3 Powerful Ways to Advocate for Volunteerism From Your Niche


volunteerismWhen 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).

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 you’re 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 this year’s Volunteer Management Progress Report survey responses, 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 cache consider these to lift your funk.

Advocating for Volunteerism Right Now…From Where You Are

1) Plan to Attend the 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership (July 26-28, St. Paul, MN) 

There’s no time like the present to organize ourselves, and this is the place to do it!  Here’s what the planners have to say: “One of our goals in coming together is to dream and draft a national plan to move the field forward. Sound like a tall order? It is – and that’s why we need you alongside us! We want to stimulate fresh ideas while inviting everyone to the table to participate.”

This unique conference on volunteerism will include:

  • A variety of innovative approaches: electronic polling, graphic illustration, improv comedy, open space technology, etc.
  • A series of strategy session which will tackle five specific challenges we face as professionals
  • Educational workshops from experts who are currently in the field

Also, I’ll be leading a few workshops and am co-planning a strategy session. So, come on down and say hello.

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 (it paints a pretty cruddy picture of volunteerism as a whole)
  • Contributing your time to one organization that helps further our field (many nonprofits and associations that can use your help, find one, give what you can)

3) Get Volunteers Involved…for Real 

Volunteers can be very attuned to org dynamics. If you are feeling the pain, they no doubt feel it, too. Help them become better advocates for your department, organization (warts and all), 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 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 deserts 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.


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