Episode #040: Volunteer Management Trends for 2023 – Our New Data with Jamie Gaylor, Part 1

Tobi: 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 this episode of the Volunteer Nation Podcast. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and we have got a very special two-part podcast for you where I’ll be sharing key takeaways and volunteer management transfer 2023 from this year’s Volunteer Management Progress Report.  

I’ll be joined by Jamie Gaylor, our marketing manager for Tobi Johnson and Associates and VolunteerPro who helped me put together our annual state of the industry report this year. It’s our eighth year of conducting this survey, so you are in for a real treat.  

I cannot wait to get started. If you are joining us, and this is your first podcast with us, stick around next week because we’ll be adding part two to the mix. So join us for next week. We’re excited to have you and let’s just get started.  

Today I have a very special episode. It is right after New Year’s when we’re recording. Want to wish a happy 2023 and a prosperous new year to everyone who’s listening. This is going to be a fantastic year. I can feel it in my bones. And today we’re going to share some data that also backs up my claim, my claim that this is going to be a fantastic year.  

So today we’re talking about volunteer management transfer 2023, our new data with my partner in crime, Jamie Gaylor, who is our marketing manager at VolunteerPro and Tobi Johnson and Associates. I thought I’d bring Jamie on because over the holiday, Jamie was doing all of the qualitative research around some of our open-ended questions. 

So she was going through and coding thou over a thousand responses, and I haven’t had a chance to look at that yet. But what I’ve been doing is looking at the quantitative, the numbered responses to our 2023 Volunteer Management Progress Report survey.  

I’d like to go ahead and introduce Jamie. For those of you who have not met her, she is our fantastic marketing manager at Tobi Johnson and Associates and VolunteerPro. She has a professional background including work with nonprofits in both marketing and as a volunteer leader.  

She joined our team in April of 2022, and Jamie and I were just musing about this. Was it really almost a year ago?  

Jamie: Yes. Time stopped during Covid and then it started at a weird pace. Yeah. So I’m never really sure how fast time was going, but yeah. 

Tobi: Yeah. Yeah. So she came to VolunteerPro from a hospital system and was the volunteer coordinator working with volunteers there and working in, getting deployed in a lot of other jobs as well. I think like a lot of volunteer coordinators, so she has a passion to help leaders of volunteers increase their skill level and knowledge base because she knows what that’s all about firsthand. 

So when we were talking about divvying up the tasks, because putting together the Volunteer Management Progress Report year after year is a lot of work. And so I was really excited to have Jamie on board this year because she really does understand firsthand how hard your job is, those of you who lead volunteers. 

So really excited to have Jamie. We know each other well because we work together. So we decided we’re going to have a lot of fun in this episode, so I hope everybody’s cool with that. People think data can be kind of dry. I completely disagree. I am a total data wonk. What about you, Jamie?  

Jamie: Oh, well I had the individual comments. 1300 some-odd comments. So those were the opposite of “dry.” I felt those very viscerally. Empecially having been in, I mean, I knew what they were talking about.  

I felt it in my soul and I just wanted to reach out and…You know, obviously these are anonymous, so there’s no way to do it, but I just wanted to reach out and give these people a hug and say, “I know what you’re feeling.” 

Tobi: Yeah. “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.” Before, we were chatting before, she said everybody just needs a hug and a vacation. Yeah. And we’ll get into it. Sharing, and we had talked about this too, the question is: what’s your biggest challenge? Right?  

So obviously there’s a lot of good in these programs, there’s a lot of good in volunteerism and there’s a lot of good in the nonprofit world. We specifically asked for the bad news, So as we’re talking about it, I guess that’s important to keep in mind too.  

It’s not all cloudy skies, it’s just, you know, we ask people to be vulnerable and share their challenges, because that’s a big part of it.  

So the 1300+ open-ended responses are one of the questions we ask year after year. We’ve asked since year one for our surveys – been going now for eight years, this is our eighth edition – is “What’s your #1 biggest challenge,” and “be as complete as you can.”  

And Jamie was assigned to hand code 1300+ responses so that we could categorize them and share with you in the report what were the top line challenges for folks. We don’t design that question as a fill-in-the-blank. It is a fill in the blank, but we allow people to put all their heart and soul in their answer, if they’d like. Use as much space as they’d like.  

But we don’t do it as a multiple choice on purpose, because we don’t want to assume we understand or know what the current challenges are and we want to hear the voice of the folks who are doing this work. 

So we always ask that one open-ended question and then at the end we always ask “anything else you’d like to share?” So that was Jamie’s part of analyzing the data. My part for analyzing the data was the numbers side of things. The qualitative comments that Jamie was looking at, as well as the quantitative side, either supported one another or offered some diagnostics as to why people might have that challenge. 

From what I could see as sort of an expert in volunteerism, I can kind of see when people are struggling with something and then I see that in the data somewhere else, “well, this could help you.” There was some really interesting overlap. So consider this not only a little bit of a sneak peek of what’s in the full report, but also maybe a little bit of suggestion, some coaching along the way. 

I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes. So before we kick it off though, just want to remind or review why we put together this report. For those of you who haven’t seen the report, are new to our audience, you may have not seen our Volunteer Management Progress Report. 

Again, it’s in our eighth year. I want to thank the champions and distribution partners who’ve helped us throughout the years, sharing the survey link around the world. This year we had 39 participating countries.  

I remember back in the day when it was like maybe 12. And of course we have our top countries. The majority of the survey is responded to in the US. We live in the US, we’re in a country that has a high population base. But also Canada, the UK, Australia were top respondents, were coming from those countries. 

But also, 35 other countries all over the world, lots of folks from Africa, India, other parts of Asia, and also the survey is delivered in English, but you can translate it into a language that works for you using the software…Europe. 

So it was really cool this year to see us spread out and when you get the survey or get the report and download it, you can see a map of where everybody came. So I thought that was really cool to see more and more global participation in the survey.  

Over the past two episodes of Volunteer Nation – Episode 38, we talked about New Year’s Resolution Ideas for Nonprofits. And episode 39 we talked about Predictions and Trends in Volunteerism for 2023. So definitely check those out as well as we talk trends.  

You know, it’s the time of year when we talk trends, right? We’ve been talking trends in our blog. We’ve been talk talking trends in our podcast. So just wanted to note those, because we like to share what we’re seeing out in the world and some of our opinions on where we might do better and get better traction.  

But today it’s really about what volunteer managers had to say and where we are seeing consensus across the board in experience, believe it or not. You may believe and feel very alone as a volunteer manager in some of your challenges. You may believe that your organization is the only organization experiencing these challenges.  

And sometimes I think this report is a little bit of a sort of reassurance that you’re not alone. That other people are challenged by these things because, you know, as society evolves, so too, does volunteerism. And when there’s radical change happening in a society, like a global pandemic, that’s going to impact volunteerism directly because we are people driven.  

So I hope people nod their heads as we talk about these insights and say to themselves, “Okay, I’m not alone. Okay, let me see what I can do about this.” So, hopefully that’ll happen. I hope you’ll let us know. Tag us on social and we’d love to hear from you.  

So also, before we get started, just if you’re interested in getting your hands on the Volunteer Management Progress Report, the final report, we’re still working on it, but it will be done in the next couple weeks. You can go to volpro.net/volunteer-management-progress-report, or just go to our Volunteer Nation Podcast webpage, and you can grab that link in the show notes, and we will see you there.  

So you’ll be able to get that report. It’s free, you just download it and all of the previous seven years of reports as well. So that’s pretty cool. So let’s talk about this year’s report. For our 2023 Volunteer Management Progress Report, we called it the Back to Business Edition. And I did not realize how true that would be.  

You know, I always choose the themes and that impacts the questions we ask, but also sometimes the responses come back and reaffirm that, oh yeah, that was the theme. That should have been the theme for this year. So, Jamie, as you think about this Back to Business Edition, when you were going through and reading through and coding all of these open-ended questions to our big question, “What is your number one biggest challenge,” what were some of the big themes that came up? Challenges that came up for folks that relate to this sort of idea of Back to business?  

Yeah, so there’s evergreen challenges in volunteer management: recruitment, retention, appreciation, respect. Staff buy-in. But the pandemic really drew those into sharp relief and really caused unique situations that fell under those broad categories but also were very unique. In this Back to Business, this coming back from.  

Recruitment is usually a focus for a volunteer manager, but in this case, you know, the added layers of fear. Potential volunteers have moved into new frames of life themselves. They’ve kind of moved on to other things. The economic fallout where people are going back to work. They don’t have time to volunteer because the cost-of-living increases.  

So those, those were interesting. Heartbreaking, but also interesting in terms of the data. We’re past the pandemic and we’re back to business, but it’s going to have a long effect on culture. We’re not going back to business as it was. We’re going forward to business as it must be moving forward.  

And that was one thing that cropped up very often in the comments, is “what we did before isn’t working now. We’re having trouble. We never had a problem before covid with recruitment, but now we are at, you know, X percentage capacity and I don’t know why. Just nobody seems to want to volunteer in the way that they did before.”  

So we’ve definitely turned a page as a culture, as a global community of volunteerism. And it’s interesting to see these comments reoccur over and over. We’re going to have to do new things to get new results and we can’t do the same things as before. So that’s very interesting to me.  

Another challenge that popped up a lot was retention or engagement of volunteers, specifically when there isn’t as much work for them to do. I think the goal of a lot of organizations was to bring their volunteers back to full force, and I feel like a lot…I mean, we can go over the numbers, they’re on track – but also, the other side of that is to bring back the jobs as they were before, and I wonder if that’s on track based on the comments. 

Because for two years or two+ years, when volunteers were furloughed, the staff was doing the essential jobs, a lot of services got put aside all together, and now staff burnout.  

You know, trying to convince them to get volunteers back in their departments, trying to explain the value of volunteers to take some of that load off of them when they’ve been carrying it for so long and it just seems overwhelming to even try to think about it.  

And then how do you keep volunteers engaged when you don’t have the work for them to do like you want to? So, same problem, different cause. Different solutions, you know?  

So those were, and then of course, kind of plays into that, but the other big one was just staff buy-in, getting staff to open up their departments again. 

Either out of fear or risk management issues, or just, “I don’t have the mental bandwidth to deal with it right now,” but re-engaging with the departments, with the program managers, with the executive staff, to have to resell the value of volunteerism because they’ve done without it for so long. We know the value of volunteers, we can talk about that for a long time.  

Tobi: Yeah, for sure. It’s almost like we’re starting from scratch again, which is so interesting because I think…you know, a lot of the nonprofit sector was started and many nonprofits are, were started by volunteers. If you look back in the history. If your organization is 20, 30, 40, 50 years old or two years old, if you look back, it’s often volunteers that started it.  

So it’s interesting that volunteer managers are having a hard time championing volunteerism for their organizations. It’s kind of an interesting wrinkle. We don’t want to be “Debbie Downers,” but this is a real deal. We want to make sure that you have the information you need.  

Now, this survey report will help us really take a look at volunteer management trends for 2023 and serve several different audiences. We always have several different audiences in mind for this. So as you get your hands on the survey, if you’re a person who is struggling with some of these challenges, there’s some ways you can use it. 

You know, I’ve had people email me and say, “Hey, guess what? I got a new FTE in my department,” or “Guess what, I got invited to a meeting.” Or “Guess what, we’re finally included on the strategic plan, all thanks to your survey!” And I love to get those emails because it means that the data is making its way to the people that need to see it. 

And there are several audiences. Volunteer resource managers can benefit from seeing how their colleagues rate their own priorities, challenges, and opportunities. We just talked about that at the top of this podcast. So we really do want to make sure you know that you’re not alone if you’re leading volunteers, that your challenges are also similar to others. 

Volunteer-led organizations also need clear benchmarks to help them make informed decisions about their volunteer strategies and in this survey in particular, we focus on several key benchmarks that we believe are important for volunteer involving organizations to track when it comes to volunteer involvement. 

We wanted to figure out how many, what percentage of volunteer organizations were tracking those impact metrics and what the actual results. And so there’s some interesting in the report, we won’t talk a lot about them today, but they are in the report itself.  

Nonprofit consultants, trainers, and capacity builders also need to know which are the greatest needs for our field, and as our field evolves.  Back in the day when I started this survey, I remember I was going around to a few of my partners and just asking them if they would support just sharing the survey link with their networks.  

And the first person to support the survey, I remember we went out to dinner, I was speaking in her city. Katie Campbell used to be the Executive Director of the Council for Certification and Volunteer Administration, and she was the first person to say, “I will help you do this, I will help you spread the word through the CVA network.”  

And I’m a CVA, so I was very appreciative. But she said, “I don’t think you need to do this every year.” And I said, “Oh, I think I do!” And she thought, I think she thought I was a little crazy. So did a few other people. But in the end, when you see a lot of surveys come out where folks will say it’s a “trend survey,” and I’m like, “Well, a trend needs three data points.” And if it’s just one data point, it’s not a trend. 

But for some of the data points we have for the survey, we have multiple years of data where we can show either lack of growth or flat line, where we can really track things. So I’m going to pull out a couple of those trends just across pre-covid to “post” covid. So I think that’ll be interesting to talk about today. 

Jamie: I’ll interject and just do an absolutely shameless plug of the podcast. There’s an episode, I’m trying to bring it up, but it’s the episode with the five KPIs you should be tracking. We’ll put it in the show notes for people because as we’re building back, as volunteer programs are growing, adding and asking to put volunteers in greater roles, there’s no better time to have the data to back you up.  

Yeah, you want to walk into those meetings like the professional that you are, with the data to back up your requests and your facts and figures. That’s what the Volunteer Management Progress Report is for.  

Tobi: Yes. That’s what those KPIs and the podcast are for. And it’s all about, number one, being able to accurately manage your own program. But number two, going into those meetings armed with hard data to help you get the result that you need for your program. So data is key moving forward.  

Jamie: Yeah! Data is going to be like the shield and the sword as you go into battle. 

Tobi: You go on in a way that it never has been before. Yes, yes. I will talk more about what data people are tracking now and what they’re not. We’re actually going to talk about that today. So the stakeholder group for this survey is our sector as a whole.  

It needs to understand recent capacity, challenges and issues in order to better advocate for our names needs, which is what you’ve been talking about Jamie, is when we think about funders and enablers out there that are working and supporting large networks of volunteer involving organizations or the sector as a whole, I think. 

Capacity challenges are important for them to understand that. We all know that volunteer engagement is not easy, but there are particular challenges now that people are facing that we want to call into high relief as you’ve talked about a little bit before. 

Okay, well let’s take a quick break and when we come back we’ll dive more into a bit more about this survey methodology and what methods we use to research key volunteer management trends for 2023. So don’t go anywhere.  

If you enjoyed 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.  

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Okay, we’re back with how we go about researching top volunteer management transfer 2023, and we’re going to share a little bit more about our key insights from this year. I want to talk quickly about the methodology, just because if you’re a survey geek like me, you want to know how is this survey, how was it conducted? Was it scientific?  

Well, first of all, we don’t have the staff or the funding to do deep regression analysis. So if you’re looking for regression and correlation analysis, we don’t do that here. But we do some cross-tabbing. We do try to figure what group of people have this experience, et cetera, so we will be putting a little bit of that. 

We won’t talk about it today, but there’ll be a little bit of that in the survey. Our survey partner, our research partner, Pam Kappelides, took a break this year. She’s been helping us with the survey over the years, and I think we’ve, over the years, really refined this into a data collection tool and report that’s really helpful to the field, and I’m very proud of it. 

You know, I’ve been doing survey development and design for a long time, and I do it for my consulting clients sometimes, and did it with my own programs. Been trained on it fully. So this isn’t a random survey that we just throw a bunch of questions together. It’s been well developed and tested and run by practitioners always to see if it makes sense. 

In the end, we had 1,598 volunteer managers, both paid and volunteer, some folks are unpaid, that self-selected to take this survey, which was distributed throughout the world via our distribution partners and colleagues just sharing it with peers. We were sharing it out to our own networks. 

People self-select, and you had to be an active volunteer manager within the last, I think it was six months. So we’re not, the people who are missing from the survey are people who used to be in the field.  

We like to ask people that are currently working with volunteers, so that’s important for people to know just who is the audience we were speaking to. And if you were one of those people who completed the Volunteer Management Progress Report survey this year – last fall, it happened that we collected responses between October and November of 2022. 

We always collect our responses in the fall, and then produce it the following year in January and call it that year’s survey. So thank you to you all of you who participated this past fall for our 2023 report. We really appreciate your participation because frankly, the report would not exist in the robust way it does without your help. 

So thank you so much. Pat yourself on the back. If we were with you, we’d give you hugs. Uh, maybe socially distanced, I don’t know, but we’d be ready to hug. And it’s a long survey. This year was 39 questions. The year before during deep covid, we really reduced it a little bit to give everybody a break. 

It’s a long survey, so I know people take about 15 minutes. 10, 15 minutes to go through it, and you have a busy schedule and you’ve gotta think these things through. And we’re asking about KPIs, key performance indicators. We’re asking you to reflect back on how many volunteers you have.  

So there’s a bit of research people have to do to answer the survey. So again, thank you so much to everybody, but that’s our methodology and we put it out on, we use a platform called Zoho Surveys that we like, and that’s basically how we do it.  

So just for those survey geeks, just to help you understand what’s the methodology behind what we do. That’s how we do.  

All right, so that’s it for part one of Volunteer Management Trends for 2023, our new Data with Jamie Gaylor. I really hope you join us next week. Same time, same place where Jamie and I will share six key insights we had from the survey in more detail, so you will not want to miss it as we dig more into the data. We’ll see you then.  

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.