by Sharon Ruyter, ECVO Projects & Events Manager
I don’t remember the first time I heard the phrase, but it struck me: volunteer engagement specialist (VES). Not volunteer manager, volunteer coordinator, volunteer resource manager or whatever version of that title exists. On one hand, it could just be another iteration of the title that describes those who recruit, train, retain and recognize volunteers, but on the other hand it’s something different. Mid last-year we at ECVO were inspired to start calling people in those roles volunteer engagement specialists.
The decision is based in some fundamental beliefs:
- We believe volunteer engagement specialists have one of the toughest jobs out there- motivating people to work for free.
- We believe that volunteer engagement specialist should be leaders in their organization. We know that volunteers make up the largest people workforce in the nonprofit sector. Therefore, VES’ should be at the leadership table, having a say in decisions that impact the short and long term success of an organization
- We believe that volunteer engagement is a vital and effective strategy to address and meet community needs
So what? If you already believe those things, then why is a title important?
One of the things I constantly hear from volunteer engagement specialists is that they’ve been experiencing the same challenges for years. How do we properly recognize volunteers? What’s the best way to recruit young people? Where can I seek professional development opportunities? Volunteer engagement specialists have been asking the same questions for many years- with no answers in sight.
Volunteerism in its very nature is also evolving. The Recognizing Volunteering in 2017 study published last year by Volunteer Canada identified that informal volunteering is on the rise. Many people who are engaged in community work don’t see themselves as volunteers, and many others are choosing to seek fulfillment by creating their own projects and giving back outside of the formal system of volunteering.
This means that the profession formerly known as volunteer management has to adapt; that cannot take place without increased capacity, a shift in mindsets and innovation.
It’s time for change. (That was the theme for the 2018 International Volunteer Managers Day and we couldn’t agree more). It’s time stop asking the same questions year after year. It’s time to stop managing and start engaging. It’s time to take the discussions and conversations and turn them into action; it’s time to be change makers. It’s time to think about how to address the challenges you face in innovative and strategic ways.
So this is a call to action for all volunteer engagement specialists, regardless of sector or experience to join us in 2019. Todd McMullin with Samaritan software, and who served on the US National Alliance for Volunteer Engagement taskforce, said: “We have to do a better job of helping ‘Joe The Volunteer’ identify his passions and segue that passion into actual service, followed up by demonstrating to him what kind of impact he is having on his goals as well as those in his community.” Todd is describing engagement; true engagement leads to community impact, self-fulfillment and organizational success.
2019 is the year of the volunteer engagement specialists. We plan to engage in conversations and support action to move this idea forward and we’re thrilled to do this in partnership with organizations like Volunteer Management Group Edmonton and other partner organizations dedicated to shifting the way we think about volunteerism. We invite you to join us. Stay updated on upcoming events by subscribing to our newsletter.
Drinnon, A. (2018). Voices for Something New: The National Alliance for Volunteer Engagement. e-Volunteerism, XVIII(4).