Episode #039: Predictions and Trends in Volunteerism for 2023

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.   

Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Volunteer Nation! I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and today I want to share with you predictions and trends in volunteerism for 2023.  

I don’t know about you, but I’m just super pumped to welcome 2023 and to put 2022 in the taillights. I don’t know. I’m just ready to say goodbye to it. Are you? Are you sad that 2022 has ended? I don’t know, but I’m pretty happy we’re in 2023. 

It just feels like a fresh start. I feel like we all need a fresh start right now, and I feel like I’m just putting a marker in the ground right here and just saying, you know what, from here on out, I don’t need to worry about the things of the past.  

I’m going to think about the things of the future, and I’m going to build the best year ever. That’s my framework, that’s my mindset mantra for the year.  

So today I want to talk about trends in volunteerism. We are going to look through a little bit of recent history just to ground ourselves. Then I want to talk about my predictions for what I think’s going to be important for 2023.  

So let’s go back through the hands of time just a little bit, just to see where we’ve come from. Even though we’re putting in the taillights, we can just shut the door on it after this episode, right?  

So let’s talk about where we’re at or what we’ve understood about our recent experiences with volunteers and volunteer engagement over the past couple years specifically. Yes.  

With Covid 19, NCVO in the UK created, right before the pandemic started, they published this fantastic study called Time Well Spent, where they researched tens of thousands of volunteers, and shout out to NCVO for that amazing work. 

It’s been so helpful in understanding where people are coming from and you know, the title of Time Well Spent indicates the key takeaway from that study, which is volunteers want their time to be well spent. So they want their work as a volunteer to be meaningful.  

They also created Time Well Spent: The impact of Covid 19 on the Volunteer Experience. It was a supplementary study where they researched what had been happening during the pandemic. And they found there was a suspension of face-to-face volunteering.  

There were changes in volunteering spaces and innovations, so people were volunteering online. People were volunteering outside, people finding new ways to get people involved. There was also a rise of informal, small-scaled volunteering. They found lots of people-to-people volunteering, people helping neighbors.  

That actually was also found in some research by UN volunteers. So we found really around the world, more neighbors helping neighbors. So that altruistic or compassionate gene was well at work during covid.  

They also found an increased interest in diversity and inclusion and volunteering, which is very positive, I think, and bodes well for our field going forward.  

Now, I’m going to post in the show notes for this episode, a link to all these studies that I’m mentioning do that you can go and take a read, have a read, get to know a little bit more about the data and the information.  

I’m just giving you top line takeaways, so I really encourage you to download these studies and really take a look. You’ll find these in episode 39, Predictions and Trends in Volunteerism for 2023. 

All you need to do is go to TobiJohnson.com and just click on podcasts at the top of the page, and then just find episode 39 and you can get these links.  

Let’s also talk about our own research, our Volunteer Management Progress Report. We do an annual study, as you many of you know, from leaders of volunteers every year. 

Over a thousand leaders of volunteers participate in our study and help us understand what’s happening in the field. And we are now in our eighth year and in a couple of weeks, in mid-January 2023, we’ll be releasing our 2023 reports. So stay tuned for that.  

In the meantime, I want to talk about what we’ve learned in the past few years. So in the past year studies, the average number of active volunteers was 101 to 250. Wo ask in bands, in sort of ranges,  

And it dropped down in the fall of 2020 actually, and also in the fall of 2021. So we, our survey goes out every fall. So we drop down to only one to 25 active volunteers on average in 20 and 2021.  

So, in the fall when our survey went out, in those dates before covid, we were having an active number of volunteers from our reporting organizations that participated was 101 to 250, dropped down to one to 25.  

So basically, covid basically decimated the number of volunteers participating and in some cases, for good reason. You know, it wasn’t safe for people to come and volunteer. 

The good news is, in this year’s, the 2023 Volunteer Management Progress Report survey, the survey went out in the fall of 2022, at the end of 2022, we’re back up to those 101 to 250 volunteers.  

So the field has absolutely bounced back to previous levels. And that’s pretty amazing. Now that doesn’t, that’s an aggregate number across the field around the world. 

Your organization may still be struggling to build back. It doesn’t represent each individual organization. But our research does confirm a decrease in volunteers also in volunteer hours. So before covid, our mean was about 30 hours. And during covid, we were seeing about 10 to 20 hours per volunteer per month. 

And so we had a decrease in volunteers and a decrease in volunteer hours. So that wasn’t good news, right? But it helps ground us in where we’re going now, and I was very, very grateful and happy to hear that our volunteer numbers are going back up.  

UN Volunteers also did a study from Care to Wear Understanding Volunteerism in the Global South, a multi-country study on volunteering before, during and beyond covid.  

This study came out in 2021, and this was when we talk about global south. This was countries in Africa. There were some countries in Eastern Europe. So this is an interesting take on how covid impacted some of the countries and organizations and countries that don’t get talked about as much as the US, Canada, UK, Australia, et cetera. 

So there are some really interesting findings from this study. One is that at least three quarters of all adults volunteered in the past year. So during covid in the global south, people were still volunteering in high numbers, but their changes in their voluntary participation were complex and not always with a clear pattern. 

So they weren’t able to say in general, these were the trends, but they also found that people had plans to continue to volunteer in the coming 12 months. So covid did not put a damper on people’s intention to contribute time and talent, so that’s fantastic.  

They also found this shift in interest for volunteers in the global south, so two to three times more interest in participating in civic affairs and working with others on innovative solutions to local problems versus the traditional focus on mutual aid and service delivery.  

That was what was more prevalent in the past. So it’s interesting to see shifts in the capacity of volunteer involvement, but also in interest levels. And that in some areas, volunteerism just kept on going becauseceople needed to help one another. 

In the UN Volunteers 2022 State of the World’s volunteerism report, Building Equal and Inclusive Societies, they also posted and promoted and covered some interesting potential and ways volunteerism was bringing about results in different communities.  

So they found that volunteerism can promote a culture of collaborative decision making by shaping and prioritizing issues. So when we involve the community in our policy making, we can actually change that in a community and government level.  

They found that volunteerism can alter unequal power relationships between communities and go. They found that volunteerism offers diverse pathways to civic participation, but they also found that it’s still limited for some people. 

So there is still a barrier, a divide for who gets involved in volunteerism and who doesn’t. And then they found that volunteers build bridges and broker relationships between service providers and beneficiaries. So volunteers can be the connective tissue, not only between organizations and governments and lawmakers and elected officials, but also volunteers can be the connective tissue between organizations and those they hope to serve. 

And so that’s a really interesting way, I think both of those ways to think about the power of volunteerism. So again, these studies, the studies, both the studies from you and volunteers, as well as a Time Well Spent study, as well as links to our Volunteer Management Progress Report survey can be found in the show notes for this episode, episode 39 of the Volunteer Nation. 

So let’s take a pause for a quick break from my synopsis of recent research on trends and volunteerism. And after the break, I’m going to share some of my top predictions for the future. So don’t go away.  

If you enjoy this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the VolunteerPro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated high-impact volunteer talent for your good cause.  

VolunteerPro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective what’s-working-now volunteer program with less stress and more joy, so that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. 

It is the only implementation of its kind that helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, the Volunteer Strategy Success Path™. If you’re interested in learning more, visit volpro.net/join.  

Okay, we’re back with my rundown of top trends in volunteerism, and now I’d like to switch gears from talking about research to sharing my top predictions for 2023. 

I don’t know. I like to talk trends. It’s kind of fun. Now, who knows if I’m going to be right or wrong, but I can tell you that when I wrote chapter one of Volunteer Engagement 2.0, it was a book that came out in 2016.  

I think it was 2016. I might be wrong about that, it was a few years ago. But my trends and predictions in that chapter actually came true and are come still coming true.  

I don’t know. Maybe I’m good at this predictions game. Maybe not, but it’s fun to think about anyway. So let’s talk about my first prediction.  

I think there’s going to be, and actually this isn’t even a prediction, this is a report out because I just looked at the data, a bounce back to pre-covid levels of volunteerism for some organizations. 

Our early results, as I mentioned before, you know I was talking about trends and volunteerism before the break, and I was talking about our Volunteer Management Progress Report.  

I just looked at the data and our early results are reflecting a mean of 4.93. So what that means is that of all the choices in that question, we asked about “How many active volunteers do you have?” 

It’s approximately 101 to 250 active volunteers. That band in previous pre-covid levels, we asked the exact same question so we can compare apples to apples. The mean before covid was 4.8.  

Now that number, all that number means is each band – so, zero to 25 volunteers, 26 to so many volunteers. Each one of those bands has a number associated to it. 

So the mean was higher after covid. So the mean after covid was 4.93. The mean, or the average number of folks who chose 101-250 was 4.8.  

So what that says to me is more people post-covid have 101-250 active volunteers than they did prior to covid. So, what I’m sort of surmising from this is that we’re bouncing back very strong.  

Now again, I mentioned earlier that different organizations have different results individually, but overall we’re seeing a strong build back, which is great. However, I think there are reasons why some organizations are doing well. 

Some organizations are doing well because the connections with their volunteers over the pandemic. Some are using technology and strategies that will attract and build relationships with volunteers more effectively.  

So there are reasons why some organizations are doing better than others here, but I think overall we’re going to see a bounce back and we’re already seeing early signs of this. So that’s good news for everybody.  

That’s my first trend in volunteerism I want to talk about, that I’m predicting. My second prediction is that organizations will still struggle with using technology effectively.  

You know, a lot of you adopted new technology during covid and will continue to use some of this technology, especially online meetings, trainings, et cetera. Those are, you know, that online meeting technology like Zoom, et cetera. 

Some people are continuing to think about how they’re going to continue to use that to engage volunteers. But I think people will still struggle with the basic digital marketing powerhouse software that modern organizations are already using to engage the community. 

So, there are lots and lots and lots of software out there that can help you build relationships. Not only communicate with people, but also build community. There’s tons of great software out there.  

You know, for example, Circle. We love Circle. We built our VolunteerPro community in Circle. We migrated. This last year we used it for VisionWeek event.  

So we use it to have two-way conversations with folks and to build a sense of community and belonging. And I don’t think organizations yet are there. They’re not using, you know, maybe some folks have some private Facebook groups, but we haven’t reached our full potential there. 

I even think with just basic email service providers, that people are not using emails in ways that can build relationships with volunteers through drip email campaigns, et cetera.  

For whether it’s appreciating volunteers, onboarding new volunteers, win back campaigns for volunteers, all the different ways that a series of emails can build relationships. Folks just aren’t using those and frankly, most volunteer, if not all volunteer management software does not have that capability.  

So we need to think tech stack rather than one single software that’s going to do everything. Rarely in the world is there a single software that can do everything for you. So we need to stop, think about building the sophistication of our tech stack or the different softwares we use to engage volunteers.  

So my second prediction is organizations will still struggle with tech. Let’s keep going on trends in volunteerism. My third prediction is that there will be sustained interest in DEIJ, but frustration with the slow pace of change. 

I know we have a lot because I talk to our members and our students and when I’m out doing my public speaking, and I see the increased interest in making sure that everybody has a place at the table, that everybody is welcome from all walks of life into volunteerism.  

And we have a strong value, value-based around this in our field. We all, many…I won’t say everybody, but I will say a lot of us really believe change needs to happen and that we need to make sure that our volunteer teams are as diverse as possible.  

That at the very least they reflect the communities we’re serving. But you know, there’s still an unlevel playing field, both in the diversity of the folks who are leading volunteers, but also volunteers themselves, and I know that people want to see change.  

But you know, in order to see this change happen, we have to be willing to analyze and address power structures at play inside our organizations. We have to sometimes dismantle things that are keeping people out, and that means having some pretty tough conversations and giving up some power here and there. 

And until that happens, not only attracting but also retaining diverse volunteers may be challenging for organizations that have a very top-down management style. You know, power sharing is required in order to make this happen.  

We’re not just like, I had a student once say, it’s not like Pokemon. You know, you’re not just going out and capturing Pokemons for your volunteer team, so you have the Rainbow Coalition on your volunteer team. 

That’s not what it’s about. And I completely agree. It’s really about dismantling power and giving the community a say in our operations. And that is hard for people to let go of in our field, in our nonprofits.  

So I can see, I predict that some people, although people are talking the talk, the walking the walk may not be happening yet. And it may be frustrating for people who really do want to see change happen. So keep fighting the good fight y’all, and we will keep talking about it here on the Volunteer Nation.  

Okay, fourth prediction, fourth trend in volunteerism that I predict is probably going to happen. We’ll see. I don’t know. It’d be interesting to think this through at the end of the year and see if it came true, but increased interest in the relational side of volunteerism. 

Gang, I have been saying for a while now, it’s about the people, not the paperwork. You know, if we think about the relational side of volunteerism, things like wellness campaigns, mindfulness boundary setting, community building, social events, et cetera, human to human bonding, the P-to-P side of our work, there is more and more interest. 

In fact, in the Time+Talent Podcast, that was basically the theme of season four. Really was! And I will post a link to the Time+Talent Podcast in our show notes, but you can find it in any of your podcast platforms.  

If you’re not familiar with the Time+Talent Podcast, it’s another podcast I do with Jennifer Bennett at VolunteerMatch and for season four, which we dropped in the fall of 2022, we had 10 episodes of with leaders of volunteers.  

We really found that that was the big theme that emerged from all of those conversations and interviews. So it’s really about, instead of paperwork, it’s really processes that help our organizations manage.  

You know, when you think about it, you can have perfect processes. You can have a perfect volunteer handbook, you can have a perfect policy manual. You can have perfect onboarding process in terms of like application and training and all that background screening if you do those kinds of things.  

But if the people, the culture isn’t right, if people don’t feel welcome, if people don’t feel, if people feel like they’re taken for granted, they’re not going to stay because they don’t care how wonderful or not wonderful your volunteer handbook is.  

Now I will say volunteer handbooks can be designed in a way to be super fantastic and build relationships with your volunteers. Absolutely. But alone and in and of themselves, they’re not going to keep people coming. 

However, by the same token, and this may seem a little bit blasphemous in our field, I do training on all, both the people side and the process side, right? So I’m talking, you could have not-so-perfect processes.  

You know, not have the best volunteer handbook, not have the best onboarding process, not have the best application for ’em, not have the best database, all that stuff. 

But if you have really strong relationships and you have a really positive culture,  then people will still come back. So it’s much more forgiving. So if you only have so much time in the day, I know this is blasphemous to say, but if you only have so much time in the day, you should prioritize relationships over paperwork. 

I’m just saying. Now there’s a caveat here. Your paperworks are for your organization. It is for risk management. It is for thinking through the volunteer journey. It is for collecting the data that you need, whether it’s for your funders or for your organization to make improvements.  

Let’s just say there’s value in the paperwork. There is absolute value in the paperwork. However, it’s not enough. People sometimes think, you know, if I can get the paperwork together, then I’m automatically going to have success.  

Well, no, not, not at all. It’s the relational side of things that really matters the most. Now, it’s not that the paperwork doesn’t matter at all. And it’s important to have things organized.  

And even in the time and talent study that NCVO put on, you know, the one from 2019, and again, we have our link to that in the show notes, that they even found that a significant majority of volunteers felt that organizations could be – well, not a majority, I think it was about a third, don’t quote me on this, but it is a high percentage of people who thought organizations could be more organized. 

Now, if volunteers are about having their time well spent, then we do have to be organized, right? So again, the bottom line is the prediction is that people are going to lean into relational volunteerism.  

Not to say that the paperwork isn’t important. But this is going to become the most important thing is our relationships with our people who are supporting us from our communities. 

So those are my top trends in volunteerism and predictions about what I think is going to be top of mind for volunteer involving organizations in 2023. So I’m curious, what do you think? What’s your top prediction for volunteerism for 2023?  

Go ahead and post it in the show comments or tag us on social. We would love to know what are your biggest predictions? I’m just curious. And we’ll try to collect and see what comes up. I think it’d be very interesting.  

So let us know. Again, you can post your top predictions in the comments of this show or tag us on social. So that’s our show for this week. I hope this episode has given you fresh insights on recent trends in volunteerism and what we might look forward to in 2023. 

Thank you for joining us for this episode of The Volunteer Nation, of course. And as always, we appreciate each and every one of you for listening and tuning in every week.  

And if you liked it, I hope you share it with a friend or colleague who also might need a little inspiration, and we will see you next week. Same time, same place for the Volunteer Nation. Take care everybody, and happy 2023!  

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.  

For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at TobiJohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.