Rise Up and Give Back

The Future of Volunteering Will Have a More Activist-Oriented Bent

Why It Matters

The face of volunteering has changed over the years to become more diverse. During National Volunteer Week, we look at trends shaping the future of volunteering, which gives us insight into civic engagement, giving back, and changing narratives in the world of impact.

Happy National Volunteer Week.

If you’re engaged with a charity or non-profit, you’ll likely receive kudos from that organization during #NVW2019, which runs April 7-13, 2019. Maybe it’s a newsletter, or a card, or a call—all nice touchpoints, but they are secondary to the intrinsic motivation that spurs most and keeps people going. The ways in which people commit to their communities is diversifying. It might be through board work, long-term projects or, increasingly, through episodic tasks such as hosting an event, taking photographs for an organization’s social media accounts, or dispensing advice.

While volunteering is a traditional engagement tool—often on a ladder toward other organizational goals such as giving a donation—the act of volunteering in of itself is being seen for its own merits—and for its necessity. In 2015, 57 percent of all Canadian charities had no paid staff, according to the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector.

Volunteering provides much needed service and commitment to an organization. How that is changing is apparent in these five trends.

 

UMBRELLA IDEAS

The UN Sustainable Development Goals and their 2030 timeline provides a uniting throughline for impact organizations that want time-focused goals. The 17 goals serve as uniting principles for mobilizing for change. Research from Volunteer Canada showed that the 17 SDGs made volunteering more urgent and compelling, because of the connection with a broader purpose and a way for people to identify as global citizens. Having these as North Stars in your organization will become necessary for the next decade.

Monica Melton followed Don Kao, a Chinese American LGBT activist, around for weeks on an assignment from New York Times photo editor James Estrin. Melton captured this moment of Don helping a woman fill out paperwork. It exemplifies how hands on and willing to help Don is, especially among LGBTQ youth.

VOLUNTEERING THROUGH ACTIVISM

As we are seeing with employees who want workplaces to be more activist, we are seeing volunteer roles take on clearer and more robust advocacy roles. This may be through the influence of funders or through calls from volunteers themselves, particularly in youth cohorts, who seek an outlet for social activism in response to issues of their day: climate change, and wealth inequality among them. For example, the Morgane Oger Foundation in Vancouver is seeking volunteer data architects and developers to build the Canadian Atlas of Populist Extremism (CAPE). The mapping tool will track hate incidents across the country in an effort to stop the growth of these nefarious networks and work toward a fairer future.

 

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT IS A PRIORITY

When the federal government earmarked more than $300 million to the Canada Service Corps to bolster volunteerism with a signature National Youth Service Program, it sent a signal about the value of volunteering, not only in boosting work and life experience for young people, but in building the next generation of impact-focused Canadians by making the concept of “impact” more than an embedded notion. It’s a pathway. In addition to volunteer placements, there is funding for service-related projects that youth can pitch, allowing them to creatively define their civic engagement actions with your organization.

 

SAY SOMETHING DIFFERENT

In addition to prioritizing civic engagement and volunteering in a way that is full-throated and activist-oriented, there is a need for you to shift the dialogue. CIVICUS, in its 2019 State of Civil Society Report, noted the tendency for impact organizations to focus on human rights and sustainable development, at the expense of economic arguments. “This needs to change,” they write, “and we need to place ourselves at the forefront of the economic debate. The field cannot be left open to jargon-peddling economists wedded to neoliberal orthodoxy,” they note, with aplomb. Also, the intersection of economy with environment, human, and labour rights, means we cannot afford to think about it separate and apart from other systems.

 

WILL MACHINES HELP US TO VOLUNTEER BETTER?

Incentive infrastructure, offered by organizations such as Timeraiser, and Benevity, allow volunteers to track their hours, earn markers in the form of points or other online counters, and the proceeds accumulate toward donations to a charity of choice. In the case of Timeraiser, volunteers earn points toward artwork that can serve as a commemoration of the volunteer work, and perhaps a reminder of the effort made. It also supports emerging artists as artwork is purchased at market price. In the U.K., one of media platform Mashable’s staffers created an app, using artificial intelligence functionality, to align the needs of hundreds of thousands of charities with willing volunteers and companies offering CSR hours to their staff. This use of technology cuts through traditional outreach and engagement lines and puts more emphasis on volunteers reaching out to impact organizations first, rather than the other way around.


Photo: Monica Melton followed Don Kao, a Chinese American LGBT activist, around for weeks on an assignment from New York Times photo editor James Estrin. Melton captured this moment of Don helping a woman fill out paperwork. It exemplifies how hands on and willing to help Don is, especially among LGBTQ youth.