Six emerging trends in volunteering

Volunteering is changing

What are some of the emerging trends in volunteering that may affect you in 2023?

Earlier this month, I spent two days at an in-person conference put on by Volunteer B.C. and the B.C. Association for Charitable Gaming and last week I spent two days attending the online conference of the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) in the United Kingdom.

During both conferences, there were formal and informal discussions around trends that are beginning to affect the social impact sector, and volunteering specifically.

In today column, I thought I’d give you an overview of some of the emerging trends that you may shortly be dealing with, if you aren’t already.


One of the biggest ones is the trend toward micro-volunteering. Young people are highly motivated to volunteer but are demanding more flexibility in when, where and how they donate their time.

With lives that are often in flux (navigating school, changing jobs and cities) younger volunteers are increasingly attracted to organizations where they can come in, do a specific task and then leave. They aren’t terribly interested in sticking around for the long-term, or coming in on a regular basis to do the same things shift after shift. I am generalizing, of course.

There are many who are happy to do that. The trend, though, is toward more project-based volunteering, or “micro-volunteering”. If you, in your organization, can provide those types opportunities, you will find it easier to attract new volunteers.

Cost of living

Interest rates are climbing steadily and the cost of everything from gas to grapes is going through the roof. It may be hard to see a direct connection but organizations are, or will shortly, see changes in their volunteer programs. Organizations are squeezed more than usual to put on their programs due to the increased cost of everything coupled with a drop in donation revenues. This will likely trickle down and cause a decrease in the budgets for volunteer programs.

Organizations may also see a drop in the number of people volunteering, as people take on a second job to pay their mortgage. Many are also seeing an increase in the number of volunteers submitting expense claims. Items that volunteers would normally be happy to pay for themselves, they no longer feel they can afford.

What can you do to protect your budget, and help your volunteers overcome these barriers?

Increased focus on mental health and wellness

An interesting statistic I heard at the conference last week was that more than one-third of health insurance claims last year were for mental health issues. The social isolation caused by the pandemic vastly increased mental health challenges. Add to that stress around the cost of living and you have a recipe for depression, burnout and all sorts of other issues.

This, obviously, isn’t confined to paid positions. In fact, volunteers – especially those in organizations that deal with trauma- and crisis-related events – have a much higher incidence of mental health issues. To protect them, have measures in place, whether training or counselling, to help them deal with the stressors in their lives and in their volunteer positions. Believe me, it will pay off in a big way.

DEI issues

Diversity, equity, inclusion isn’t a new trend, but those issues are becoming more and more entrenched, and organizations that have been paying lip service to them are due for a wake-up call. With everyone becoming more aware of the issue, fewer people are willing to volunteer for organizations that aren’t fully embracing the movement.

Take a good, hard look at the volunteers, the board and the staff at your organization. How diverse are they really? Don’t just look at racial differences, although those are vital, but also at age, economic status, gender identity, education and a host of other factors. The more differences we can bring to our programs, the stronger they will be. To put it bluntly, stop talking and start acting on DEI issues.

Staff shortages

I covered this in more depth in a recent article, but here is a brief summary. With the challenges social impact organizations have in paying competitive wages and the general difficulty all employers have had in finding qualified staff, more and more work is falling on the shoulders of volunteers.

Many volunteers are fine with that, but adding to the workload of already busy volunteers isn’t a good idea. Not only can burnout sneak up on them but the increased hours and tasks can cause resentment. Find ways to streamline or eliminate certain tasks to maintain a reasonable workload or you’ll not only be short of staff, your volunteers will start leaving, too.

Emerging trends in language

At the AVM conference in the UK, I presented a workshop on the changes in language and wording that are appearing in the social impact sector. The very phrase “social impact sector”, for example, is starting to replace the standard “non-profit” or “not-for-profit.” The reason is that we don’t want the focus to be on money, but rather on the difference we’re making in the world.

Other phrases falling into disfavour are “using” volunteers or talking about “your” or “my” volunteers.

The very word “volunteer” is being questioned. It tends to bring a certain image to the public mind that has become less and less accurate as organizations and society evolve.

These are just a few things to watch for in the coming year. There will be others, I’m sure, and some of the ones mentioned above may affect you more than others. All of them, though, are trending upward and need to be considered and discussed.

To keep your volunteer program strong into the future, keep an eye on the trends and be willing to change.

If you need help or if you want to discuss this more, just let me know.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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