Six Emerging Trends in Volunteering

emerging trends

What are some of the emerging trends in volunteering that may affect you in 2023? Last week I attended a conference (yay for in-person events!) put on by Volunteer BC and the BC Association for Charitable Gaming (BCACG). This week I’m attending the online conference of the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) in the United Kingdom.

During both conferences, there were both formal and informal discussions around trends that are beginning to affect the social impact sector, and volunteering specifically. In this blog, I thought I’d give you an overview of some of the emerging trends that you may shortly be dealing with, if you aren’t already.

Micro-volunteering

One of the biggest ones is the trend toward micro-volunteering. Young people are highly motivated to volunteer but they are demanding more flexibility in when, where and how they donate their time. With lives that are often in flux (navigating schooling, changing jobs and cities) younger volunteers are increasingly attracted to organizations where they can come in, do a specific task then leave. They aren’t terribly interested in sticking around for the long term, or coming in on a regular basis to do the same things shift after shift.

I am generalizing, of course; there are many who are happy to do that. The trend, though, is toward more project-based volunteering, or micro-volunteering. If you, in your organization, can provide those kinds of opportunities you will find it easier to attract new volunteers.

Cost of living

Interest rates are climbing steadily and the cost of everything from gas to grapes is going through the roof. It may be hard to see a connection but organizations are seeing changes in their volunteer programs. Organizations are squeezed more than usual due to the increased cost of things coupled with a drop in donation revenue. This will likely trickle down and cause a decrease in the budget for the volunteer program.

Organizations may also see a drop in the number of people volunteering, as people take on a second job to pay their mortgage. Many are also seeing an increase in the number of volunteers submitting expense claims. Items that volunteers would normally be happy to pay for themselves, they no longer feel they can afford. What can you do to protect your budget, and help your volunteers overcome these barriers?

Increased focus on mental health & wellness

Something I learned at the conference last week was that over one third of health insurance claims were for mental health issues. The social isolation caused by the pandemic has vastly increased mental health challenges. Add to that stress around inflation and you have a recipe for depression, burnout, and many other issues.

This, obviously, isn’t confined to paid positions. In fact, volunteers – especially those that deal with trauma- and crisis-related events – have a much higher incidence of mental health issues. To protect them, have training or counselling in place to help them deal with the stressors in their lives and in their volunteer positions. Believe me, it will pay off in a big way.

DEI issues

Diversity, equity, inclusion isn’t a new trend, but these issue are becoming more and more entrenched. Organizations that have been paying lip service to them are due for a wake-up call. With everyone becoming aware of the issue, fewer people are willing to volunteer for organizations that aren’t fully embracing the movement.

Take a good, hard look at the volunteers, the Board and the staff at your organization. How diverse are they really? Don’t just look at race, although that’s vital, but also at age, economic status, gender identity and a host of other factors. The more differences we can bring to our programs, the stronger they will be. Bluntly – stop talking and start acting on DEI issues!

Staff shortages

I covered this in more depth in a recent blog, but here is a brief summary. Social impact organizations already have challenges in paying competitive wages. Add to that the general difficulty all employers have been having in finding staff, more and more work is falling on the shoulders of volunteers.

Many volunteers are fine with that, but adding to the workload of already busy volunteers isn’t a good idea. Not only can burnout sneak up on them, but the increased hours and tasks can cause resentment. Find ways to streamline or eliminate tasks to maintain a reasonable workload, or you’ll find volunteers will start leaving.

Emerging Trends in Language

At the AVM conference in the UK, I’m presenting a workshop on the changes in language and wording that are appearing in the social impact sector. The very phrase “social impact sector”, for example, is starting to replace the standard non-profit, or not-for-profit. The reasoning is that we want the focus to be on the difference we’re making in the world, not money.

Other phrases that are falling into disfavour are “using” volunteers or talking about “your” or “my” volunteers.

The very word “volunteer” is being questioned. It tends to bring an image to the public mind that has become less and less accurate as organizations evolve.

These are just a few things to watch for in the coming year.

There will be others, I’m sure, and some these ones may affect you more than others will. All of them, though, are trending upward and need to be considered and discussed. To keep your volunteer program strong into the future, keep an eye on the trends and be willing to change.

If you need help or if you want to discuss this more, just let me know.

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