I recently attended City Club’s 2009 Jefferson Awards luncheon. As a volunteer management professional, I was definitely inspired to hear the remarkable service stories of this year’s award winners, Dallas Jessup, Janie Plath and Mariana Quanstrom. Check out their stories! What was really cool (and new this year) was that City Club arranged for the award winners to participate in a panel discussion with 3 of Seattle’s community leaders – Alison Carl White of Seattle Works, Nancy Long of Executive Service Corps, and David Okimoto of United Way of King County. The topic: “The Promise and Challenge of Service”. When you read the extraordinary service of people like Dallas, Janie and Mariana, you do get a clear picture of the incredible promise of volunteers. But what about the challenge? In an environments where volunteering and service is “in”, what gets in the way? Here the discussion turned to the challenge of managing today’s volunteers effectively. While 4 out of 5 nonprofits engage volunteers, the majority are not tapping the full potential of their volunteers. As Nancy Long put it, “there aren’t that many envelopes to stuff anymore”. Yet many nonprofits struggle to move beyond “envelope stuffing” kind of volunteering to a more effective repurposing of the skill sets that today’s volunteers bring to the nonprofit sector. To accommodate the influx of new volunteers, nonprofits will need to “repurpose” their volunteer involvement efforts. So here is the question: What does that look like?
To my delight, I listened as three key leaders in our community emphasized the important role that managers of volunteer involvement efforts play in nonprofit organizations. Effectively tapping the skills of today’s volunteers requires more skill, training and resources than is often accorded to those placed in volunteer coordination roles. Repurposing our volunteer involvement efforts will require elevating the position of volunteer managers within our organizations and providing all staff with the skills, training and resources to engage volunteers effectively. Shifting the way we think about and engage volunteers is the nonprofit challenge. Learning to partner with volunteers in new and innovative ways is the promise! These are exciting times for volunteer management professionals for sure!