Prepare for the Future of Volunteering

Future volunteering September 3, 2019 By: Emily Rabbitt, CAE

Evolutions in demographics, technology, and workplace structures are changing volunteers’ expectations. These shifts will challenge association leaders to consider new opportunities for volunteers and volunteer management.

There’s good news for organizations that rely on volunteers. According to the ASAE ForesightWorks “Volunteering” action brief, 30 percent of Americans volunteered in 2018, up from 25 percent in 2016. And the trend cuts across generations: 36 percent of Gen Xers volunteer, along with 30 percent of boomers, 28 percent of millennials, and 25 percent of the Silent Generation.

But these people might not be looking for traditional committee roles. The ways people work are evolving, and these changes influence volunteers’ expectations. Technology tools make collaboration easier and more effective, and project-based work—the foundation of the gig economy—is becoming more common. Potential volunteers know that there are myriad ways to accomplish goals and will expect flexibility in volunteer roles.

The challenge for associations is to adapt to these different expectations and needs. Traditional volunteer structures can be hierarchical and built around working on standing committees or boards that require an ongoing, sometimes lengthy, time commitment. New volunteering formats offer solutions.

For example, microvolunteering, which focuses on tasks that can be completed in a shorter time frame, enables associations to create different kinds of opportunities that engage more members. Microvolunteering allows volunteer functions to be broken down and distributed across a group of people who will each perform specific elements of them. Many volunteers are already doing this type of volunteering, often virtually.

Potential volunteers know that there are myriad ways to accomplish goals and will expect flexibility in volunteer roles.

Emerging technologies can help associations meet volunteers where they are. Professional reputation systems can be used for volunteer validation, recognition, and reward. Platforms that use automation to match volunteers with opportunities can provide a more streamlined experience. As new systems take on administrative tasks that staff previously managed, employees will be better positioned to facilitate new types of volunteering and engage in volunteer management activities that require thinking and human interaction.

Although associations typically engage members actively working in the profession, retired volunteers could play a bigger role in coming years. The number of Americans over 65 is expected to double by 2050, rising from 13 percent of the population in 2010 to 22 percent. As more baby boomers retire, they will be able to devote more time to volunteering, but many charitable and philanthropic organizations will offer engaging opportunities, as well as the associations that retirees were once affiliated with. Mentoring might be a valuable way to engage the more experienced—or even retired—members of a professional community.

To continue to reap the essential benefits of volunteer involvement, associations will need to change the way they structure and manage volunteer opportunities. Planning now for the future will help associations create more effective volunteer management practices. 

Emily Rabbitt, CAE

Emily Rabbitt, CAE, is a former manager of research content and knowledge resources for the ASAE Foundation.