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Advancing the Conversation about Engagement

Advancing the Conversation about Engagement

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When it comes to talking about volunteer engagement as a field, do you ever experience déjà vu? It’s easy to feel that we are having the same conversation over and over again in regard to the power and potential of volunteer engagement. Yet, we at VQ Volunteer Strategies have seen that – slowly but surely – the conversation is changing. In fact, we are in the midst of an exciting and unprecedented shift around how volunteer engagement is viewed and harnessed, which means tangible increases in organizational impact!

What is different?

Over the past two years, we have seen that volunteer engagement professionals and nonprofit leaders are not just talking about the power of strategic engagement, but actually making volunteer engagement a core strategy and impactful results are following! Where do we see these signs of progress? In each of the following, and more:
  • We see the shift with the hundreds of organizations that have been certified as Service Enterprises (a Service Enterprise is an organization that fundamentally leverages volunteers and their skills towards its social mission). We have worked with dozens of organizations in New York City, Colorado, and across the US through Points of Light’s Service Enterprise Initiative to help them become certified and the impacts that organizations experience are far-reaching. For example, one animal rescue organization (Taysia Blue Rescue) was able to increase the number of dogs saved by 78% in just one year’s time thanks to a more effective and robust volunteer engagement strategy.
  • We see similar increases in impact among our client organizations who not only mention volunteer engagement in the organizations’ strategic plan, but also develop a strategic plan specifically for volunteer engagement. For some, it is new skilled roles for volunteers that free staff up to do other critical work, while in other cases the impact is seen in more efficient systems so the organization can engage more volunteers to deliver more programs to clients.
  • We have participated in conversations at national conferences including the 2017 Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership in St. Paul, America’s Service Commissions’ regional conferences in recent years, the 2018 Points of Light Conference in Atlanta and just last month at the 2019 Points of Light Conference in St. Paul, MN. The Strategic Volunteer Engagement track is now among the largest tracks at the conference and executive directors, board members, and funders sit alongside volunteer directors to think strategically about how volunteer engagement can build an organization’s capacity to be resilient and more impactful.
  • Finally, we have the launch of the National Alliance for Volunteer Engagement just last month. The National Alliance is leveraging and convening existing networks, organizations, and individuals to elevate and drive a national conversation about the power and potential of volunteer engagement, as well as encourage collective action for nationwide engagement strategies. The Alliance is not a replacement for existing organizations such as Points of Light, America’s Service Commissions, AL!VE (Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement), or other national or regional organizations or associations. Rather, it is a coalition to facilitate collaboration across these organizations and sectors for aligned collective action.

How can you change the conversation?

The only way that the conversation will advance on a national level is if you also begin to shift your conversations locally – with organizational leaders, with colleagues at other organizations, with funders, and, of course, with volunteers! Here’s how you can do that:
  • Become familiar with research about volunteer engagement and share that information widely.
  • Talk with leadership of your organization about the benefits – and the costs – of making volunteer engagement core to your organization. Demonstrate how it will help increase your impact and show what investments are needed to do so.
  • Network with local and national engagement professionals at conferences, summits, and workshops. Find out what strategies are most impactful at other organizations.
  • Innovate changes in your own organization by engaging skilled volunteers, assess the impact, and share your successes within your community and beyond!
This post is updated from an article originally published in 2017 by VQ Volunteer Strategies.

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