Tennessee Nonprofit Network

From Bake Sales to Remote Blockchain? How We’re Volunteering in the Age of Disruption

by Kevin Dean, President & CEO, Tennessee Nonprofit Network

Remember volunteering? You know, that thing your parents made you do on Saturdays that involved sorting moldy textbooks or painting a face on a kid who wasn’t sure they wanted it? Well, buckle up, buttercup, because volunteering is having a major glow-up.

Gone are the days of khaki vests and awkward silences. Today’s volunteer scene is a kaleidoscope of micro-missions, virtual soup kitchens, and enough flexibility to make a yogi jealous. Let’s unpack this seismic shift, shall we?

First up, the Millennials and Gen Zers are here, and they brought their phones. Forget commitment-phobic dating apps, these generations are swiping left on rigid volunteer schedules. They crave bite-sized good deeds that fit around their busy (and often gram-worthy) lives. Enter microvolunteering: one-off tasks like translating documents or writing social media posts. It’s like volunteering tapas – small portions, but a delicious way to give back.

Technology’s also thrown a wrench (or perhaps a helpful app) into the mix. Virtual volunteering lets you translate for a rainforest conservation effort in your pajamas, or tutor underprivileged kids from your couch. It’s like Netflix, but with the added benefit of not feeling like a total sloth afterwards.

Speaking of sloths, let’s talk about family dynamics. Millennial parents are juggling work-life balance like a toddler with a handful of goldfish. Traditional volunteering often gets pushed to the bottom of the ever-growing to-do list. But fear not, there’s a solution! Family volunteering lets the whole crew pitch in – plant a community garden, clean up a beach, or build a house of cards so impressive it makes social services reconsider. (Yes, we know there’s considerable hesitation about family volunteering, but volunteer programs truly must adapt or die. This isn’t going away.)

Remember “voluntourism”? Yeah, that well-meaning but often patronizing trend of taking luxurious vacations with a side of “helping.” Well, it’s on the decline. Thank goodness! Today’s volunteers are looking for genuine connections and sustainable impact, not just Instagram-worthy photo ops with adorable village children.

And then there’s the whole “work-from-my-kitchen-table-in-my-PJs” revolution. The hybrid work environment has opened doors for volunteerism during those in-between moments. Need to take a mental break from that spreadsheet? Answer a few emails for a local animal shelter. It’s a win-win: you get a mental recharge and some feel-good points.

Speaking of points, have you heard of skills-based volunteering? This is where you use your professional expertise to help nonprofits. A graphic designer can create a logo for a struggling women’s shelter, a lawyer can offer pro bono legal advice, and a social media whiz can, well, whip their social media magic on a good cause. It’s a fantastic way to give back while feeling like you’re actually using your brain for something other than remembering your grocery list.

And let’s not forget corporate volunteerism! Companies are increasingly offering paid volunteer time for their employees. It’s a win-win for everyone: employees feel good, companies look good, and good gets done in the community. Just picture it: a team of accountants spending their afternoon building a playground, laughter (and maybe a few misplaced screws) guaranteed. Employee resource groups are a great place to start if you don’t know where to begin.

So, there you have it. Volunteering is no longer wearing ill-fitting nonprofit-logo’ed t-shirts as you manage the raffle at the baseball-themed charity event. It’s a dynamic, ever-evolving landscape that caters to the way we live, work, and (let’s be honest) procrastinate today. So, ditch the outdated notions and rethink volunteerism at your organization.

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