Volunteerpower News September 2003
Volunteer Power News September 2003
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter
©2003 Advantage Point Systems, Inc. Publishing
A warm welcome to all volunteer managers - those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize
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This month I want to share with you how the 21st Century
Volunteer is a very different person than the 20th
Century Volunteer. In our recruiting and managing the new volunteer, we have to
change the rules of the game.
September Newsletter Content
§ Who is the New Volunteer? They Dont Look Like They Used To
§ Ask Tom - How do we get beyond Internet Activism?
Century Volunteer Isn't Like Your Fathers Oldsmobile
Who are the new volunteers?
Volunteers dont look like they did yesterday. Yesterdays volunteer
programs were designed for a different world. And it worked great back then.
How has this changed?
Volunteer managers that still operate like they did in the 20th
century are the managers who keep asking these questions and making these statements:
§ Where have all
the volunteers gone?
arent people as committed as they used to be?
§ What is
wrong with these young people?
are just too busy these days.
§ If you
want a job done well, hire it done. Dont ask for a volunteer.
Contrary to the above statements, there are plenty of volunteers in the 21st
century who are ready and willing to get involved. There is a whole new arena of
new volunteers who will get involved and be committed to our organizations.
But they will become involved according to their rules, not ours.
In the early 20th century most volunteers were
stay-at-home mothers or retired people. Therefore, the volunteer system was a
great system designed for the ideal volunteer of the mid-20th
century who was basically a retired person or a woman who had plenty of extra time.
In the 50s nearly all of the church volunteers and Sunday school teachers
were women. In the latter half of the 20th century woman
began to work outside the home. The demographics of the typical American family
changed from Father knows Best to Murphy Brown the single professional
parent. Volunteer managers were recruiting more and more single parents.
In the 90s the percentage of families headed by a married couple dropped from
80% to 53% according to the U.S. census report.
Recruiting volunteers became more and more difficult because of the heavy demands on
families and young professionals. Technology, which was supposed to decrease our
workload, has actually increased the expectations from our customers, our members and our
employees. We are never away from someones to-do list. The
words of the 70s and 80s, Im too busy are repeated more
today than ever.
What is the state of volunteerism today? According to Prof. Robert D. Putnam of
Harvard University, participation in volunteer associations in the 90s plunged by
30-50% since the mid-1960s. But others say there is a new trend. This
new trend is reversing statistics and in the first two years of the 21st
century volunteerism has increased 14%, not counting volunteers in schools and education.
In the year 2002, 56% of Americans volunteer, and these volunteers are no longer
just the retired or women who do not work.
Gen Xers and Active Senior Volunteers Demand Flexibility
One trend that is contributing to a greater number of volunteers is in the
flexibility of an organization to work with the volunteer. The Gen Xers and
the active senior adults have something in common that they share in their volunteer
roles. What they have in common is their demand for flexibility. Kim is a
typical Gen X (35 years old) volunteer who is very involved in one association, her
church, and the chair of the United Way campaign at her work. However, each of her
responsibilities is short-term and team-based. She sent her open dates for meetings
to her team chairperson and the chairperson set up the meetings according to the schedules
of the volunteers. Kim is use to hi-tech and does not want to waste time
sitting in boring board meetings. She often says, e-mail me what you
want me to do and Ill get it done.
Jim is a retired dentist and volunteers for the local chapter of the Rotary Club. He
was painting and cleaning up on an inner city project because he really cares about the
problems of the inner city. Jim and his wife Sue are traveling about six months of
the year, but when they are home they are volunteering. Jim would never
volunteer to be on a board that required regular meetings. Last year Jim and Sue
spent six months working in an orphanage in Eastern Europe doing dental and construction
Char is a new board member at her church. She is retired and she and her husband
travel a great deal. She is so excited to be on the board as an Elder; however, she
announced at the first meeting that she had gone over her calendar and would make eleven
of the twelve monthly meeting, but could not make the training retreat. The pastor
wanted her resignation because he felt that the training retreat was essential for all
board members. Char held her ground and asked to be given the material, tape the
sessions and she would catch up. Char is the new, retired, active volunteer who
plays a lot of golf and travels. She is gifted and wants to be involved. If
the board asks her to resign, they will loose a very active volunteer.
Alan is a busy professional who gets up at 4:30 a.m. and is at work by 5:45 a.m. He
often works until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. Once a month on Tuesday evening he makes sure he
is at the monthly board meeting that starts with dinner at 6:00 p.m. But at 10:00
p.m., he gets up and leaves the meeting he knows he has an early wake up call. He
feels that the board wastes so much time doing committee work and arguing over fine points
of the minutes when they should be doing board work. He finally told the chairman
that he could not stay until 12:00 or 1:00 in the morning doing board work. He would
do his committee work, make sure his responsibility was fulfilled, but if the meeting was
not over at 10:00 p.m., he would leave. He does and many of the other board members
are mad. Alan is a new volunteer and if things dont change, this board will
loose a very talented and dedicated board member.
The 21st century calls for a greatly expanded definition
of what it means to be a volunteer. It calls for a new system. Rather
than always recruiting for very specific volunteers to fill pre-set roles, organizations
are asking for an empowered new breed of volunteers to help them fulfill their mission.
But they are empowering the new volunteers to do it their way in their time
schedule. The new system needs to be flexible and able to customize the job for the
volunteer. Rather than always recruiting volunteers for pre-set slots, organizations
will be asking this new, loosely defined breed of volunteers how they would like to become
What is the profile of the new volunteer?
The new volunteer looks something like the following:
§ The new
volunteer is very busy - has many obligations and often is volunteering for multiple
§ The new
volunteer wants flexibility.
§ The new
volunteer thinks outside the box of the organization - new hi-tech ways to get the job
§ The new
volunteer will not tolerate incompetent volunteers - particularly committee chairpersons
who dont know how to lead a meeting.
§ The new
volunteer does not want to make a contribution. The new volunteer wants to make a
Ask Tom : How do we get beyond Internet Activism?
We are a new organization, and the majority of our members are techies. Our membership
agrees that our issues are the most important issues facing America today - most believe
our country to be in a crisis situation. But we are having difficulty getting these people
mobilized to activism that goes beyond the Internet.
Currently, our membership and followers are in various Yahoo groups, online discussion
boards, and websites. Their activism consists of forwarding the same news articles,
information, reports, data, and ideas through a large circle of these online mediums. The
information is great, but it never leaves "the circle."
In 3.5 weeks, we managed to get 500 people signed up for meetings in their cities across
America, but attendance was low. Many people even RSVP'd for their meeting but did not
show up. Most emailed the next day that something had come up, the meeting was too far, or
some other excuse for missing the meeting (I didn't ask, they just emailed on their own).
We need to be involved in public awareness activities. How do we motivate techies who are
largely depressed, anti-social, and maybe even unemployed to go out into their communities
to get the word out? How do we get them off of the Internet and into action?
Dawn McCord Teo
Rescue American Jobs Foundation
"If there is no job, then there is no recovery."
America Jobs for Americans First!
Wow, how exciting to start an organization to fulfill your passion. But trying to
transfer your passion to a group of volunteers is a huge task.
When I read your question, I was reminded of the problem of today's non-profit
organization as illustrated by professional football. Twenty-two players are on the
field desperately in need of a rest and 80,000 fans are in the stands desperately in need
of some exercise. Thousands will talk about, yell and cheer, and even get people to
join your organization, but the people who get involved in making a difference are a small
The problem with your members is not that they are depressed and anti-social. The
problem is that you are trying to start a movement with people who don't have to make a
commitment. It costs them nothing to join your organization--just the click of a
mouse. And with this kind of sign-up commitment, you get this kind of follow
through. To follow through on the football analogy, to be able to play the game, you
must go through pre-season training camp. Players hate preseason.
Make the stakes high for your organization--at least for your volunteer leaders.
Read my article "We have it all backwards" on changing the world with our
volunteer leaders http://www.volunteerpower.com/articles/backwards.asp
Then I suggest that you develop position charters for your leadership positions.
this kind of foundation, you are only building a discussion group for people who love to
talk, not act.
I hope this helps. Building an organization is not easy, but it is worth the effort.
- IS YOUR ORGANIZATION LOOKING FOR SPEAKERS or VOLUNTEER MANAGEMENT
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Thomas W. McKee
Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and
consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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