As another International Volunteer Managers Day dawns I reflect on its theme which is “Time for change”.
I say that dramatic change is needed right now or our sector will not be relevant or even exist within ten years.
We have been staring at our naval for far too long and while the world is changing around us dramatically and scarily we are having the same old conversations and doing the same old thing we have been doing for eons.
History will record the present era as one of enormous upheaval and change. Let there be no doubt about that. Democracy itself is under threat. The middle class is disappearing and the 1% has more wealth and power than ever before. Scientists are pulling their hair out as governments around the globe ignore the real threat of climate change. People are on the move in their millions, displaced by war, hunger, terror and collapsing economies. Around the globe extreme right wing actors are emboldened with a louder voice.
But what has that to do with volunteering and with those that lead them? It has everything to do with us. Because the modern and future volunteer is an activist for the globe. If there is no leadership on the issues that matter to the people then people will take matters into their own hands. They will not only be volunteering for causes that they hold dear. They will be volunteering for the very future of their planet and for the future of their children and grandchildren.
The way they volunteer, where they volunteer and how they volunteer is changing. Yes, the traditional mode of volunteering and some traditional volunteer roles will remain. But I predict a tsunami of activist volunteering and organisations in the next five years.
If we don’t change and change soon our roles will be inconsequential.
Citizens in our communities want to disrupt. Are we ready to be disrupt leaders?
Citizens want to be agile and flexible - are we agile and flexible enough to go with them?
Citizens want to take action now on the cause they believe in. If we stifle their ambition with too much paperwork and bureaucracy they will walk away from us and do it anyway. They will baulk at traditional on boarding methods of volunteering. And they will demand to see the impact of their volunteering. They will also want more of a say in how their movement or organisation operates. They will reject hierarchy. Not for them the bottom rung of the organisational chart! They will lead and cast aside tired leadership methods, soundbites and ways of doing things. They will not tolerate any lack of diversity. They will not tolerate anyone thinking “young people don’t stick around”. They won’t be there for you every Tuesday at 9am and in fact will be there when they are ready to be there. They may not accept the title “Volunteer” and will run if you call them a Vollie. They won’t be patronised and they will tell you to stuff your four hour orientation program! They will demand you utilise the best technology available and they will not be silenced on social media.
We need to lead volunteers now for social justice and action. We need to lead volunteers now to save our environment. We need to lead volunteers to take action on homelessness. We need to lead volunteers who want to change our political discourse. We need to lead volunteers who want compassionate action for refugees. We need to lead volunteers who have the ideas that will make our globe a better place to live in. We need to embrace virtual volunteering. And if we are to remain relevant in our leadership they will demand that we earn their respect by being a voice for action and by having the skills to mobilise people and effect real change.
We may have to throw out most things we think we know about volunteer management. The theme for this year’s International Volunteer Managers Day is apt. Change is bulldozing its way through history. We either go with it or get out of the way.