Have you heard of the 30-minute volunteer workout?
How about “The Extraordinaries” who deliver micro-volunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on demand and on the spot?
Or Mandela Day, which encourages people to give 67 minutes to make the world a better place?
More familiar to you might be Make a Difference Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Season of Service Days that ask individuals and groups to give back on a particular day.
Short-term, episodic volunteerism is on the rise.
Baby boomers are not lining up to take the long-term, ongoing volunteer jobs that are ready for them. More schools, churches and community groups are asking their members to volunteer. The episodic line continues to grow.
There is a place for episodic volunteerism. It gives people a chance to experience helping and giving back. It encourages civic responsibility and allows people with busy schedules to continue helping their neighbor.
But are we going too far? Does this trend impact nonprofits?
Along with the trend of episodic volunteerism are individuals and groups that have the same expectations as long-term volunteers. Most want a volunteer role that has value, something that will make them feel good, give them direct contact with people in need, or manage a project that will impact an agency. These volunteers are not looking to stay around. They want to use their skills and reach their goal.
That is not a bad plan, but it doesn’t allow the nonprofit organization to gain the trust that is needed for a volunteer to manage certain volunteer projects. It is similar to Generation Y; sometimes episodic volunteers want to start at the top when they have not proved themselves to the organization.
To stay strong in their mission, nonprofits have had to make changes in how they engage volunteers. To manage the episodic trend, volunteer managers are breaking down long-term committed roles into smaller pieces and projects that can be accomplished in a one- to three-hour time slot, allowing the volunteer to come in, make a difference, and move on.
The move toward episodic volunteerism can be frustrating to an organization. It can make grooming future board members difficult and affect how volunteer-led programs are maintained. However, it also can breathe new life into a volunteer program that has gone stale. Agencies that strategically change with volunteer trends are more likely to find volunteers with the skills, interest and time to meet the mission at hand.
Long-term, ongoing volunteer positions always will play a critical role in the nonprofit. Volunteers that provide companionship, mentoring or nurturing, as well as volunteer who offer stability by carrying on the day-to-day operations in thrift stores, food pantries, homeless shelters, and animal shelters, are hard to replace with episodic volunteers.
To find a place to volunteer your time contact your local volunteer center in McHenry County, visit www.volunteermchenrycounty.org or call 815-344-4483.
• Rebecca Stiemke is director of United Way McHenry County Volunteer Center. She can be reached at 815-344-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org.