Thursday, October 4, 2012

Volunteer Connections in Willmar Share Cutting Edge Trends in Volunteerism

Sharon Mace, Volunteer Connections Chair
Mary Quirk, MAVA Executive Director
If you are wondering what is on the cutting edge of volunteerism, just step into a meeting of the Southwest/West Central (SW/WC) Volunteer Connections held at the Bremer Bank in Willmar. I did that on September 18, 2012 and found close to 20 leaders of volunteers ready to share the opportunities and challenges their agencies were seeing in volunteer engagement.

“We are seeing some agencies with a core of volunteers in their eighties and realizing that to attract younger volunteers the programs are going to have to do things differently,” was one of the first comments heard. Many heads nodded in agreement. The theme of “change” quickly emerged as being on the minds of most in the group. One person said that she has a number of changes that she wants to implement in the volunteer program, such as more use of technology, but to do this will take getting the rest of the organization to buy in with the changes. Another area of change noted was that many younger volunteers need support to volunteer, such as help with child care.

Some of the thoughts on people minds were pure opportunities they are seeing. One person mentioned that recently she asked someone to volunteer and got a quick “yes.” She learned he had never been asked to volunteer before, and all it took was asking. This made her think of how many more people in the community might be willing to volunteer, if just asked.

Challenges of running a volunteer program in rural western Minnesota were shared. Several brought up seeing the aging of rural communities as decreasing volunteer availability, with many people caregiving or tied up with family responsibilities. Additionally, in very small many communities, it can be a challenging in finding a champion for a volunteer program.

I was visiting the SW/WC Connections representing the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administrations (MAVA) to learn how we might work together in the coming year on programs. Most of what I heard reflected major national trends in volunteerism. One of the biggest changes nonprofits are facing with volunteer engagement right now is that what the Boomers and younger generations expect from volunteering is very different from the generations before them. These new generations of volunteers are looking for a wide range of choice in volunteer opportunities including some that use their workplace skills, want to have an impact, and often can only commit to shorter term volunteer opportunities. Likewise the importance of change management is affecting volunteer programs everywhere because the changes needed for an updated volunteer program takes getting buy-in for change from the whole organization.

When the conversation shifted to the challenges of engaging volunteers in smaller, aging rural communities, I knew that I was in western Minnesota. These are some very unique challenges for engaging volunteers in this part of the state.

The members of the SW/WC Volunteer Connection shined in their expertise in volunteer management and willingness to share ideas with each other. What an asset to Southwest and West Central Minnesota to have these dedicated skilled professionals leading volunteer programs that accomplish so much good work.

Mary Quirk, MAVA Executive Director
Mary Quirk is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA), a statewide organization that provides resources and training on the leadership of volunteers. A current focus of MAVA is helping nonprofit and governmental organizations update their systems for engaging volunteers to meet the changing expectations of today’s volunteers. For more information, visit:

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