Is your volunteer program becoming an antique?

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Volunteer programs need to adapt to changing trends and environments - or else be prepared to struggle with the recruitment and retention of volunteers. Volunteer programs should be dynamic and not static; they should focus on both the needs of the organization and the community at large.

As a leader of a volunteer program, it is your role to develop strategies for your volunteer program to address current trends and not be an aging antique in the new digital world.

These strategies should embrace:


  • Better access to resources through technology
  • A committed and highly skilled volunteer force that want some control of their experiences
  • Diversity of skills and knowledge through the many different generations of volunteers
  • Social awareness of the value of volunteerism and engaging in your community

Approach your work with creativity

Ask yourself the following:

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where are your opportunities and threats?

Creativity is key to answering these questions, which, in turn, will help you to develop volunteer engagement strategies that are exciting to your existing and potential volunteers.

Volunteer programs need to stretch the imagination in order to engage with their:

  • Staff, including senior leadership
  • Board and committee members
  • Leadership volunteers
  • Influencers in your organization and community

Creativity is also vital in sharing your stories about volunteer engagement with these important decision makers, and only by getting the word out about your program's impact and return on investment will you be able to impress upon them the value that your program brings.

Become your own advocate

Do you have an elevator speech to start that conversation with those stakeholders listed above? If you had 60 seconds in the elevator or lunchroom with your CEO or ED, what would you talk about?

Consider the following as you create your speech:

  • What highlights are you most proud of for your volunteer program in the past 6 months?
  • What stories have you heard from your volunteers, clients and staff?
  • What numbers have you increased over the year?
  • What “new” kinds of volunteers have joined the organization that are different from the year before?
  • Have you created any volunteer partnerships that your leadership may not be aware of?
  • Did you implement a new process or activity that your CEO may not be aware of (e.g. new recognition activity)?

Also, think about what accomplishments you would like your leadership to know about. You could also consider something you've been dreaming of implementing.

For example, your elevator speech might discuss how your numbers of youth volunteers have grown in the past year and that you are thinking of developing a youth-centred recognition program where they hear from the leaders in your organization with advice about their career path.

If you don't know have a plan, now is time to create one. This is a key door opener to larger conversations.

Keep your program current

So, how do you prevent becoming an antique in your own organizations? Here are some quick tips:

  • Develop that elevator speech with highlights.
  • Start to evaluate your volunteer program for both quantitative and qualitative stories.
  • Conduct a SWOT and PEST analysis of your program.
  • Create an annual work plan that focuses on one area of the volunteer management cycle that you have put on the back burner.
  • Go to workshops and take some courses to re-energize yourself and learn new skills.
  • Take the time to read the newspaper and stay up on current affairs because you never know where you'll find that next great idea or inspiration.

Finally, ensure that you are building a volunteer program that is interesting to your volunteers and that provides opportunities for volunteer growth and succession planning.

If you are looking for more information, feel free to read more of Lori's articles at or contact her at for more information.

Lori Gotlieb is the President of Lori Gotlieb Consulting as well as co-developer and facilitator for Humber College Volunteer Management Leadership Certificate. She is a volunteer management expert and an internationally published author and workshop facilitator who has taught workshops to many different audiences across Canada. Lori is the past president of the Toronto Association of Volunteer Administration, a content editor for the International Journal of Volunteer Management and member and Past Chair of the Advisory Committee at Humber College, Fundamentals of Volunteer Management and the Enriched courses.

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