or a framework.  

Whereas if you wanted a truly volunteer centric definition, then I always go back to what the late great Ivan Shaya said, which is volunteering is where I’m volunteering. If I’m doing anything that I want to for a cause when I don’t have to, for a cause that I consider good.  

So, it’s actually down to me to define whether or not I’m doing that as a volunteer or not. And that’s, it sounds like kind of a bit of an existential debate. And I suppose it is, but it’s this thing of how are we going to achieve the vision if we keep drawing boxes around things and saying, that’s volunteering, that’s not volunteering. This is volunteering. This isn’t volunteering. We’re only going to get involved in that, not involved in that, rather than turning it on its head and saying, come on public, you’ve got skills, talents, passions, interests.  

How can you help us deal with some of the biggest issues that we face in our society today: climate crisis, you know, cost of living, all of those things. Yeah. That to me is a big shift for a lot of people.  

TOBI: Yeah. Completely agree. Completely agree. I think it’s really about what is the role of the volunteer involving organization? Is it as facilitator? Is it as leader, you know, right now it’s really as leader, right?  

And certainly, as you mentioned, volunteers can do more in partnership with networks, associations, organizations, fellow volunteers. There is a tremendous amount of power in that. Not only social capital, but really absolutely, you know, institutional knowledge, expertise, tools, technology, whatever. people could be more powerful when they’re working with organizations that have resources.  

That said, you know, the organization also has to think on its side, how can we facilitate more of this in the community, whether or not people are working with our organization or working on their own.  So, interesting stuff there.  

ROB: Very quickly. One of the things I think it’s important to recognize is in that debate that organizations need to think about, do people need organizations to make change happen anymore?  

Black Lives Matter, Me Too movement. They can do it through their smartphones. They don’t need an organization. If I was running a voluntary evolving organization, that might be quite a sobering thought.  

TOBI: Yeah. Although I would argue that as an organization, it’s just a fluid one and it builds, you know, when it’s a grassroots as you said earlier at the beginning, many nonprofits were started by volunteers and were very, you know, freewheeling n at the beginning and became more sort of calcified.  

And, and, and, and for many reasons, sometimes it’s about scaling and about impact and things are a little more freewheeling, as I said earlier, but is that an organization? When does it become an organization and we’re not talking about like nonprofit or charity status, we’re just talking about at what point is something an organization? 

We could go on about that, I’m telling you right now! But I know you’ve got a busy day ahead. So I’m just going to ask you two more questions. The first one is just as we wrap up, what are you most excited about in the year ahead?  

ROB: What am I most excited about? Do you know, on a personal level, personal professional level, one of the things I’m most excited about is, is, and some of this has been happening already is getting back in a room with people because I’ve kind of missed that for the last two years.  

A big part of, I’m an extrovert. I can’t help it. A big part of what I really love about what I get to do for a living is being with other people, talking to other people, being inspired by other people. and having been locked at home for two years and then getting back and doing some in-person it’s reminded me how in-person is just materially different from online.  

I’m not saying it’s better or worse, but it is materially different. And we all have to find our way to decide what is, what is the right way of doing that? What isn’t. But the other thing related to the vision that I think I’m excited about is these conversations starting to happen. Because I think if this doesn’t gain some momentum in the next year or two, it’s not going to gain momentum in the following eight.  

So, I’m really excited to see how people do the thinking, do the talking. More importantly, do the acting. And there is a way on the Vision for Volunteering website, for people to go in there and make a commitment about what they’re going to do, which I’ve done already. And I’m hoping others are going to do, because I’m really excited to see how that then connects to actually begin to build up a head of steam to make some of those happen.  

TOBI: Yeah. And it’s been such a pleasure to spend this time being able to amplify just a little bit through our humble means. And now that I have been able to read the website and understand, I’m going to keep an eye out and I’m going to keep amplifying. It’s just wonderful to get people to think a little bit bigger, a little bit more aspirationally.  

I feel like people are ready for this. It’s just a matter of momentum and breaking through and helping leaders in your organization know that again, as I said earlier, it’s aspirational, but it’s also good for business. It’s good for effective practice.  

So Rob, this has been fantastic. Of course, we could go on and on, and I hope we can at another future episode, because we have tons to talk about, but it’s been such a pleasure to just catch up. And I am in complete agreement about face-to-face. 

Next week. I’m going to my very first, I did one face-to-face event over the pandemic, and I felt a little bit fish-out-of-water for a minute there, but I’m going back for a full day next week for, and I haven’t been out for a year. And I’m just excited about seeing people. And like you said, seeing what people get excited about, seeing transformation,  

Those aha moments that you see in people, you just, it’s very hard to see those over a camera on is in a zoom meeting. Yeah. So, yeah. So Rob, how can people learn about you? Rob Jackson Consulting, the Engage Journal, the Advancing the Profession podcast, and get in touch with you if they’re interested in learning more?  

ROB: Okay. Thanks. And thank you for having me on here and thank you for starting the Volunteer Nation podcast. I’ve listened to all the episodes so far and you know, it’s a brilliant addition to the field and the sector, so thank you for doing that. 

So, so how can people get in touch with me? The easy way is you just go to the website, which is RobJacksonConsulting.com. And there’s a “contact us” page on there, which will give you links to email, et cetera. What we’ll also do in the show notes, we’ll put a Link Tree link.  

So, if people aren’t familiar with Link Tree, it’s this great little free website where when you click on that link it will open a webpage, what that will do is provide follow-on links for you to get through to my website, my contact details, the newsletter, the podcast, the blog, the social media sites.  

There’s a link to the Engage journal in there. There’s a link to the Vision for Volunteering website in there. So it’s just each one, one link to rule them all, to get Lord of the rings on you. But it’s one link that takes you through to a whole bunch of other links where you can find out a load more, but the best start point is RobJacksonConsulting.com  

TOBI: Fantastic! Well thank you for all you do for the field. It’s been a pleasure to be a colleague with you for so many years now. And I hope at some point we’re going to get to be in the same room and have a glass of beer and chit chat a little bit more, commiserate.  

ROB: That’d be cool. 2023 is my goal.  

TOBI: 2023. Okay, I’m going to see you in 2023. I’m setting the intention right now. We will see each other in person in 2023 for sure. Awesome. All right. All right. Take care. Have a great rest of your week. And we will catch you on the flip side and thanks to everybody for joining us for this episode of Volunteer Nation.  

If you liked it, please be sure to share it with a friend or colleague who might need a little extra inspiration. And if you would rate and review us, we would really appreciate it. That helps us reach a larger audience. So take care and we’ll see you on the next Volunteer Nation.  

The Volunteer Nation Podcast is produced by Thick Skin Media. Be sure to rate, review, and follow the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. For more tips and notes from each episode, check us out at TobiJohnson.com.