The Most Significant Factor Impacting Volunteerism

Many non-profits are merely scratching the surface of their potential in the huge numbers of volunteers they could engage because they are ignoring the number one impact factor. In fact, I believe that if non-profits don’t take this factor seriously, they could be out of business in ten years.

  1. What is this factor?
  2. What is the impact of this factor?
  3. What does it mean for non-profits for engaging volunteers?

What is that factor?

It is not technology, the change in family dynamics, episodic volunteers, or today’s hectic, busy life style that is challenging volunteer leaders the most. Although these factors are significant and challenging, the most subtle and often overlooked but most important cultural change that is affecting the future of volunteerism is the emergence of the Interpreneur-that 21st century volunteer who is a product of the “knowledge worker” workplace. Many non-profits don’t realize how the knowledge worker is affecting their engagement of volunteers, and many of those who do understand the problem, don’t know what to do about it.

What is the impact of the knowledge worker?

It all started back in 1959 when Peter Drucker wrote about the shift in corporate management. It took almost 50 years, but as we approached the end of the 20th century the workplace was being transformed into a whole new culture. At the turn of the 21st century, Peter Drucker wrote,

In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time — literally — substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it. (Leader to Leader Journal, Managing Knowledge Means Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker, Spring 2000)

People would no longer work for 40 years for the same company and retire. Employees would be an institution unto themselves because of their greatest asset-knowledge. The “knowledge workers” own their assets–the knowledge. When they keep their knowledge up to date and use it to deliver valuable assets to a job, their careers outlast most businesses, so they don’t rely on their employers for job security and advancement. As we entered the 21st century I would hear “knowledge workers” refer to themselves as “free agents”-looking for the best opportunity (and most money) to use their knowledge-based skills.

As an owner of a leadership development and consulting firm specializing in change management, “Advantage Point Systems,” I began to see a whole new breed of high-capacity, knowledge-worker volunteers who were ready and eager to get involved in non-profit organizations; however, they would not serve under the old systems of management. The 21st century workplace was filled with knowledge workers who didn’t need to ask their managers for permission to act. They were empowered to make decisions. “Intrepreneurial” was a word often used in the 90’s to describe these new kinds of supervisors and managers.

What does this mean for non-profits as we engage volunteers?

From enthusiastic millennials to retiring boomers, knowledge workers can bring to our organizations excitement and energy, if we know how to unleash all that passion by effective 21st century leadership know-how. Volunteers are seeking flexible schedules and pursuing a role in defining how projects should be completed. They want to feel a sense of responsibility for an organization’s overall mission. These volunteers don’t want to simply make a contribution; they want to make a difference! If all you are going to do is use them up and assign them stuff, then they are out of there and they’ll find a place to volunteer that wants their skill, knowledge, and expertise. Nick Shore from Media Post says that a typical boomer response is “Give me my objectives and get out of my way.” A typical millennial response is, “I need flexibility, respect … and snacks” (Turning on the ‘No Collar’ Workforce).

That is why Jonathan, representing the millennial and Gen X population, and I, representing the boomer generation, wrote The New Breed. We saw a huge need and knew that if non-profits didn’t change their leadership style and begin to empower their volunteers instead of manage them, they could actually be out of business in ten years.

Last month I had the opportunity to present the New Breed in a “Leadership Thought Forum” with the leaders from AARP, The American Red Cross, Points of Light Foundation, the Peace Corps, United Way, FEMA, and The Salvation Army. I was excited at their response, affirmation and mostly to hear what these significant organizations are doing in recognizing that there is a New Breed of volunteer. They shared some of their recruiting and leadership best practices. AARP office of Volunteerism is so aware of this changing volunteer culture that they bought a copy of the New Breed for each of their state directors and are using it as a basis of their training.

If you haven’t read, The New Breed, I encourage you to get a copy and work your way through it. For some, you will feel a tremendous sense of affirmation that you are doing it right. Every one will learn some significant leadership tools to answer these questions:

  • How do we manage the New Breed, knowledge-worker volunteer? Answer-we don’t. We coach and empower them.
  • How do we empower the New Breed, knowledge-worker volunteer? Answer-very carefully.

Consider a keynote and/or workshop for your organization, staff, convention, or education day about the impact of the knowledge worker and what to do about it. Ask about specifics.

Unleashing the Power and Passion of A Whole New Breed of Volunteer
A Volunteer Power Workshop

Recruiting and leading the 21st Century volunteers who want to do it their way

Volunteers are passionate and the strategic challenge for leaders of volunteers is to know how to awaken this passion for our cause, and then mobilize passionate people for our cause. This is difficult because passionate people are often a pain.

These three workshops are filled with learning activities, case studies, and short video clips for discussion. 

Keynote Presentation: Mobilize the Power and Passion of A New Breed of Volunteer

The New Breed of Volunteer is very different from the 20th century volunteer. In this keynote presentation you will discover what the 21st century volunteer expects and what you must do if you want to engage the new breed of volunteer. We can’t expect them to change, so we must know how to adapt our leadership style. Some of the characteristics of the New Breed of Volunteer are:

  • Are passionate
  • Are episodic
  • Are slacktivists
  • Are a busy
  • Are in a hurry
  • Are often either technologically dependent or technologically hopeless
  • And most important, are knowledge workers

But I do not leave you wondering what to do. I will demonstrate how to recruit and lead the New Breed of Volunteer, by showing you the best practices that groups are using to take advantages of these seismic shifts in volunteer engagement.

Follow-Up Workshop: The Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting Volunteers

When we wrote the book, The New Breed, recruiting and leading the 21st Century Volunteer, in our research (and over 60 combined years of experience in leading volunteers), we identified the biggest mistakes that volunteer leaders are making in recruiting volunteers. In this workshop we will learn how easy it is to fall into the temptation of these traps, and what we must do to have a successful recruiting and screening process. The top mistakes were the following, which we have now labeled the Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting:

  1. Expect announcements to get volunteers (The difference between marketing and sales)
  2. Ask for marriage instead of a date (How to awaken the passion of a future volunteer for your ministry)
  3. Think that “NO” means “NO WAY!” (how to turn a “NO” into a “YES” without sounding like a high-pressure sales person.
  4. Go it alone (Building a recruiting network)
  5. Ignore the book-end generation (Gen Y and retiring boomers)
  6. Fall into the BIC syndrome (I need ten volunteers today)
  7. Use the four words that volunteers hate: Oh, By the Way

Follow-Up Workshop: Unleashing the Passion of the New Breed of Volunteer

The content of the workshop focuses on how 21st century leaders must mobilize the unlimited power and passion of volunteers. Participants of the workshop will learn how to focus the energy of passionate volunteers. It’s less about “management” and more about “empowerment.” The participants will probe these topics:

Leadership strategies to unleash the passion

  • What is passion?
  • What destroys passion?
  • Why is passion not enough?
  • How to you keep the passion alive?
  • Coaching: The four phases of performance coaching
  • Coaching tools: Direction and trust (how to use these tools)
  • Empowerment; The five steps of empowerment

Contact us to book a workshop, key-note presentation.

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