The Changing Face of Volunteerism

January 4, 2016 • Written by Roy S. Ryniker

The 21st century workforce has changed from previous generations, with Millennials emerging as the major force.

millennial workforce 2025 projections
These ambitious and youthful Millennials have created a new workforce that is global, highly connected, technology savvy, and demanding. This shift is forcing companies to come up with new ways to manage people, creating an imperative to innovate and transform recruiting and delegating practices in the workforce. Not-for-profit organizations face similar challenges in their quest to attract volunteers.

This shift can be directly correlated to the new face of volunteerism that has emerged from the workforce shift in Millennials ideology. Volunteer work used to be based on a certain form of time, talent, or treasure. It was comprised of hearts and hands volunteers that helped out for altruistic purposes, with an emphasis put on the fact that they were helping a good cause rather than the how they were helping the cause. Talent was utilized in specific scenarios, but the volunteers had to figure out how to use their skills and expertise to help the cause once they were actually out there volunteering. Treasure, the third avenue of volunteerism often pursued, was achieved by giving donations to financially support a cause.

The new wave of volunteers that have emerged from the Millennials differ from previous generations because they want purposeful projects that utilize their talents to its maximum potential. Volunteers want their highest and best use, no longer looking to just roll up their sleeves and helping by whatever means necessary. A technology expert seeks to invest their time on a technology project where their skills and expertise directly relate to the project. A new practice that can prove to be much more beneficial in achieving the end goals compared to that same volunteer simply serving food at a soup kitchen.

Millennial's Top Three Motivations For Volunteering
millennial's top three motivations for volunteering

With this new generation of volunteers emerging, the question that arises is: how can organizations attract them for their causes? A new ideology for volunteerism means coming up with innovative ways to recruit these volunteers to projects where they feel they are utilizing their talent and time to its maximum potential. A new trend that has emerged from this phenomenon has been online platforms that seek to match a volunteer's skills with a purposeful project that directly relates to the volunteer. While most volunteers used to get involved by speaking to a friend already involved in a project, they can now go to a systematic digital platform which will match them with a cause that would really benefit from their expertise.

Skills-Based Volunteering Matching Websites Are A New Trend For Millennials To Get Involved
volunteering websites

One website that is on the frontline of this new trend of skills-based volunteering is catchafire.org. Catchafire is a community of individuals striving to push the social good sector forward by focusing on efficient and effective ways to give back. One way to do this is by connecting professionals with nonprofits based on their skills, cause interest, and time availability. It was created by Rachel Chong, one of Fast Company’s Most 100 Creative People in Business. Rachel created Catchafire.org after she volunteered for a cause but found herself building a house, something she realized was definitely not the most productive use of a small woman’s time. This experience prompted her to create the website that has enabled a new generation of volunteers to get involved in causes they believe in and where their skills will be most beneficially applied.

Another example of an emerging digital platform utilizing this new trend is boardassist.org. BoardAssist, a New York-based nonprofit corporation, is a leading personalized board recruiting resource available to the nonprofit community, offering a wide selection of board options and advice on selecting the right one for them. This website focuses on volunteers who seek to implement change from a Board position, influencing the ideas and methods that will be implemented for volunteers seeking to help with the cause. Before the new face of volunteerism, board members were often recruited by other board members, making it more difficult to find fresh talent that could positively implement changes on the board. Boardassist.org and similar digital platforms enable experts that are not as well connected to find the right and most productive organizational fit for them.

These new volunteer trends of building passion and purpose have forced organizations to reimagine, reinvent, and reinvigorate volunteer platforms to help people get involved. A repeating trend for reaching this new generation of volunteers is utilizing technology, not just by creating websites, but by capitalizing on the growing phenomena of social media. Awareness campaigns such as the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Bucket Challenge can quickly spread like wildfire if done effectively. By utilizing social media, the ALS Bucket Challenge was able to raise more than $100 million in a single month, a staggering amount of money considering the organization only raised $2.5 million for all of 2013. Their success proves the importance of building a brand that attracts these new types of volunteers to raise awareness and initiate action for certain causes. Organizations need to keep up with the times and actively engage in social media if they want to be relevant to the Millennials.

How Volunteers Prefer To Learn About Volunteer Opportunities
How Volunteers prefer to learn about volunteer opportunities
Type Of Volunteer Activities Volunteers Prefer
Type of Volunteer activities volunteers prefer

In conclusion, the changing face of volunteerism makes it imperative for non-profit organizations to reexamine how they attract and utilize volunteers. They need to proactively engage in digital platforms that are used by prospective volunteers. They need to have a branding message which highlights the causes they support and then actively communicate that message on social media. Effectively deployed technology can be the enabler, propelling the growth on non-for-profit organizations who figure out how to facilitate the engagement of increasing numbers of volunteers who are discriminating in how, where, and with whom they will commit their time, talent, and once engaged, perhaps treasure.

Volunteering word cloud