Out With the Old, In With the New

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Today is International Volunteer Managers Day, and the theme is Time For Change. Frankly, it’s been time for change for years. I’d even go as far to say the profession needed a good shakeup years before I came on the scene. If you recall, my pledge to the profession was to massively disrupt the status quo, while asking that we allow new voice into the discussion. This isn’t to say there’s less value in old ideas, let’s be real, it’s those ideas that got kept the profession together. It’s those same ideas that created a solid foundation and principles of good volunteer management. However, like any profession, there are long held traditions and assumptions that are holding us back, so we must become less risk averse in our pursuit to evolve. I’m not proposing anything akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I’m proposing an honest examination of how we position ourselves in the social good space. This includes a reevaluation of our relationship with volunteerism, how bold we are in our pursuit to legitimacy and who’s allowed at the grownup table in our profession.

I think there are sensitive topics that need some real discussion. To me this is as good a time as any to begin. Just be warned that what you read hear might ruffle your feathers a bit.

Sorry, not sorry.

Who owns volunteerism?

News flash, it’s not the non-profit sector. This can be both good and bad, but it’s time to face this reality as this does impact our profession. Non-profit organizations have played a critical role in being the gatekeepers of the communities they serve as the subject matter expert working to solve critical issues in society. Traditionally, those seeking to serve would connect with an established organization as a volunteer and be put to work based on the needs that exist. Those engaging volunteers had the role of directing that energy to satisfy the existing requirements. However, there’s been an increase in for-profit companies erecting their own community service initiatives, sometimes removing the non-profit organizations from that process as the middleman. Not to mention many people already do that as individual citizens. According to the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, 70% of all the world’s volunteerism is informal, being done without the guidance or assistance of established non-profit organizations. I imagine this will only increase as societal needs evolve.

In addition to this, because volunteerism isn’t solely owned by the non-profit sector, it’s time volunteer engagement professionals acknowledge and embrace this. With an increase of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programming by for-profit companies we must open our doors to CSR practitioners who are also experts in volunteer engagement. No longer can we afford to shut out or close the doors on volunteer engagement professionals who engage volunteers within their companies. For volunteer administration associations this means that your programming needs to change. It also means that the audience you focus on becomes broader, and your marketing and outreach segmented to reach those corporate counterparts. Embracing this will only add to our credibility as a profession, while bridging the divide that often exists between corporations and the communities they seek to serve.

Be unapologetic.

Whether you’re managing volunteers as the coordinator or director, be loud about the work you do and its value. Don’t apologize for standing up for the profession. Now more than ever before is it important that volunteer engagement be seen as both a profession and a business, it’s the only way we’ll turn the tide in advancing the culture of volunteerism. This is the case in both the non-profit sector and for-profit CSR programs. Use every question others have about your work to educate them, and equally seek to correct the record when someone gets it wrong. Then remember, don’t apologize for it, you work too damn hard to let others influence the legitimacy of your work.

I did that working in the non-profit sector, and it’s more important that I do that now in my current role as a CSR practitioner. Why you ask? Because there are assumptions that people make about the work we do and it’s very detrimental. So much in fact that what seems so innocent can manifest itself as a well intended service project that burdens the staff of the non-profit being served. This can ultimately push them beyond the capacity to serve their community. The work we do isn’t the fluffy stuff, it’s critical to developing the resiliency in communities around the world. It’s not enough that you know it, others need to know and believe it too. Volunteering isn’t just a thing that people do. So speak up and be loud about it.

We need to seek out younger voices.

There are younger generations volunteering, so we must seek those same generations within our profession and give them a microphone. We can’t afford to have the grownup table and separately have a kids table. What I mean by that is there’s a monopoly on who’s allowed to speak, panel, present and facilitate at conferences and summits. And don’t for one second act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. So, just as society demands diversity and inclusion in corporate America, I too demand that our profession be more diverse. By diverse I mean beyond inherent diversity (the traits we’re born with) like our gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. I expect that as a profession we also seek diversity of thought and perspective, this is the only way we’ll grow. We need to avoid groupthink, we need to avoid keeping our profession in a silo and we must seek to be challenged, even when it’s uncomfortable.

If anything you just read rubs you the wrong way then you might be a part of the problem. People who know me know I’m not shy about my opinion, and I’m as serious as a heart attack when I say I’m going to disrupt the status quo. So join me!

Like or dislike what I had to share? Connect with me and we’ll talk about it, that’s the natural place to start. I look forward to hearing from you.

Note: The thoughts and views expressed in this post reflect my personal views alone and are not those of Marriott International or any of its brands

About the author: Jerome Tennille is the Manager of Volunteerism for Marriott International. Prior to that Jerome held the position of Senior Manager of Impact Analysis and Assessment for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a national organization that offers help, hope, and healing to all those grieving the death of a loved one serving in America’s armed forces. Jerome is a board of directors member of Peace Through Action USA and also serves on the PsychArmor Institute Advisory Committee for the School of Volunteers & Nonprofits. Jerome holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in operations management and a Master of Sustainability Leadership (MSL) from Arizona State University. Jerome is designated as Certified in Volunteer Administration (CVA) and is also a veteran of the US Navy.

Written by

Social Good advocate for CSR, Volunteer Engagement, and Sustainability. Veteran. Manager of Volunteerism at Marriott International. Visit www.jerometennille.com

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