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July 6, 2020
 
Understanding and Managing Volunteers in a Changing World
Book - Volunteer Engagement 2.0
Perceptions about volunteering have undergone a profound change—from doing something for free to being about the freedom to do something important—which nonprofits need to understand if they are to harness the energies of those willing to lend a hand, according to Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World.

A collection of more than two dozen thoughtfully written articles, edited by Robert Rosenthal, former head of communications at VolunteerMatch,Volunteer Engagement 2.0 offers grounded guidance across a number of critical areas: How to think about the connection between people and causes. How technology has changed the practice of volunteer engagement while creating new forms of service. How businesses are rethinking their values, strategies, and relationships. And how effective volunteer engagement correlates strongly with overall organizational health.

It’s a timely read precisely because relationships between people and organizations, not just volunteers, are in flux. Traditional ways of thinking about volunteerism—the organization has the answers, volunteers should follow, not innovate, long-term volunteering is preferable over project-based engagement—are yielding to cross-disciplinary thinking and a willingness to experiment and risk failure in order to learn.

As useful as the book is in laying out the grand themes, especially spotlighting recent scientific and social research about volunteer engagement, it excels equally in offering tactical advice that any nonprofit can readily adopt. For example:
  • Retain volunteers by establishing a baseline retention rate and then ask your colleagues to answer key questions with respect to onboarding, recognition, and helping to make volunteers feel like stakeholders.

  • Map your community to understand its composition by, among other things, articulating each group’s goals for their engagement.

  • Use social media and identify the right tools to use for volunteer recruitment, management, and retention.

  • Understand the emerging fields of microvolunteering and virtual volunteering, how to tap into these growth areas, and what the organization can expect to get from them.
Volunteer Engagement 2.0, importantly, focuses on the changing nature of corporate engagement, as the business world is looking to engage more with nonprofits for a variety of reasons just as many nonprofits are seeking to expand their community of stakeholders. Meg Garlinghouse and Alison Dorsey, of LinkedIn for Good, offer valuable advice on how to identify the right volunteers that will add value to your organization when you need it.

Cause marketing guru Joe Waters provides a primer on how cause marketing is a partnership between a nonprofit and a for-profit for mutual gain. This becomes particularly important, because, he writes, “Businesses don’t necessarily need nonprofits to achieve their social missions. They can bypass nonprofits and work directly with do-gooders. And supporters don’t need nonprofits to organize fundraisers.”

Maybe most importantly is understanding that engaging with and managing volunteers can be as much art as science: to succeed in either field requires knowledge, experience, and discipline. Volunteer Engagement 2.0 should prove to be an invaluable resource to guide you along the way.

Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World is available from Wiley.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

June 2015
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