When people ask me what I do, I tell them I work in the world of volunteerism, helping a niche of a niche of a niche of a niche. In other words — a niche (organizations) of a niche (charities) of a niche (nonprofit staff) of a niche (leaders of volunteers). However, in a world where the importance of volunteerism is constantly questioned, most people aren’t aware of what that means.
They look at me like I’m nuts. Go figure.
But, isn’t that how it is?
Do you ever feel like a Russian Matryoshka doll? That the importance of volunteerism is the teeniest, tiniest doll nesting right in the middle of layers upon layers of systems, people, bureaucracy?
Your volunteers are at the center of the action, but your diminutive size makes it hard to have any power or say in your organization’s business.
When we reviewed the responses of our Volunteer Management Progress Report , we couldn’t help but notice recurring themes of buy-in, respect, frustration, and even anger about the positioning (and resourcing) of volunteerism.
It appears we still have work to do.
We all know this isn’t rocket science. Volunteers are lynchpins of success and should be valued as such. Period.
But, when will people get it?
Rather than feel disempowered, dismayed, or downright grumpy about our apparent lack of buy-in surrounding the importance of volunteerism, consider these three tips to lift you up.
Advocating for Volunteerism Right Now, From Where You Are
1) Plan to Attend a Conference on Volunteerism
There’s no time like the present to organize ourselves, and the annual Points of Light Conference is the place to do it! A global event that welcomes people from over 30 countries, Points of Light is the conference to attend if you are looking to celebrate, learn, network and engage with thousands of volunteer leaders.
This conference on volunteerism includes:
- Panel discussions, educational workshops, seminars, parallel events, and interactive activities to get the most out of your time.
- Inspirational keynote speakers that give you the confidence you need to go home to implement ideas for impact.
- Innovative and interesting topic areas such as: Volunteer Engagement, Social Networking and Engagement, Social Entrepreneurship, National Service, Business, Tech for Good, Nonprofit Capacity Building.
2) Beat Dispair Through BIG Generosity
Now isn’t the time for competition and turf tussles. The field of volunteerism will be stronger if we work together. This means many things, so pick what works for you.
Generosity in the field of volunteerism can mean:
- Not regarding your peers as “friendly competitors” but more like trusted partners in crime. I know this can be hard with those that compete for the attention of your audience but try anyway, it will pay off.
- Graciously sharing, liking, and amplifying the messages of all involved in our field through social media, word-of-mouth, etc.
- Not speaking disparagingly about our peers in public, which can paint a lousy picture of volunteerism as a whole.
- Contributing your time to one organization that helps further our field. There are many nonprofits and associations that can use your help, find one, and give what you can!
3) Get Volunteers Involved…for Real
Volunteers can be very attuned to your organization’s dynamics. If you are feeling the pain, they no doubt feel it, too. Help them become better advocates for your department, organization, and volunteerism in general.
Imagine what might happen if volunteers and donors around the world publicly united in support of volunteerism and philanthropy.
You might equip supporters to champion volunteerism by:
- Openly sharing the challenges volunteerism faces in today’s world with volunteers (in the US, rates are declining, etc.) and gathering their insights and solutions.
- Modeling volunteer leadership by including volunteers in agency strategy sessions, trainings, and meetings.
- Preparing every volunteer with talking points and tactics in order to be a positive brand ambassador for your cause and for volunteerism.
- Working with other nonprofits to form a local volunteer coalition to give testimony to the power of community engagement.
Yes, even after years of advocacy, volunteerism is still fighting to break out of its mold and find a place at the table. Our just desserts aren’t going to come by working individual-by-individual.
We’ll need a collective consciousness to bring about lasting changes in perceptions.
But, don’t despair. Necessity is the mother of invention. We will find a way.