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Volunteer Centres: Current State, Looming Issues, Future Outlook

Volunteer Centres: Current State, Looming Issues, Future Outlook

This much is clear: Volunteer Centres are vital to build and sustain local and regional volunteer ecosystems. Often seen as the “one-stop” help for individuals looking to get involved in the community, Volunteer Centres are not only remarkable at surviving funding and policy changes but they have also inspired the development of volunteering innovations like service-learning, community service, family volunteering, and corporate volunteering. 

But this much is clear, too: Volunteer Centres throughout the world can no longer operate as they have always done. Volunteer Centres have to be responsive to the changing times they helped bring about or they will lose their ability to create a volunteering legacy for the future. Inspired leadership and creative vision are absolutely critical elements for Volunteer Centers to move forward, with experts predicting that a high-tech, high-energy, Apple Store-style social action centre may help redefine the Volunteer Centre of the future. 

From Canada to the Netherlands to Australia, from the United States to the United Kingdom, six experts on Volunteer Centres join together in this critical and provocative Keyboard Roundtable to discuss the issues facing Volunteer Centres around the globe. These issues, the experts discovered, are quite often the same regardless of geography. 

To read the full article

Tue, 04/29/2014
Thanks to all commentaries here which has prompted me to take it a bit further in my blog - I have raised further questions in a response to the first comment.

Wed, 05/14/2014
I was the Executive Director of a very successful Canadian Volunteer Centre for 16 years. Since 2004 when I retired - from the job not from the community - I have had time to reflect on the past and current role of volunteer centres and volunteer engaging organizations. I have enjoyed reading the voices of the roundtable and add my comments. •I believe volunteer centres must first and foremost be leaders in enhancing (elevating) the conversation around the importance of building civil society, social capital and people based solutions to very challenging community issues. Volunteerism on its own is too narrow a conversation these days and as much as most of us don’t want to admit it the words volunteer and volunteerism carry with them a lot of baggage and many misconceptions. To that end, new engagement strategies are needed that focus not only on traditional volunteerism - providing and brokering direct service opportunities for community organizations (as we have done since inception) but new forms of engagement that focus on organizational and community capacity building . I often wonder what Volunteer Centres would like to be when they grow up. I would want my volunteer centre to be an essential community based organization - a valued proactive thought leader, trend setter and innovator. •I believe that managers of volunteers MUST stop putting the word volunteer in front of the word manager and volunteer centres should strongly advocate for that shift. It implies there is no cost for their work - and its hard work to manage any human resource whether it is paid or unpaid. I see managers of volunteers as key boundary spanners between all levels of the organizations they work for. I see their role as key in ensuring that community engagement is a part of the culture of whatever organization they work for - not just a means to an end but an end unto itself. In my experience, managers of volunteers are not often positioned to engage skills based volunteers (as Vantage Point has pointed out) but they are positioned to be trend watchers and they are a key resource in building the capacity of their organizations. How about we start renaming the position to …perhaps…. managers of community engagement or community engagement strategists and thus start thinking about the human resources of community organizations as more integrated - including both paid and unpaid talent - at ALL LEVELS of the organization. This is important volunteer centre work. •I feel strongly that volunteer centres (Centres for Community Engagement) are essential infrastructure organizations for community building. Their funding should be a combination of fee for service/contracts/ core funding and grants. They can offer capacity building in everything from disaster relief to Board Development Training, from Pro Bono and skills based volunteer recruitment with local business/professional organizations, from organizing short term group projects to longer term service learning initiatives with schools and universities, from training on standardized best practices to encouraging “inspiring” practices for all types of community based organizations….. the list is endless. It isn’t about outputs (how many volunteers they can refer). It is about what difference they will make in community - as leaders, as capacity builders, as engagers, and as advocates for stronger communities.