The provocative conversations that can open new avenues of opportunity…
I’ve written before about the profound change that can occur within charity teams when they first begin to fully appreciate the value of what they have, and of what they do.
Usually, for me, this happens in the context of earned income when, for example, a charity comes to realise, in both senses of the word, the actual commercial value of its services, knowledge or skills, if only they can be packaged, targeted, and marketed in the right way to the right audience.
But over recent weeks I’ve been helping a major charity think through its volunteering strategy, and a similar feeling is starting to emerge.
Like most volunteering organisations, it is caught between two trends:
The issues and needs that its volunteers are dealing with are becoming more complex and involved, requiring more knowledge and skills, more training and support.
At the same time, whether due to cost of living, a younger demographic, or simply as a new post-pandemic reality, the average number of hours a volunteer is willing or able to give seems to be falling across the population.
From a purely economic perspective this raises the question: at what point is it better to simply employ staff?
When does a volunteer’s cost to train and maintain, eclipse the value they provide within the time they can give?
But as is often the case with value, sometimes there is more there than meets the eye, and as we’ve begun to explore the broader possibilities, everything from their likelihood to fundraise or campaign, to advocate or evangelise, or simply to be on hand when a surge in demand hits, new avenues of potential opportunity have started to open in people’s minds.
What really provoked our thinking though, was when we talked about the value to the volunteers themselves.
Many of the benefits of volunteering are well documented, most notably those around physical and mental health, but there’s a whole raft of personal value that individual volunteers are also looking for.
For some, it’s the social interaction – an antidote to loneliness and isolation; for others it’s passion for the cause or satisfying a sense of purpose or duty; for some it’s about their CV: knowledge, skills, a pathway to a career; for others it’s about passing on those exact same things to the next generation.
Around all this is the potential for wider social benefit, whether through spreading the spirit and values of volunteerism, enabling community organisation, building the movement, local action, community resourcefulness and resilience, whatever is most relevant to your organisation.
And that’s the point. I’m not asking you to merely appreciate the value of volunteering here, I’m asking you to think about how you can realise that value in the direct service of your mission.
Because for my clients, this appreciation has started to raise two big questions.
Firstly, how they might maximise the most relevant and useful benefits of volunteering, and package, target, and market them, directly to the people and communities they aim to serve, delivering better outcomes not just through their services, but through the act of serving itself?
And secondly, as a consequence of that, how their organisation might need to refine, or even rethink its volunteering value and models, its broader approach to inclusion and involvement, and maybe even its brand image, in order to enable and encourage their target audience to access and take advantage of that opportunity?
As provocative conversations go, this one could be right up there.
So, my question to you is this: what are the provocative conversations that could help your organisation open up whole new avenues of value and opportunity?