There is a growing trend toward increased automation and technology in the workforce, and the social impact sector is no exception.
A year or so ago, I was working with an organization that had just implemented an automated volunteer management program. The program saved so much time and labour that the organization drastically cut the hours of the volunteer coordinator, and not long after dispensed with his position altogether.
Understand, I am a fan of technology, and volunteer management programs can be superheroes. They can take repetitive, time-consuming tasks off the shoulders of overwhelmed leaders, freeing them up to do more mission-critical work. That said, many organizations see them as simply a way of cutting costs, often to the detriment of the person currently doing the work. And that’s not going to change.
Volunteer management software, and all the similar technology for fundraising, client management, etc, are here to stay. And organizations are going to continue to use them as a way of trimming their budgets.
What can you do? Well, you can’t fight the tide.
There is an uncomfortable quote by author Dennis Gunton that holds a lot of truth: “Anyone who can be replaced by a machine deserves to be.”
In other words, whether or not you lose your position due to a new software program is, to a large extent, in your own hands. No, you can’t stop your organization from adopting the software. What you can do is strengthen your abilities in those areas that the software can’t replace.
Software can track hours. It can’t show appreciation for those hours. It can provide data about how much impact volunteers are making. It can’t advocate to the board for a larger training budget. Software programs are just things. Useful, certainly, but just things.
It’s your human skills that will make you hard to replace—your leadership skills, your communication skills, your empathy, your skill in taking charge during a crisis. And your insight in seeing when a volunteer is reaching burnout stage. These are the things that can’t be done by a program.
But it’s not just having these skills that will protect you. Your supervisors need to see the value of them and how often they are needed. Yes, an executive director, with the help of good volunteer management software, can run the volunteer program off the corner of his or her desk. With all the other responsibilities they have, however, the chances of them noticing a volunteer is in the early stages of compassion fatigue, for example, are slim.
It’s no fault of theirs, they just won’t have the time to develop the close connections a volunteer coordinator is able to establish. Thus, retention will go down.
Even if you have all these skills, and your supervisor sees the value of them, don’t expect your position to stay the same. With the software program taking a lot of work off your plate – unless you were completely snowed under before – you will now have free time available. The organization isn’t going to let you just sit back and enjoy extra long coffee breaks. That extra time will need to be used. Where can you use that time for the greatest impact?
Do you want to take over creating training modules for the volunteers? Does the organization need someone to look after the new diversity, equity and inclusion program? Maybe you can become such an expert with the software that they don’t dare get rid of you. Find something valuable with which to fill that extra time.
Increased automation doesn’t need to lead to reduced hours or job cuts. By strengthening your skill set, demonstrating the value of those skill and being proactive in filling any new openings in your day, you will prove your importance to the organization.
Maybe you will even welcome the new software.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.