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Taking Advantage of Volunteer Trends


By | Promotions PA
January 28th, 2014 | Category: Organization

From the NMMS eNewsletter September 2011

By Stephanie Redman

Volunteers are the backbone of MainStreet, but volunteerism has changed significantly.  Thirty years ago, there were more stay-at-home parents who could volunteer regularly.  People volunteered out of a sense of duty, and working by committee was the norm. The nonprofit sector was smaller, and people volunteered more for groups like MainStreet. Despite all these changes, volunteerism is at an all-time high in the U.S., and most MainStreet organizations need volunteers now more than ever.

One huge volunteer trend is “episodic” volunteerism. Americans increasingly prefer to volunteer for a specific project that has a fixed time frame and allows them to feel that they’ve achieved something that has made a difference.  Generally, volunteers are less interested in making a longer-term commitment to serving on a committee, but they are still willing to help with shorter-term activities that have a defined start and end date. And technology means that committee meetings are no longer the only way to get things done.

What does this mean for MainStreet? Specificity is key.  To maneuver episodic volunteerism, MainStreet must create detailed project implementation plans that identify specific tasks that we need volunteers to do and the time frame that we need them to give, e.g. giving eight hours a month on business visitations or spending six hours to set up the fund-raising auction.  When we recruit that specifically, volunteers understand exactly what they need to do and if, when, and how they can fit the activity into their busy lives.  And we should also offer assignments that can be done outside of a committee meeting, which many people see as a waste of time.

Structural changes may be called for, too.  Some local programs in New Mexico and elsewhere are adopting a task-oriented organizational model, where some or all standing Four-Point committees are replaced with task forces/task teams who gather for a particular activity, get the job done, and then move on to other activities. This fluid approach gives MainStreet more flexibility to recruit people with specific skills and interests, and the volunteer has more flexibility in his/her time. But, board members must take a stronger role in defining MainStreet’s work across the Four Points and in monitoring the progress and performance of task teams.

Bottom line:  volunteer times have changed, and to continue to attract volunteers, MainStreet must change its approach, tooIf your MainStreet organization needs help on volunteerism, be sure to contact NMMS for assistance.

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