Episode #058: Innovative Models in Volunteerism Research with Lucas Meijs
Hey, 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.
Welcome everybody to another episode of The Volunteer Nation Podcast. Today we are going to talk about innovative models in volunteerism research with Lucas Meijs.
Now, I’ve known Lucas for a while now, I think since maybe, maybe 2019, 20 17, something like that. And he has been writing about and researching for, I would say, three decades now, probably. Gang, we need to start thinking I think I’ll just preface it with this. Recently, there was an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on Nonprofits, and the title was Nonprofits Scramble for Help Amid Dearth of Volunteers. And I’m going to post a link to that in the chat. But these articles about volunteerism often miss some of the key things. I think they sort of build up a certain, I don’t know if it’s a mythology or a paradigm or a model of thinking about volunteers and volunteerism where when we see an issue with volunteer involvement, our immediate response similarly with donations and financial contributions, that there’s something going on with volunteers.
And there has been, right, there’s been a pandemic, but it’s usually not necessarily blamed on volunteers. But definitely the search for an answer starts and ends often with volunteers themselves. And Lucas’s research, and one of the reasons I wanted to bring him on was, I think that is only seeing half the picture. I think that sometimes it is our models, our ways of connecting with the community that need to be upgraded, that need to evolve, that need to change, and maybe even given where we’re at post pandemic, that we could do better in terms of volunteer engagement if we simply were able and willing to evolve.
And so that’s why I wanted to bring Lucas on. Lucas C.P.M. Meijs is Professor of Strategic Philanthropy and Volunteering with the Department of Business Society Management at the Rotterdam School of Management. He publishes regularly in the leading nonprofit journal, nonprofit and voluntary sector, quarterly Volta and nonprofit management and leadership. These are all great journals. Gang, if you’re interested in really getting in, digging into the research around volunteerism and philanthropy, they are all great research journals.
He has been appointed council member of the Council on Societal Development, the RMO, one of the official advisory councils for the Dutch government. Lucas also served as the first non-North American editor of nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, the leading academic journal in the field of philanthropic studies.
Lucas also teaches on NGO management, volunteer management, and corporate community involvement. So he’s a multifaceted guy. His current research projects focus on the sustainability of the volunteer resource, volunteer management in general, and cross-border diaspora, philanthropy. And there’s so much more. But Lucas, let’s get started and tell us a little bit about our audience, a little bit about who you are and what you do in addition to your bio that I just read.
Lucas: Well, Tobi, thanks for inviting me. I approach myself as just this, this professor who loves volunteers and like to research them, right? And somewhere in the early nineties, I got this invitation to do a PhD. And imagine, I’m sure that a business school, and I’m interested in nonprofits,
and I get an invitation to do a PhD on a Saturday evening. And a PhD in the Dutch context is a paid job. So, hey, good opportunity. And at that time I, I was interested in what they saw happening around volunteering, and I saw all these organizations using business models and making big mistakes, right? So my offer to the business school was, I would love to do research on managing volunteers with the idea, if you can manage volunteers here, you can also manage paid stuff if you can. So, but delve into the complexity from the set dress.
We have three sons. I live in a beautiful small village, close to Roam and the Netherlands, where just around the corner there is a castor from 1600 something, which I’m honored to be a board member of running this, preserving this castor, which is a lot of fun. And for the rest, I like to bike, I bike to my work. That’s mostly important thing I do for exercise. For the rest, it’s research and having fun.
Tobi: And you have been, I will say this to our audience, if you haven’t looked at research or, often in my teaching, I often am doing, I’m seeing what’s happening in research, and there aren’t a lot of people, there’s a fair amount of people studying philanthropy, even volunteerism. But it’s usually focused on more on the motivations of volunteers, trends in volunteering, et cetera, et cetera. But it’s very, not very often there’s a crossing of volunteerism and volunteer management and the practical side of engaging communities. And you have been fantastic and a leader, I think, globally on writing about this particular aspect of volunteerism and, and volunteerism research, which I have totally enjoyed and totally appreciate it. And I know you sent us some open source links to some open source academic articles. And, and I’ll put, we’ll post those in the show notes so folks can really get a sense of what you’ve written about.
Because gang, it’s just so refreshing because it’s so rare, there’s only a few people, I think, around the world. Am I correct in that, that that focus on this area in particular?
Lucas: Yeah, you’re correct. Some people, I mean, as you said, many people focus on this big data basis on woo volunteers at a certain one. We know that people will have missing a finger at the left hand volunteer more than people have that, that kind of interesting weird things, which isn’t helpful volunteer managers at all. So as I said, I was at the business school, we focused on management of organizations. So it was a rare opportunity, to look at managing volunteers for me that we were, were boiled down to if few, I mean, we can talk about these motivations.
One thing that that bothers me is that we ask questions about volunteering that we would never ask about paid work. Nobody asked what’s the motivation of paid work to find out why do they go to the job. The only thing we ask paid work is how do we keep them working? We assume they don’t come, they come to get paid, but they try to get as limited as little as possible. With volunteers, it might be the other way around. So what I find interesting is that they come and then they start doing something. It’s not about motivating once they’re on the job. Because why would they come if they decide to do nothing?
The more interesting thing isn’t that what started my interest in this management is why would you, without financial compensation accept something as violent as a manager,? Who tells you have to do this? No I want to do something else. So the manager itself changes, and that’s where my interest started.
What does it take to be a manager of volunteers without being terminally nice? The term is from Susan Ellis. But you still want to organization control. You want to make certain that they do something, but you cannot, I mean, two big things are different. You cannot, the reward system is different. So you cannot punish them.
You cannot get an extra reward. You cannot make a difference between volunteers. You all treat them in the same kind of reward system and your authority system is different. They can just easily say, no, Tobi, come on, forget about it. All right. But I also will, which tell you whatever they think because they’re not afraid. So it’s also a good thing, right?
Tobi: Yeah. I mean, I completely agree. I think leading volunteers is actually harder than leading paid staff. Having done both, it takes much more finesse, it takes much more leadership versus management. It takes much more power sharing the top-down command and control model just does not work. Nobody wants to be micromanaged. Even teenagers don’t want to be micromanaged as volunteers.
Lucas: Certainly teenagers.
Tobi: So I do think it takes a particular skillset, and I think people are really struggling. Before we get into some of the motivations trends and more about models, what does volunteerism mean to you? Why do you think it matters in today’s world in particular?
Lucas: For me, the most important thing why it matters is because it gives people the opportunity to give space to the passion, right? So understand the European context is much more association driven than the American context. So it’s much more about doing something together. So the American perspective on volunteering seems to be much more like unpaid labor, while the Dutch perspective on volunteering is much more like active belonging to a community.
So for me, volunteering is this starts with the idea that you have to do it together with your friends, with your neighbors to organize something, right? And that’s not always about helping someone else. It can also be about helping yourself. If you want to play soccer, you have to organize yourself. If you want to collect stamps, you have to organize a place where you can swap your stamps, et cetera, et cetera. That’s where for me, volunteering starts the idea that you want to do something and you do it in a non-hierarchical way. You have to practice your whole democratic kind of thing as a volunteer.
So I’m a little bit behind this idea for it’s helping the poor or whatever, and this, it’s much more like this active, and you give voice to something. You make resources available for people, for people who don’t have, but you also do a lot of fun together.
Tobi: Yeah. Yeah. I think that creates, it also builds social capital. It strengthens communities because people are building connections that they may not have now in your local kids soccer club, then maybe, it’s your neighbors and you already know those folks. But if you’re volunteering as a group for a charity that’s sort of outside of your normal like neighborhood where maybe people are a lot like you, you’re rubbing elbows and getting to know people that are very different than you and you’re building social capital. Because in conversation, in an exchange of ideas, you realize people are different and maybe not the way you thought they were.
Lucas: Correct. You might say, you’re maintaining social capital because if there’s not a lot of social capital, it’s very difficult to get people to volunteer. But indeed, this is what you do, right? You hope to meet new people or you volunteer with people that already in a place that is new to you.
Tobi: Absolutely. So we talked a little bit about, you started off your career as in the business school and said, wait a minute, I can do a PhD in volunteerism and management. You’ve been working or do you want to correct me on that?
Lucas: I just want to say it was so lonely in the nineties doing something, and then I went to America and I met people like Jeff Rodney and things like that. And I was just, wow. But go ahead.
Tobi: Yeah, I mean, Jeff, the late Jeff Brudney was amazing in some of his very practical research around volunteer management trends and retention of volunteers. That key study back in the day was just a full help. And I think we’re still, people still don’t get that. People still think it’s about the paperwork, not the people. And I can tell people like, look, you can have the most perfect volunteer handbook. You can have the most perfect application process you can. But if you don’t have a system of bringing people together and building a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose, or giving people understanding and meaning through their volunteerism, it doesn’t matter how perfect all those systems are.
There is a human connection. That is the primary. It’s how people decide their emotions, decide what they do and what they continue to do. So more and more over the years, I’ve seen that, but that study way back when already pointed to that. What have you seen change? You’ve been doing this for a while. What has changed and what has not changed when it comes to volunteer management?
Lucas: I think one change, one thing that really changed is that we now are really behind this idea of one size fits all in volunteer management. Okay? So if you look at myself, one of my streams of research is about showing that there are different models for different types of organizations.
And it really makes a difference if you’re running your membership association or your service delivery or your political organization and different organization behavior. And we have been, there’s been a whole list of these different specific models for specific context, either based on organizational type or on type of volunteer. So from that perspective, we have a way better knowledge of fine tuning management to our organization or our volunteer needs.
A little bit like a difference between a professional firm and assembly line business and a small to medium enterprises and a and a social startup or whatever. You don’t manage them in the same way, but still, that’s a struggle. Some people think we get the handbook volunteer management, and we have this process approach, which was the starting point.
But the process approach doesn’t work in many places. If you’re in a membership association, your selection of volunteers start with a different step because you know them already. So the first step, all these buyer going to find you volunteers, well, just in your own. Well, so that’s one thing, right? Then the other thing that really changed is that people do not need for all kind of things, a big organization anymore. If you look at Covid, COVID is a beautiful example how easy people could do their own thing without using the Red Cross or whatever organization.
So in my terms, they get self-organized, which is by the way, very close to this membership kind of things, right? So the traditional model of a volunteer administrator who has jobs and volunteers apply and things like that, volunteers are getting annoyed by the volunteer administrator. Because one of the roles of volunteering having is having no boss, not being managed. Remember my idea about so that’s a big change. What stays the same is that people want to help. What stays the same is that people complain about not having no volunteers. Although you can debate if they really don’t. If there’s really a shortage of volunteers, we give an example of a European study were allowed to do in Croatia European country, about 9% of the population volunteers, and they rarely complain about a shortage of volunteers. In the Netherlands from 45% and we complain a lot.
Now, I think that the difference is that the opportunity in Netherlands are huge. So one example I use in many speeches is we have food banks for house pets. Now, my Croatian colleagues go like, okay, if you can have volunteers running food banks for house pets, you don’t have a shortage of volunteers, you have too many. Now we can debate, but you understand there is a question. Okay,
So two big things. We know more about how to manage volunteers in different settings, but secondly, we have people can way better self-organize what they want to do by the phones. So the political landscape, the political volunteering totally changed. The membership association things is going to change very fast because people can organize their running groups themselves.
So we call it trunk running groups. So instead of going to the association where they’re run together in a athletic field or whatever, now they have this WhatsApp group and they come together and the one opens his trunk and has coffee and the other one has cookies. So they create an instant canteen outside a real association. And from our perspective volunteering, it’s still volunteering the two that organize the canteen and the one that WhatsApp group does volunteering. Right? But it’s outside the association, association calls, people don’t want to volunteer anymore, et cetera, et cetera.
Tobi: I wonder how that’s going to impact professional associations where they’re run by chapters and they are reliant on the local chapter. I’m helping some association and have spoken at some of their conferences and I’ve trained chapter leaders and they’re not really trained in volunteer management, but they’re bringing together chapters. And some of these chapters are extremely successful, others are not, others are struggling. And the association at the central office level is struggling to figure out like how do we make this happen? Because our professional association will not exist without these chapters doing their thing in communities.
Lucas: Yep. The most important thing there is if you control the access to the profession, the entering the profession, you’re in business. But if you are controlling the information about the profession, you’re going to find out that information is free and very available. And people will find different ways to organize around you.
Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of these associations have often have, not necessarily, well, it’s sort of a control of access to the profession through certifications, et cetera. So Interesting. So you’ve also written about differences between country culture approach to volunteerism and your volunteerism research. How would you characterize the differences are? Do you think we are more alike? We talked about the difference between the Netherlands and the us the US being more individual, the Netherlands being more col more around the collective. Are we more alike than different, or more different than alike around the world when it comes to volunteerism?
Lucas: So when, when it comes to the idea, why would you volunteer? We’re very similar. The idea to help someone who’s in need is pretty global, but where it starts to become organized, we have big differences, right? So the dominant model, at least the dominant model we talk about in US is this whatever kind of thing that runs as charity and you volunteer for them. If you got the central Europe, it’s much more like we do something together. It’s much more about sports. So, and if you go to Africa, it’s much more in the extended family and much more helping out. So the organizational form changes.
It’s also like the emotion changes, the emotion of unpaid labor, the emotion of social, unjust. There’s a lot of stories about service learning, which for example, in Spain is totally focused on social justice while the US service learning seems to be much focused on helping someone else. So that kind of differences, but the idea that you should do something because you’re not alone and that you have to act on your values, et cetera, et cetera, it’s pretty global.
Tobi: Interesting. And is there any impact of culture on cultures within a country on volunteerism? And what do you see? What do you see there?
Lucas: Again, what we see is that the idea that you should volunteer is huge. But not every country has this huge infrastructure to volunteer. So if you compare Croatia, I gave the example earlier at the Netherlands. Yeah. During Covid, we don’t see that much difference. All kind of people pop up to help out. But if you look at the regular volunteer infrastructure, the difference is huge. Because the whole tradition wasn’t there before the second World War in Croatia. And certainly the communism didn’t build tradition. So there is no infrastructure.
Tobi: I can imagine that volunteerism in some respects. We talked about communist countries, there’s a point where volunteerism is dangerous when people are coming together and have a different idea even within an organization. Now that I think about it, if you’re a longstanding organization and you have a group of volunteers that suddenly think, hey, we got to change this model, this model isn’t working in our community and we’re representatives of our community that’s being served by this nonprofit, that could be considered dangerous as well.
Interesting, interesting. Well, you’ve been publishing also, is there a difference, I guess, in the way that nonprofits. So we talked about differences between countries. In the Netherlands, does it differ by type of organizations? Well, you were talking earlier about the differences between, political organization, a direct service organization, sort of hobby or sport type organization. Have organizations started to make these evolutions to better models that are aligned with for these organizations and with these organizations? And where do you see that happening most successfully?
Lucas: We talk about the Netherlands, I see it really happening in the big service organizations that started employing this straightforward process idea. You select your volunteers, you train them, you guide them, et et cetera. So that really improved, but even more improved was this membership association. So let me give an example, in meditation, I have an example of all three. So political organization of service delivery. And I have what we call mutual support in, that’s scouting. And it’s not run by the parents, but it’s run by 17, 18, 19 year old volunteers. So at a certain moment when you are at the age of 17, it’s either going out, no scouting anymore, or you become a scout leader.
Big chapters that are run by the, let’s say the young people themselves, it’s a total different ballgame there, you see, they have really improved their models in making certain that you can also have a job next to it because you might need a Saturday morning job so you don’t come every week, et cetera, et cetera. Way more in involving bigger group, let’s say the whole membership. They have become better in involving the eight year olds already in giving them some responsibilities because you have to train them, guide them, nurture them to become like you when you’re seven, when they’re 17. So sport associations have become way better involving parents to drive to the outer camp.
So typical Dutch model, right? You have a field hockey association where 2,400 members and they have this 200 teams. So that’s our model. It’s not connected to schools, it’s connected to an association where you play field hockey and there is a board and a role. Everything is volunteering. They might have five paid trainers, but the rest is just maybe someone in the canteen, but the rest is all volunteers. And they’ve become way better in involving all these 2,400 people. 60% above doesn’t do something. Right?
Tobi: Yeah. I love that model of when I was a kid, I played soccer, football in European terms, and we had a huge soccer association in our neighborhood. I mean, almost every kid played soccer and they had teams from like age, like 3, 4, 5, like tiny half field or quarter field games to all the way up to age 18. And they had like little cantina and they had the coaches and whatnot. But I love this idea of baking service in earlier on. I mean, bringing kids, teaching kids how to do refereeing for example. And because I know that nowadays what I hear from sports clubs, and our coach, I think our coach didn’t even have kids and he was coaching our team and we were all the same age, and every year we stayed with our same team.
So year, year after year, we knew our fellow players. But it makes me wonder, because I hear a lot from sports clubs in the US anyway, from people who are in sporting clubs and associations, that they’re having a hard time finding coaches. And when I think about coaching, I’m thinking, I don’t want to deal with the parents.
So, but this, this building of leadership throughout can become your next generation of coaches and what a great youth development model.
Lucas: They become way better in depth. And of course they complain. That’s part of the game, right? And part of these organizations is why are we only playing soccer or only do all the other things? And so models only play soccer, right? So there is a part, it’s what we call a building kind of complaint, don’t ask. And the change now is they, they ask, right? And they make rosters and they have IDs. If you don’t volunteer yourself, maybe you have to pay more membership fees, but the membership fees are not that high that you can really see it as buying because it’s much more like a social shame or you have to pay extra.
So I know spot flips don’t, you don’t pay additional fees, but you have to treat the others on. In public, you have to show I did not volunteer enough, so you get a beer from me. So they’ve become way better in making this, this implicit contract. The idea was implicit you should also volunteer. Making it very explicit sometimes over the top. But in many cases, like, okay, we’re all friends, and you didn’t volunteer, so there must be some kind of punishment for you because I did your job. So we invent and they’ve become better in that. Yeah
Tobi: How did that start? It just evolved. People got fed up and they were like, look, we only have a few people doing all the work?
Lucas: Yeah. That’s where it started. But then the Dutch Olympic committee organized a big thing around 2000. And I was very fortunate to be involved and we call it the volunteering sport kit. The natural metaphor already starts, right? And we created this whole idea about how to make the involvement of members different. So before that was really one model. It did a lot. And then we opened the whole box to no, no, no, you can also make smaller kind of assignments, you can do every week and evolve to something that you can also create team assignments. So now we know that there are a lot of association where they say, we are not going to organize anymore. We give the team the responsibility to make certain that they organize everything, which is very difficult for the board members because the first time the team fails to have a referee, your automatic reaction is to do it yourself.
But then of course you’re, so you have to really watch from the outside and think, hey, there’s no referee you can play. We’re going to blame, not me, because they said they would organize a referee. So that’s the thing that happened. It took about 10 years to really get implemented. And now I think most organizations have made that step. And now you see that the next step is what to do with the board members. So the coaches are not really the big problem, but now we see that the board members, that that has not been made smaller, not been flexible. That’s really a kind of one size fits all kind of ID. So we are making use now of the whole covid experience again to, to organize a movement that also being a board member can be done while you’re on holiday and can be done remote, Et cetera.
Tobi: Yeah. I think that’s so smart, the flexibility of involvement, just to fit it into people’s lives. It’s sort of, nowadays it’s sort of an yes or no, black or white, you either in or you’re out. And I feel like that model is just, I’m like, you got to let, number one, you got to let people dip their baby toe in and feel if the water feels warm, if they’re going to jump in. And then people have lives, things especially nowadays, it’s just really busy.
And the more team-based, I feel like team-based volunteering is so much better in terms of its flexibility of one team member, two team members can step out. The team, the team fills in and there aren’t such rigid roles. It’s more the team responsibility, it’s sort of like adopt a spot on the highway. You’re going to clean up this spot, the team’s going to take care of it. So the model of having a very rigid, this is the role, you’re being trained for this role, you’re agreeing to be here every Saturday, from here to eternity. I just, it’s not working for people anymore.
Well, hey, let’s take a quick break and then we’re going to talk more about some of these models in particular. I love back when you and Jeff Brudney wrote, It Ain’t Natural. I just love this idea of volunteers as human resources and as contextual resources in our communities. And want to talk through that a little bit more and think about how we can become better stewards of volunteerism. Because gang, it’s up to us. Those of you who are listening, it really is up to us to be able to evolve.
Volunteers are just going to go do their thing. They’re not going to sit around and go, hmm, maybe we should do this differently. They’re just going to find a way that works in their own lives. And we saw that in the pandemic. I mean, we saw informal volunteerism did not change at all one iota. It’s the same amount. Like half, half, 50% in some, in some research. 50% of the world continue to volunteer, continue to help neighbors, neighbors helping neighbors. That doesn’t change. And as you said, it does change by country, the mechanisms for getting people involved in the models. But it doesn’t, people wanting to help one another is not going to change, but people will do it with your organization or without it. Whatever works.
So with that cautionary tale, we’ll take a quick break, I’ll say. So we’ll be right back with more on innovative models and volunteerism research with our guests Lucas Meijs. So you don’t go anywhere. We will be right back.
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Tobi: Okay. We are back with our discussion of models and innovation in volunteerism research with Lucas Meijs. We’ve been having a great conversation about differences in country differences in types of organizations.
I want to talk about sustainability a little bit because I think it’s just something that people are worried about, especially volunteer managers. I’m hearing a lot, we do our volunteer management progress report every year, year after year. We’re in our eighth year this year. And there has only been one year where we ask what’s your biggest number one top challenge?
And it’s an open-ended question that we code, we never, we don’t want to presuppose that we understand, although we know what it’s going to be usually because it ends up being volunteer. Some aspect of volunteer recruitment, I think during the pandemic in 2019 was the only year that volunteer recruitment didn’t come up as number one. And that year it was, it was supervision because people were having to tell people like, no, you can’t come in. Or Yes, we’re going to do now we’re going to do online volunteering. So there was a lot of challenge there for management and supervision, but it’s not getting easier.
And you would think, you think at some point it would and you think, but it is what it is. So let’s talk about sustainability. in 2009 and you published It Ain’t Natural toward a new and natural resource conceptualization for volunteer engagement, which really argues for a need for a more holistic and sustainable approach to managing this resource. At the time, what were you finding to be the most problematic about our traditional models?
Lucas: So what we found the most problematic is the separation of the resource and the use of the resource. So this is the time that we start wondering about at the business school about CSR and how to maintain other resources for companies. And I see these volunteer managers just ignoring the idea that they have a responsibility for maintaining this most important resource while they use might be social capital, might be something else.
So we sit together, Jeff Brudney and me, and we have this conversation and we do a quick Google check and we find that 20 times as much Google hits our own recruiting than about retention. And we have the idea, okay, we, we are recruiting volunteers and the back door is open. So we are exploiting this volunteer resource.
So we move to the international very known article that says of the comments where the idea is that you have this public grass and then you put cows on it in a certain moment. You put so many cows on it that the grass is gone. So that’s where our metaphor starts. We see voluntary energy as voluntary resource as the grass. And we see all these organizations as the cows that eat grass, but a certain moment the grass might be gone.
So we asked the Dutch government to fund a research on the idea of is there a risk of a tragedy commerce a certain moment all the volunteers have gone. Now that is possible with animal, with some animals, which, for example, the dodo has disappeared. We run a risk of certain fish that we fish so much that the new generation will not come.
Now the good thing with volunteering is that we could not prove that we, as we do something now wrong with volunteers now that new people will not start. So there is no real tragedy of the commons. So there will always be new volunteers, but then the question came, but can we also pollute the source so much? And it will stop.
So that’s where the story starts. And then we write this article that what we have as a world, as a society is its volunteer resource that volunteer managers translate into volunteering. But if you only look at how to translate into volunteering, you might spoil the resource. And the problem is, if you are organization does a perfect job, but you name it as a lousy job, it might spoil around, it’s a little bit like a lake, right? If you polluted the pollution was also hit the others. So we framed it as a kind of collective problem that we’re all using the same resource. So that’s where the story starts. And then we meant to this regenerative kind of approach. So how can you recreate this resource?
We love to use at that time already, the world sustainability was but the editors didn’t like it. They saw it as a kind of European left wing invention. I don’t know what, so we had to use regenerative. Okay. Also good. But the idea was that as a volunteer manager, you cannot go around the village and get the last volunteer for you.
You have to help the resource to maintain, you should not deplete it, right? And then we write with the volunteering, a volunteer energy is a little bit like a flow resource. So it’s not a stock, it’s not totally depletable. It’ll come every time, but we can pollute the source or we can hopefully create more sources and different kind of sources.
And that’s where also if you ask what big changes the last 10, 15 years, maybe in US a little bit longer, we see the new kind of sources like service learning or corporate volunteering or family volunteering or single volunteering, et cetera, et cetera. So that’s where, and that’s another article, the dual management comes in and we see that the new sources are sources where someone, where one party organized the full energy, the company, and then the volunteer manager when the other organization creates volunteering outfit.
So that’s a part as well, right. So how, what happens if we see, if we separate the resource from, and then you have the organization created to volunteering. So volunteering is not the starting point, it’s the result. It’s a little bit like how we create, how we move from oil to gasoline. Something in between.
Tobi: I think it’s so important. There is a little bit of in the nonprofit sector, at least in my experience here in the US there’s been a little bit of competition. I’m putting my hands in air quotes here between organizations. And I’ve often argued again, number one, volunteers often volunteer for more than one organization, especially those that are the most committed and have the most time, often, often, frequently, the most dedicated volunteers are at multiple organizations.
So to think that you’re in a hermetically sealed environment, rather than in the context of is use the example of a pond where everyone’s sharing, there’s also the fact that there’s new people coming in. And if their first volunteer experience is not a good one, it may also impact supply. Because they may say, I’m done. I don’t want to do this. This doesn’t, it’s not stacking up to what I hoped it would be. So there is an impact. And recently I did a little, I wrote a blog post on this and I did a little research on Google and Google trends. And I was just wondering like, so are people looking for volunteer opportunities?
And the fact is they are. And it hasn’t really gone down. And so I’m like, well, how come people aren’t connecting with organizations? And I often hear people, well, nobody called me back. So there are some issues with supply, but there’s also, as you said, it’s not only that there’s a revolving door, but even I think there’s an impact on productivity overall when people aren’t feeling fulfilled that their work isn’t meaningful. I mean, you hear about quiet quitting in the employee space. Like what happens when, or what happens if volunteers quit? What happens to the impact of our organization? So I think that this idea of sustainability and the idea that we are all interconnected is still like super valuable like 15 years later.
So, talk about you and Jeff Brudney also talked about this volunteer stewardship framework more recently. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that’s sort of, is that an evolution from this idea of sustainability? Or is it sort of a different?
No, It’s pretty evolution from that Id, so we started talking, right? And then we, we, we had this, this, this, all these ideas. So one idea was about, there must be a difference from this perspective or the resource on different management systems. So what we do in that article is you ask Excel the question, how does it come that so many volunteer managers, if you look at the list of the,
was it the up c know how, the big American list kind of thing. I don’t know had they, they they do a lousy job, but still the organization exist. Well, one example might be that they have different management models. So for example, the first question is how do you attract your volunteers? Do you publish in the village? And things like that.
If you’re running a sport association, you don’t publish volunteer opportunities in the village because you have your members. So in the checklist, you do a lousy job, But maybe the checklist is wrong. Wrong. So what we did is we used that checklist and we extended it by all kind of volunteering, good practices, management, good practices in different context in a corporate environment,
in a school environment, in a sport environment. And indeed we see that four different environments score different on these, on these lists. Or we create these four environments. The first one is this really classical service organization, right? Where you have volunteers that do something for another one. And indeed, these function largely according to the process model that Susan Alices,et cetera, et cetera, invented. Okay. The classical agency with volunteers. But then if you go to the membership organizations, some of these things they don’t do, they don’t select volunteers because you have to do it with your members.
They don’t have to send the purpose volunteer opportunities. They have a different way of, of, of doing job interviews, et cetera, et cetera. Because at the scouting organization, they have been member for 12 years, and at 17 they decide to become volunteers. You’re not going to say no, right? If this group has have been together for 12 years, they know each other exactly what you can, what you cannot do, even if you don’t want someone, you’re not going to say no because you’re already survived 12 years together. So it’s a different practice model. Okay.
Different good practices. And then the two other models are the models where, as I already said, where you have a kind of dual thing where we separate finding volunteers for getting into the energy and the guidance. So the models of service learning at schools and community service and corporate volunteering are quite similar because you start with a group that are your members, and we call it you have private access, at least who they are. And it’s remarkably similar to how you earn a sport association. And then you have all the themes, like the single volunteers or the healthcare volunteers, or this family volunteers or this volunteer centers with a list where people just unknown faces suddenly draw want to come. So that’s the four models we find.
And then we indeed have the question, like, we have to find a way of telling these people that this is a different approach and we have to find a way to connect this dual management to the single management. Yeah. So that’s where the stewardship comes in. So is the stewardship, the underlying similarity or sort of submodel that connects all these four different ways of, well, I mean, is there a baseline that’s connecting all of these, aside from the volunteer’s own initiative, Is There something I’m, I’m sure that Connects them, looking back, we would like to call it at that time already stewardship because the next article that we started and we published after Jeff died, it’s this article about the real, the next step in the, in the resources.
And that’s much more about the stewardship. So the stewardship is indeed the idea that we have to understand we’re all making use of the same resource, Right? We should not exploit a resource and people might move from these different models across lifetime. So you can start a service, service learning at a high school at a certain moment. You’re just this unitary volunteer within the service.
And then you go to your professional association, you have a different kind of volunteer management. And we were, we’re thinking about can these volunteer managers help each other? So I’m not sure if this flies in America, but in, in the Netherlands, you, you, you, I mean parents volunteers of course at, at primary school. And it’s one of the moment I can predict when people are going to stop when the last kid leaves primary school.
Exactly. Now I think that the volunteer manager or the primary school at that moment should call the volunteer manager of the sport association and say, Hey, I have this parent who has this volunteer, Jen, they can simply say, not say no, but my place is over because the kids have left. But hey, these kids are at your place now, previously don’t, didn’t have the time because luckily they were volunteering for me, but now they have the time. Yeah. And they love to volunteer. I know. Because they’re doing it for already years. Yeah. So please now that, that kind of transition is a very important stewardship kind of model, right? Yeah. I love the idea. I,
I often talk about inflection points in a volunteer’s life as soon as there is an inflection point, whether it’s, I’m graduating high school, I’m graduating college, I’m having a kid, I’m, my kids are leaving my house, I’m starting a new job, I’m changing to an another job, I’m looking for a job. Any of those big inflections in a person’s life is the opportunity is when the opportunity arises.
Because people are often looking because they’re changing their lifestyle. And so they have that opening of space in their lifestyle to add volunteerism. And if they are someone who believes in volunteerism, volunteerism is a way of life and has been that they’re ready to hear about new opportunities and, But it gives an opportunity to the one they’ve been volunteering with the current volunteer manager to say,
Hey, your life’s going to change, so you’re going to leave me. Yep. Thank you very much for all this time you spent with me. Yes, I know it’s over because you’re going to a different city. But I have friends there. Exactly. I Have called these volunteer managers, shall I help you? Yeah. To make a soft landing.
But now what we do now is we, we, we, we tell ’em you stop volunteering. Yeah. We don’t know. They’re probably not. They stop volunteering with you. Yeah. If you, if you move from a city, we will never say you stop paid work. Yeah. But volunteering, we tell them, we blame them. They stop volunteering.
No, no, no. We should help them to continue volunteering at a different place after retirement, after relocation, after your kids leave, primary school, et cetera, et cetera. Even within communities, I’ve often advocated for local associations of volunteer managers, professional associations, folks get together that if a volunteer comes to you that it’s not the right fit for them.
Like you work with kids and this person really cares about senior citizen, make them warm, referral. and it’s, I think it’s a very much a scarcity mindset. But this one go, yeah. It’s, it’s the idea. No, this is my, so this where the tragedy come starts, this is my volunteer. And I rather exploit them till they stop, then hand them over to a place where they would volunteer longer. And if you, if you use the volunteer energy perspective, you start question like, this is about how much volunteer energy are you going to give to the community over your life course. Okay. If I misuse you now I might profit from the foreign to energy and for me it might be a little bit more in these four years, but if I do a good job, you might give a little bit less to me in these four years, but in the next 40 years, you will give way more to the community. Now that’s a, that’s a mindset that we try to provoke in these articles, right? So the steward model is really about, I should not exploit my volunteers to the end.
Mm. Yes. I should think about how can I help them to have a good volunteer journey or a good volunteer life cycle and that they can produce or give this volunteer energy to other organizations too. Yeah. And, and that’s where really the next challenge is. So can we organize, let’s say this, this, this transfer, this joint responsibility between volunteer managers to maintain this resource instead of thinking, okay, okay, I have to run my organization rather have this volunteer walking away very angry with me, but giving a lot of hours Yeah. Than helping this volunteer to give just enough hours finding out, this is not my work. Drink some coffee together, have some food and say, but I do have friends. We’re an organization that is maybe more suitable for you.
Yeah. Yeah. I love that model of the collective of really understanding it cuz that it is more how it is. I mean, we, we tend to silo ourselves in our organizations and think there’s the only, the only life that volunteer has is when, when they come through our door and when they, when they’re ready to leave. Right. Versus, versus the reality, which is a lifetime of service that we want to have. And, I’ll, I’ll mention to people like, look, if it, you’ve gotta take responsibility for volunteerism in your community.
And if your organization can’t support volunteers in the way they should be supported, then it’s sort of unethical for you to step forward and like try to bring people, because you are impacting, if someone leaves in an angry huff and decides not to volunteer anymore, you are impacting your community. Correct. So The question we ask is, you should, you should be focused on recruitment on the short term and you should be focused on how can I make it easier to recruit volunteers in five years? And if you understand that it becomes both things to make it easier for yourself to recruit in five years better is everybody does this one referral.
It’s not about recruiting tomorrow, it’s about making life easier in five or 10 years time. Yeah. Yeah. What can we do now to prepare people that when they retire, they will give more hours? Yes, yes. Instead of less. Yes. That Kind of question, but it is a bit of a twist in the mindset because we are so occupied with tomorrow.
Yeah. Yeah. Well that’s what I wanted to have you on to talk about this different way of thinking, your volunteerism research is, has really, proposed a, a different way of thinking and it makes sense. It sort of aligns better with volunteerism in general because volunteerism for volunteers is about the collective. Usually it’s about, giving back. It’s about working together. if you look at, I’m part of a, a volunteer group, it’s completely self-organized. I mean, we work within, in an association with an organization, but all of our work, our labor is organized as a team. I don’t even talk to the volunteer manager.
We just do our thing. And we do, every, every Saturday morning we do a gardening tips live show in our Facebook group. Our Facebook group has, I just checked this morning, 18,400 people. But that means that we also have to tell volunteer managers to be less control oriented. Yes. Okay. and make this self organizing possible, et cetera, et cetera. And if something goes wrong, think okay. They can solve it themselves. So the, the metaphor we used years ago was that we, we tend to look at faulty management as if it’s an assembly line that makes a car together, which can also make a car as a team. And the team comes together and everybody does something.
And maybe the car doesn’t really look like you want it, but it’s their car and it might also just drive. Right. Right, Right. And of course, if you’ve, if you’re vulnerable clients, yes. You might be want to have more control. Yes. So we call it the ratchet model. At a certain moment you have to twist the thing that becomes tight.
Right. Tighten the thing. Yeah. But many place, you don’t have to tighten it. We tighten too much. Volunteer involvement. You want to lift our way. And that’s where the violent management comes in. Right now with the new technology, many people have something like, no, no, no, no. Whatever. I don’t want. I’m going to retire.
I don’t want to manager anymore. And then they meet this volunteer coordinator who tells them what they’re supposed not to do because that’s for paid staff. And they go like, yeah, I listen, but they don’t listen. Right? Yep, yep. I hear what you say, but I’m not going to do that. Yep, yep. I think technology has democratized decision making in a lot of ways.
I think in addition, remote work, so many people have become knowledge. we have a, an increase in knowledge work, which is very much based on our own expertise. A lot of times the knowledge worker, the, the manager doesn’t know, they don’t have the expertise to, to manage at that level. Then you have remote workers that are making their own decisions about how they’re running their days, and always Think we can control them when they’re volunteering. Exactly. Like, forget about it. So this has been a fantastic conversation. I have, I’m so appreciative of having this. And I hope we get to talk more as we start to wrap up. In addition to, abandoning the command and control model, which, sometimes we manage the way we are managed, right? We tend to perpetuate whatever way we’re being managed or the culture of the organization. And sometimes if the organization, and many of our nonprofits are very like, obsessed with control, which even in the nonprofit sector, I mean our, our sector is so complex. Forget about being able to control everything.
Right? Let’s end with maybe three pieces of advice you have for how people can start to evolve. First of all, obviously start to think about a different model and think beyond. I love your piece of advice. Like think beyond like what’s volunteerism going to look like five years from now. what’s not just about what is that volunteer, how are we going to squeeze every piece of, of talent and time out of a volunteer when they’re working with us? Especially now, I think it’s just people are, the world is recovering from trauma and so there’s a, there’s a fair amount of also exhaustion. Not only exhaustion from the trauma, but also exhaustion from illness. I mean, people have long covid, there’s a fair amount of stress and uncertainty going on. So even when we wanted, maybe prior to Covid, people could, lean in a little bit heavier. I think now that’s, that’s not, I’ve always argued lately I’ve been arguing actually, what if you created a volunteer environment that was better than what’s happening in the world?
Less uncertainty, more resilient, more sense of connection, more sense of belonging, more sense of joy. If you ever really became an architect of the volunteer experience and said, what, I’m going to set up for myself to create something that is better than the outside world. I think you would not, if, if volunteering felt like a party and it was joyful and people felt like they were revived through volunteering,
I don’t think it’d be that hard to keep people coming back. I’m just saying. Correct. Thanks. Alright. Three points. I have 25, but let’s, let’s, well, you can keep Talking my friend. I, I, I think the first thing is really we, we have to reconsider the net cost of volunteering or the cost and, and profit or the rewards of volunteering. So we, we were focusing a lot on the rewards. How can we give more to the volunteer as a kind of compensation, as as if money. Right? Right. But that’s not going to work. There’s, that’s not in our hands. What’s in our hands as volunteer managers? Can we reduce the costs?
Mm. Can we make it easier for them? Yes. Can we reduce the idea of, I have to listen to this manager, can I open up the volunteering tool time they want it place, they want it. Can we, as we have wrote in this last last article, can we create more of the spontaneous volunteering by seeing the resources? Marine plankton, it goes everywhere. We don’t know, but it, it, it’s certainly materialized into volunteering. And let me give a a, a Dutch example, which I really like. It’s called the fish doorbell. You have a doorbell. Now, in this case, there is a water lock in one of the ure canals. Mm. And it blocks the swimming of fish.
And someone had a brilliant ID during covid to put a camera on it down in the water and make a website that you can go to this website and see if there’s a fish. You want the guy who has to open the, the water lock. Ding. There is a fish. Huh? 400,000 people did. Ding. I don’t think he ever time reacted every time.
Otherwise you could never sleep. But Right, right. Now they, now they extended that one to make the camera and, and give you possibility to count fish. You see, so what it does is it provokes these volunteering. All right? And some people might only once a year, but there must be people who have done a lot. Right?
So I think we, we should go better in this net cost kind of thing. Make it easy. Think about how can we reduce the hassle of becoming a volunteer? How can we make more use of this spontaneous kind of volunteering, right? Which is indeed less control oriented. It’s not like now we can only ding dong between nine and five because that’s the time that he works.
No, no, no. We can door the board, the doorbell from the America in a different time zone. Yep. We’ll see what happens. Right? It’s not a problem. So that, that, that’s the first one. Really reconsider the net cost, the cost of volunteering, right? The, the second one is think about what kind of new sources can we create to get access to this volunteer energy, create volunteer energy. So many of my examples are already existing in the US and very new in the Netherlands. But, but it’s, it’s about the singles and how can we get people to, to donate time, right? And can we change existing models into places where you also donate time to the community? And can we do more there and, and, and see that as volunteer manages as a kind of entry into volunteering, right? So we see three, three different kind of energy models. Now. The first one is the marine plankton.
The second one is what we call farmed fish. So every farmer, company, school, that kind of things creates its own fish. And then we have the wild salmon, and how can we create a live journey in which people can donate all three resources and we create volunteering outfit. So that’s the second thing. We should become way better in creating, volunteering out of all these different volunteer sources, resources. And the third one is this collective action. We need to rethink the, the role of volunteer centers as a kind of place where we connect these volunteer managers to talk about what is the state of affairs of the volunteer resource.
So not volunteering in our community and order to do that, I dunno about the us but the Netherlands, many governments count amount of volunteers and think that helps them understand the voluntary resource. It doesn’t. If you want to maintain the herring, very important fish in Netherlands. Indeed. We want to know the amount of herring now because that predicts a little bit what happens next year.
But the big influence on the reproductive capacity is the ocean. If the ocean is unhealthy, there will be no new hell no herrings. Right? So we, we count the, the herring, the volunteers to predict the new volunteers. But we want, we don’t, we need to understand the ocean. Yeah. And we need to influence the ocean.
So we need to think about what is the ecosystem that produces volunteer energy and who are these players? So that’s the third one. We need to have this ecosystem kind of perspective on how can we together create, maintain this this beautiful resource we have. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it it changes the conversation entirely. It Does. Yeah. And I understand volunteer managers sometimes I like Yeah.
More work professor, You’re, you’re academic. I do agree. All right. I I, I get that too. But what, the other thing is, I would just say when anybody ever tells me more work and they sigh, I say yes. But volunteers are the answer always. Like, figure out how can you bring people into the conversation who are volunteers? This, you should never be having this conversation in, in your, room of only volunteer managers and think you’re going to have a, an end result that you want. you really have to, whether it’s through, surveys, feedback systems, et cetera, or through, idea mashups, advisory groups, whatever. Or having pe having volunteers drive some of the design work. So this is where our metaphor of the letter resource goes wrong. Because these fishes can talk to us, but the volunteers can. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s very important. You should talk to your volunteers and be open because the volunteers, because they’re not afraid of you.
They were also just ignore you. Yeah. In many cases. Yeah. Yeah. And I love how you, I’ve often, lately I’m just keep asking the question, how can you make volunteering easier? Not harder. It’s just a simple question to ask over and over and over again. It’s just, the human resources model, we really are all a hundred. it’s like everybody just bet on that model and just went all in. But it’s, we’re finding now that there are cracks in that model. It doesn’t work across all contexts. It’s not generating the kind of, joyful volunteering. It’s, it’s becoming a barrier to service for people. So that’s why we have this stewardship model and the idea Okay.
If we use that that list, we find so many organizations who are not performing up to Yeah. Par Yeah. But still surviving. So there must be other models too. Yeah, Exactly. Exactly. This has been fantastic. Thank you so much, Lucas. It’s been fun to catch up. It’s been fun to talk about this. I, I knew I wanted to share this with the audience and just gang, we assume as I kicked us off, when I talked about that chronicle philanthropy journal article and others that I’ve been reading lately, we have a specific paradigm in our mind. And we sometimes it becomes invisible or it becomes invisible to us. We assume that it’s just is because that’s reality with a capital R. And when you really start to, read and talk to people who are like Lucas, who are thinking outside the box, they’re doing volunteerism research, they’re pro, really proposing new models.
This idea of sustainability is a fantastic model. And it’s not something, it’s not the way we usually think. And so when we think about, for example, there’s a dearth of volunteers. There’s an issue with volunteer energy in your, the way you would describe it, Lucas is the reason is the volunteer. Well, now the reason might be that the pond is, polluted. Correct. Right. And we have been polluted it for polluting it for years. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s something that people have been doing, pe it’s, it’s a human. We know that there’s a compassion gene. We know that it’s a human, it, it is good for us to work together and just evolutionarily. And there’s so many health aspects. Aga also when it comes to volunteerism.
And it’s not surprising, right? It’s not surprising that volunteerism, for example, is an anti-inflammatory, human connection and cooperation is essential to our survi survival as a species. So when we can align more with almost our own like, inner sort of physiology in a way, I feel like the sustainable mobility model also not only aligns with the, the, the environment externally, but also our own physiology in psychology and neuroscience and on the whole thing, our brains. So it’s an interesting way to think about it. So one more question before we log off, cuz I know it’s latent. We’ve been on for a while. One last question. What are you most excited about in the year ahead? Oh, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m very excited about seeing all these, when I started doing this, and I work as university and we have this beautiful business school and we had a small department looking at sustainability.
And we had 15 students. Now we are 20 years further and we have about 200 students have master program. I have 60 students in, in my class NGO management. And every year I got this new, how do you say? Ping pong. Ping pong kind of bouncing around naive students that want to change the world. That makes me so happy. Yes. Yeah. And, And so there’s a good news, I mean, the sustainability, I’m, I’m really not afraid of the future of volunteering because people will want to do that. Okay. That’s not a problem.
And maybe I’m a little bit in a bubble with all these students that want to do something. But it’s going to change, it’s going to be much more what we call now nano volunteer philanthropy and volunteering. And we get beautiful questions. Like, I mean, 80% of our students is vegetarian. Wow. Now, of course I’m a bubble. Right?
But we, we don’t eat meat with them. I mean money, if the teacher are still from the generation, we eat meat. But if we have something together with the students, it’s vegetarian. Of course. Yeah. Yeah. Now that, that’s maybe not volunteering. I don’t know. We’re going to find out. Yeah. But there’s a lot there, right? Yeah. This boycotting and boycotting makes me very happy. Yeah. Or at least positive. Yeah. I see how they share stuff. So this whole idea that you don’t have to own a car, but you can share it. And it’s, and in many cases, not commercial, it’s just with your friends. Yeah. So there’s much more of the civil society kind of thing.
So when I’m moving a little bit from volunteering to civil society, there’s much more the civil, so society going on nowadays, the whole social enterprise movement, et etc. Et cetera. There’s much more like this, these, these borders of volunteering. Yeah. But there’s a lot of volunteer energy. Okay. So last example. My students help each other with their social enterprises and they do this, friends and fundraising and things like that. And they, it’s all volunteering. They don’t see it as volunteering, but it’s really, they French raise for, for social enterprise is going to make grandmothers soup. So they go to grandmothers and ask them recipes and they’re going to make that recipes. And they sell the recipes, but needs to be fundraising. And everybody first five years is all volunteering.
Yeah. Maybe becomes a company, maybe not. Yeah. That, That makes me really like, and we, we missing that as volunteer administrators, right. But these people have their, they have this, this gene. Right. They can’t say no, if I ask my class to volunteer, they, they go and if you see the evaluation, they like this one day that we make birthday boxes or we can celebrate et said et cetera. Yep. I’m a positive guy. Yeah, you are. That’s fantastic. Yeah. It’s been such a great conversation. Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you for having me. How can people, we, we will absolutely post in the show notes some, if you want to read Lucas’s work, absolutely. It will blow your mind. It will give you something to think about. But where can people learn more about you, your, any books you’ve written, I know you’ve written some books and get in touch with you. If they’re interested in learning more, maybe, maybe they’ll come to, I provided you with a link to my personal webpage at the university and that gives you all the information.
You, you, you will, including my email address. Just email it. Right. And we find a way of, of doing things. Awesome. Awesome. Fantastic. Thank you gang for joining us for another episode of The Volunteer Nation. I hope you enjoyed it. If you like this episode, will you do us a favor and share it with someone you think might benefit and make sure that you subscribe, like, and we would love to hear a review. So let us know and we will see you next time. Same time, same place next week on the Volunteer Nation. Thanks everybody. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation Podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause.
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