Tag Archives: diversity

Changes in working with volunteers: scary & energizing

logoAlmost 20 years ago, I co-presented at the national conference in Orlando by the Corporation for National Service. The presentation was regarding the emerging senior volunteer — the Baby Boomer. I was the representative from Generation X, another presenter was a Boomer himself, and the other presenter was of the then current senior age group. We thought it was a rather benign but important topic. We certainly had fun putting together our presentation via phone and email (we were in different parts of the USA and had never met face-to-face until the day of the presentation).

The day of the presentation came, and we had a full room waiting to hear us. Our presentation began, with much energy: we talked about how the emerging senior volunteer — the Baby Boomer — wanted to volunteer their professional skills, not just stuff envelopes. How they were willing to commit a lot of hours provided it came with a high-level of responsibility. How they weren’t interested in giving unselfishly as much as wanting to have a real impact and feel like, as a result of their volunteering, they had made a real difference. How this was a great opportunity for volunteering programs…. right?

We were all but booed out of the room.

The workshop attendees, who worked exclusively with senior volunteers, primarily from the “Greatest Generation,” did not hide their venom for our message, and about 15 minutes into our talk, we knew we were in trouble. Amid sighs and folded arms and scowls, attendees started raising their hands to comment and express their obvious frustration. They called these emerging senior volunteers “selfish” and “lazy,” even “un-American.” The characterizations would have never been said about an ethnic group, but it was open season on Boomers. One said, “I’m not changing, and if they don’t like it, they can go somewhere else.” Another said, “I would rather our current volunteers die off and our organization close than work with these people.” One added, to me, directly, in front of the whole group, “You don’t want to know what I think of your generation.”

It was, by far, the angriest, most hostile group I’ve ever addressed.

The only comfort was after the presentation was over, after most of the attendees had stormed out of the room: a woman came up to us in tears — literally crying — and shook all of our hands, saying “I’ve tried to say the same thing, and they were like this to me too.”

More than 10 years later, I shared most of the above via a blog because of an article in the Associated Press that confirmed all that we said at that presentation. The article said boomer volunteers “are increasingly seeking to use their professional skills as volunteers, eschewing office and administrative tasks and seeking roles in marketing, publicity, fund raising, and management.” You can see the article by going to archive.org and looking for this URL:
www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/03/04/business/AP-US-Retirement-Today-Volunteering.html

I’m reviving that blog, saved from a long-defunct platform, because I still think about this incident every time I get in front of a group or have a discussion about trends in volunteer management. In that previous blog, I also wrote:

  • I wonder what ever happened to all those very, very angry volunteer managers, who I don’t think hated boomer volunteers as much as they hated change. Did they quit their jobs? Did they begrudgingly change? Were they fired?
  • I’ve never worked with these “traditional” volunteers the AP article and others talk about, volunteers happy to do any mundane administrative tasks without question, who do whatever they are told without comment. I’ve been working with volunteers for many years, and they have always wanted something worthwhile through their service beyond just work to do.
  • I bet someone writes almost exactly this same story in five years in a major newspaper or wire service, implying it’s a “new trend.”

Of course, since that presentation, the management of volunteers has changed even more radically. I talked about this in May 2006 on my web site. And let’s be clear: innovations regarding management of volunteers aren’t really about technology. The innovation is using technology so that it is:

giving volunteers a bigger voice in what they do at an organization (and, in the end, actually giving them lots more to do, and even more responsibility, which they like very, very much), on engaging in activities that exude transparency and openness in all aspects of decision-making and management, and on being immediately responsive to volunteers’ and other supporters’ thoughts, suggestions and criticisms — and how not doing so isn’t because of a lack of resources but, rather, misdirected priorities and lack of transparency. Tiny nonprofit organizations with very little staff are doing extraordinary things with volunteers, and making the volunteers feel included and energized, not with pins and t-shirts but through greater and more meaningful involvement — and this movement is being fueled by inclusive uses of technology.

It makes for another big challenge to many people who are expected to successfully engage volunteers, but it’s also a big opportunity to raise the profile of volunteer managers within organizations. It makes volunteer management a lot more interesting.

Are you ready? Scared? Angry? Let’s hear from you in the comments below.

Also see:

Managers of volunteers & resistance to diversity

It never fails: try to have a conversation about diversity and volunteerism, get comments about how such conversations are not needed.

“Thoughtful Thursday” is an online discussion about issues related to the involvement of volunteers. It takes place in the comments section of the blog and on Twitter using the tag #ttvolmgrs. Two weeks ago, the subject was diversity. The comments section on the blog are a perfect example of how these much-needed conversations in the nonprofit sector frequently turn into:

We don’t need this.
We are doing just fine with the volunteers we have.
Our recruitment has worked for 25 years. No need to change.
We are not going to lower our standards in order to get new volunteers.
Young volunteers just don’t have the commitment that are current volunteers have.

And it’s what frustrates me most about managers of volunteers. Most – yes, I said MOST – are resistant to change. Meanwhile, they wonder why they are having trouble recruiting, or keeping, volunteers.

Harumph.

(not all the comments are negative on the subject – so there’s hope)

Also see:

Recruiting Local Volunteers To Increase Diversity Among the Ranks (also explores the WHY)

accessibility, diversity & virtual volunteering

One of the many things I’m proud of in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, is that it features an entire chapter on accessibility and diversity, providing detailed advice regarding:

  • the benefits of having online volunteers representing a variety of socio-economic levels, neighborhoods, ages, cultures and other demographics
  • the benefits of accommodating a diversity of volunteers (an accommodation you make for one particular group often ends up benefiting ALL volunteers)
  • how to use language in such a way as to accommodate and welcome a variety of volunteers 
  • how to adapt online tools to accommodate different online volunteers, including those that may have physical disabilities
  • how to accommodate online volunteers with learning and emotional disabilities
  • how to recruit for diversity; and
  • how to track progress regarding diversity among online volunteer ranks.

The chapter on accessibility and diversity is referenced throughout The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook , because Susan and I did not want anyone thinking it was a chapter to take or leave.

I became an advocate for accessibility and diversity in volunteering and in computer and Internet use in October 1994 when I attended the annual meeting of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility at UC San Diego. There was a panel discussion called “The Meanings of Access,” and remarks during that talk, particularly by Deborah Kaplan, then of the World Institute on Disability, changed my life forever. I came to a realization of two things I’d never had before: accessibility is a human right, and accessibility brings me in contact with awesome people I would never meet or work with otherwise. I became an advocate right then and there.

In 1997, I got funding from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation for the Virtual Volunteering Project to explore how to make online volunteering as accessible as possible, and that same year, blew my mouth off at a conference in Austin, Texas about how disappointed I was that the panelists I’d just listened to, talking about the digital divide, never once mentioned people with disabilities, resulting in one of the greatest personal and professional relationships of my life, with Sharron Rush, who was also in the audience and later formed Knowbility, a nonprofit that promotes accessibility in technology tools and technology careers.

In 2008, I read “InVolving LGBT Volunteers,” published by The Consortium of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered voluntary and community organisations, based in London, the United Kingdom, and that solidified my understanding that making accessibility and diversity a priority in any program is about benefits for everyone in that program, not just people with disabilities or people who are from minority or under-represented groups. This publication is referenced in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, and remains one I return to frequently when preparing lectures or workshops about volunteer recruitment.

I have tried to put into practice all that I’ve heard about regarding virtual volunteering, including accommodations for a variety of people as volunteers and recruiting specifically to create a diverse volunteer pool. I won’t say I’m always successful, and I won’t say trying the methods we promote in the book is always easy, but I will say that it’s made my work experience oh-so-much richer and interesting, and it’s always been worth trying.

The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is now available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc

Do you welcome people with your language?

Someone who is associated with a blood and tissue donation program that is not based at a community of faith (church, mosque, temple, etc.) posted this on Facebook recently:

Wanted: A leader in a faith community who would like to share a blessing at our upcoming volunteer recognition event.

I offered this caution in response:

Be sure you get someone who will be respectful of the fact that not everyone at your event is of the same faith – and some may not be people of faith at all. As an Atheist, I have felt really unwelcomed at many volunteer-related events because of the faith leader’s address.

The response was as it always is to me when I offer that caution – what I call playing the “culture” or “majority” card:

Historically, however, this hasn’t been an issue in our organization. I find that the region in which we live is rather accepting of these blessings, and they are almost an expectation. In other areas of the country where I have worked, this hasn’t always been the case. Because of the work we do, we also find that more of our volunteers are spiritual in nature.

This person is making assumptions – because of the region, because of her own beliefs, and because of conversations she’s had with volunteers where everyone has seemed to be on the same page regarding religious belief – that everyone is fine with a religious ceremony at her volunteer event, that no one has ever been made uncomfortable or not felt welcomed as a result. After all, no one has complained before – therefore, everyone is fine with it. And, in addition, people who volunteer regarding blood donations are spiritual in nature. Why else would they volunteer?

Here’s the reality:

Most people who have been made uncomfortable by the mixing of religion and volunteering at an otherwise secular event are probably never going to say anything about that discomfort – the defensive reaction of this volunteer manager, as well as a religious leader that weighed in later, illustrate why. No one wants to be seen as ruining an event for others, or taking an activity away that others like, even if the activity makes them feel less a member of the group – so, rather than be accused of trying to remove all religious references at an event (even though all that was asked for was language that was respectful – no request was made not to make religion any part of the event), people that aren’t of the majority religion stay silent in their discomfort.

And you have to wonder: if no one has complained, could it also be because you’ve created an atmosphere where non-believers/other-believers don’t feel welcomed to volunteer?

People volunteer for a variety of reasons. And people have many different ideas of where “goodness” comes from. People who believe that goodness, and the desire to volunteer, comes from a “God” tend to be quite vocal about it. But volunteer managers – and all of us – need to remember that there are a lot of people that don’t believe in a “God” or a “higher power”, but do believe in goodness and in volunteering to help others – they just aren’t as vocal about that belief, or lack of belief, either because of the negative reactions such an expression often elicits or because they simply don’t believe in being so vocal about one’s motivations for volunteering. Volunteers Beyond Belief is a good example of such a group.

As volunteer managers, one thing we should be united about in terms of belief is the belief in creating welcoming, inclusive events for our volunteers, where we are careful about our language and our assumptions.

So, yes, you may have a blessing from a religion leader at a volunteer event that both celebrates that person’s beliefs and the belief of others but doesn’t make people that aren’t such believers unwelcome or unwanted.

Exclusive language at an event:

“We volunteer because, as Christians, we…”

“In the name of Jesus Christ…” or “In the name of Allah…, we are here today…”

“Let us all bow our heads and give thanks to God…”

Those are all fine at an event targeting a specific community of faith. But unless you have interviewed each and every volunteer about their beliefs, you have no idea what those beliefs might be for every person. So, instead, if you feel you must have a religious activity at your volunteer event, consider more inclusive religious language:

Let us all bow our heads and reflect on the goodness we have seen from volunteers, and if you would like to pray with me, please join me.

In joy we gather this evening, bonded together in our work and our goals, bonded together in our love and our dreams, bonded in festivity and thanksgiving, bonded in celebration. May the joy of our togetherness rise above all sadness. May the kindnesses we share rise above all harshness. May the unity for which we long rise above all divisiveness. And may all that is restless within us lead us one day to the ultimate Good, the ultimate togetherness. (from this web site)

Being culturally appropriate is important – but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for impoliteness or prejudice to minority groups. Catering to the majority is easy; thinking about who I might be leaving out, and what I can do to welcome everyone into volunteering, is an ongoing learning process – and quite a struggle at times. It’s not easy, but in the end, it certainly creates a richer, diverse volunteer family.

Groups for “young professionals” exclude me

I love networking. I love meeting people, hearing about the work of others, telling others about my work, finding ways to work together, learning things I didn’t know, sharing my knowledge, being challenged, challenging others, and on and on. Especially if red wine or beer is involved.

But, apparently, a lot of professional networking groups do not want me: I’m too old.

Consider a group here in Portland, Oregon, for example: it’s for young and emerging nonprofit and public sector professionals in the area. Or another group in Detroit, described as mobilizing young professionals to get the energy up at nonprofits and to bring new ideas to fundraising and outreach.

I find this again and again all over the USA: groups focused on technology, on nonprofits, on some aspect of nonprofit work (the environment, the arts, children, etc.) that say, explicitly, “this group is for young professionals who….” Because, you know, what the heck does someone over 40 know about the Internet? Or innovation? Apparently, we don’t try new things, we’re not risk takers, we’re not daring, blah blah blah.

The descriptions on the web sites and online communities of these organizations make it clear I am not wanted. It’s not just that I’m hurt to be left out of such groups and excluded from the networking and learning I so enjoy; I also think it’s sad that these groups isolate themselves from knowledge, skills and a diversity of viewpoints that group members might find particularly valuable, regardless of age. These “young professional” groups also contribute to the stereotype that people over 60, or over 50, or over 40 — take your pick on which group you want to stereotype — don’t have fresh ideas, aren’t tech savvy, aren’t innovative, do not like to learn and have nothing to offer.

I hear a lot about how traditional volunteering leaves out people under 35. I’ve been hearing about that since I was 30, actually. And I do see it in many organizations, hence my work over the last 15 years trying to get organizations that engage volunteers to create a diversity of volunteering opportunities that will appeal to a diversity of volunteers. I get that some groups have left out “young professionals,” and that these groups are trying to address that. But the solution is not to create an exclusionary group where no one but “young” professionals are welcomed.

Germany needs 90 thousand volunteers immediately

(Gehen Sie für diese Abhandlung auf Deutsch hinab)

Germany is getting rid of its compulsory military and community service for young men, and German hospitals, retirement homes, hostels, Red Cross chapters, agencies serving people with disabilities, and other social service and community agencies across the country are deeply worried about how they will now staff their organizations.

For more than 40 years, young German men, age 18 to 20, were drafted into military service — it was originally a two year commitment, but over the years, it was reduced to 15 months, then reduced to 12 months, and most recently, reduced to six. The reductions have been a result of cost-cutting. Men could substitute community service at German social service agencies for military service; the community service commitment was usually a bit longer, by a few months, than the military service. Men who opted for community service instead of military service are known in Germany colloquially as “Zivis.”

But the days of compulsory service — and the Zivis — are over as of 2011. Hundreds of charities across Germany that have relied on almost 100,000 conscripts to run their organizations are bracing for a severe labor shortage. Many charities don’t believe they will be able to find enough volunteers willing to do the grunt work that Zivis have done – washing dishes, cleaning rooms, preparing meals, etc.

Can Germany recruit 90,000 volunteers to replace Zivis? Yes – but it will take a sweeping, fundamental rethinking of how Germany charities perceive the role of volunteers, and a LOT of training and support to implement this new thinking.

Germany already understands the value of volunteers in fire fighting. Germany has the most volunteer fire fighters, per capita, of any country in the world. In Germany, for a community served by volunteer firefighters, the first truck must arrive within eight minutes. Volunteer firefighters train alongside professional firefighters — there is no two-tiered training system, one for professionals and one for volunteers. Volunteers stay for years, not just weeks or months. And volunteer fire fighters fight fires, protecting humans, businesses and property. Yes, they also do grunt work, but they also fight fires. Whether they know it or not, Germany already trusts volunteers with critical services; Germany needs to build on that for other community services.

The place to start: German charities need to involve volunteers in more than grunt work:

    • They need to think about volunteers in the ways organizations here in the USA that are staffed primarily by volunteers do. Volunteers deliver the majority of services provided by the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts of the USA, for instance, staffing not just the grunt work but leadership positions as well. Many of their volunteers stay for years, not just weeks or months, because they do much more than grunt work. Volunteering varies across cultures in many aspects, but one thing that is always the same, culture-to-culture, country-to-country: volunteers want to feel like the work they are doing is critical, not just nice, but necessary.
  • In addition, volunteering needs to be tied to high school and university work, where appropriate, giving students practical experience applying what they are learning in classrooms — service learning. Certain community service should earn the volunteer high school or university class credit.

To make this transformation possible, however, will take intensive, advanced volunteer management training for charities, for universities and for government agency staff. It also may mean paying people to do the grunt work, while reserving positions with high levels of responsibility for volunteers – that’s a radical way of thinking for many people.

I trained a few times in Germany, and I was taken aback at how far behind the country is with regard to volunteer management:

    • Representatives from volunteer centers told me they would not use online databases of volunteering opportunities because “then no one will use our volunteer center.”
  • Residents who are not ethnically-German are vastly under-represented among the staff of most charities and community service organizations in Germany; you can go to a village in Germany with a significant ethnic-Turkish population, for instance, but you won’t see volunteers from this population at the local fire house. In my eight years in Germany, I never found any charity or community service organization that involved volunteers that was undertaking recruitment activities targeted on minority communities specifically — yes, I looked.

This is a challenging time for Germany, but it’s also an amazing opportunity for Germany to ramp up its involvement of volunteers, and transform its society in a number of positive, sustainable ways. It could become a model for the rest of the EU! Attention Germany: I’m ready to help!

Read more at this story at NPR.

— Übersetzung in Deutsch —

Die Tage der Wehrpflicht – und der Zivis – sind vorbei ab 2011. Hunderte Wohlfahrtsorganisationen in ganz Deutschland, die auf die Arbeit der fast 100.000 einberufenen vertraut haben, sehen sich jetzt einer radikalen Verringerung ihrer Arbeitskräfte gegenüber. Viele Organisationen glauben nicht, daß sie ausreichend Freiwillige finden können um die Routinearbeit zu erledigen, die bis jetzt von Zivis erledigt wurde – spülen, Räume reinigen, Mahlzeiten zubereiten, usw.

Kann Deutschland 90.000 Freiwillige rekrutieren um die Zivis zu ersetzen? Ja – aber es verlangt ein fundamentales Umdenken wie deutsche Wohlfahrtsorganisationen die Rolle von Freiwilligen verstehen, und VIEL Übung und Unterstützung um dieses neue Denken auch umzusetzen.

Deutschland versteht bereits den Wert von Freiwilligen in Feuerwehren. Deutschland hat die meisten Freiwilligen Feuerwehrleute pro Einwohner aller Länder weltweit. In einer deutschen Gemeinde mit einer freiwilligen Feuerwehr muß nach 8 Minuten erste wirksame Hilfe durch die Feuerwehr geleistet werden. Freiwillige Feuerwehrleute erhalten die gleiche Ausbildung wie Berufsfeuerwehrleute, es gibt keine zwei Klassen-Ausbildung. Freiwillige bleiben für Jahre, nicht nur für Wochen oder Monate. Und freiwillige Feuerwehrleute bekämpfen Feuer, retten Menschenleben und schützen Sachwerte. Ja, sie machen auch Routinearbeit, aber sie bekämpfen auch Feuer. Ob sie es wissen oder nicht, Deutsche vertrauen bereits jetzt Freiwilligen mit Aufgaben von entscheidender Bedeutung; Deutsche müssen dies auf andere soziale Aufgaben ausdehnen.

Der Anfang: Deutsche Wohlfahrtsorganisationen müssen Freiwillige für mehr als nur Routinearbeiten einsetzen:

    • Sie müssen sie genauso ansehen wie Organisationen in den USA, deren Mitarbeiter hauptsächlich Freiwillige sind. Freiwillige übernehmen den Grossteil der Leistungen, die das Amerikanische Rote Kreuz und die `Girl Scouts of the USA` (Girl Guides) anbieten, so übernehmen sie nicht nur die Routinearbeit, sondern auch Führungspositionen. Viele ihrer Freiwilligen bleiben für Jahre und nicht nur für Wochen oder Monate, weil sie viel mehr tun als nur die Routinearbeit. Das Ehrenamt variiert in verschiedenen Kulturen in vielen Aspekten, aber eines bleibt immer gleich, Kultur zu Kultur, Land zu Land: Freiwillige wollen merken, dass ihre Arbeit wichtig ist, nicht nur nett, sondern notwendig.
  • Zusätzlich muss ein Ehrenamt mit Hochschulen und Universitäten verbunden werden, wo dies angemessen ist. So, dass Schüler und Studenten praktische Erfahrungen sammeln und anwenden können was sie in Unterricht lernen — “service learning.” Bestimme Ehrenämter sollten den Freiwilligen bei der Hochschule oder Universität angerechnet werden.

Um diese Transformation möglich zu machen, benötigt es intensive und fortgeschrittene Freiwilligen-Management-Schulungen für Wohlfahrtsorganisationen, für Universitäten und für Regierungsbehörden. Es kann auch bedeuten, Angestellte zu bezahlen um die Routinearbeiten zu erledigen, während Positionen mit mehr Verantwortung für Freiwillige reserviert werden – für viele Leute ist dies eine radikal Denkensweise.

Ich habe ein paar Schulungen in Deutschland geleitet und war erstaunt wie weit zurück dieses Land ist im Bezug auf Management von Freiwilligen“? :

    •  Vertreter von Freiwilligen-Zentren erzählten mir, sie würden keine Online-Datenbank für verfügbare Ehrenämter benutzen, weil “dann wird niemand unsere Freiwilligen Zentrum besuchen.”
  • Einwohner mit Migrationshintergrund sind weit unterrepräsentiert in der Belegschaft der meisten Wohlfahrtsorganisationen und gemeinnützigen Organisationen in Deutschland. Man kann z.B. in eine Gemeinde mit deutlichem türkischem Bevölkerungsanteil gehen, aber man wird keinen Freiwilligen dieser Bevölkerungsgruppe im örtlichen Freiwilligen Feuerwehrhaus antreffen. In meinen acht Jahren in Deutschland habe ich nie eine Wohlfahrtsorganisation oder gemeinnützige Organisation, die Freiwillige einbezieht, gefunden, die Anwerbung speziell auf Minderheiten zugeschnitten hatte – ja, ich habe danach gesucht.

Es ist eine herausfordernde Zeit für Deutschland, aber es ist auch eine einzigartige Gelegenheit für Deutschland, um die Einbeziehung von Freiwilligen zu steigern; und um seine Gesellschaft in einer positiven und nachhaltigen Weise zu transformieren. Deutschland könnte zu einem Vorbild in der restlichen EU werden! Aufgepasst Deutschland: Ich bin bereit zu helfen!

Lesen Sie mehr in diesem Bericht auf NPR (nur in Englisch).

(Thanks to Stefan Dietz and Lis Mullin Bernhardt for the translation)