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Talking about (volunteer) generations

Polly Roach

In this issue of the MAVA Monthly, we’re taking a look at intersections of generational status and volunteering. This is not a new interest for us - MAVA has been tracking the impact of generational changes on volunteerism for over a decade. Through our periodic surveys of volunteer engagement leaders regarding who their volunteers are, we’ve surfaced shifts in who is showing up to volunteer and what they want from their volunteer experiences, as well as how these changes impact organizations that depend on their availability, time and talent.

The last MAVA Trends survey, conducted in 2018, found predicted generational shifts in volunteerism increasing in pace. As interest from the oldest group in the volunteer workforce tapers off, volunteer inquiries from students (Generation Z), Millennials and Boomers have increased by about a third; even inquiries from members of Generation X, many of whom are heavily engaged in child-rearing and career-building, increased by 21%. While this influx of new energy and engagement appears to be promising, other survey findings advise caution. Despite volunteer interest (as seen through volunteer inquiries) seeming to be stable or increasing overall, the majority of responding organizations were somewhat short on volunteers to meet needs. Another emerging trend of high concern centered on older volunteers aging out of the volunteer workforce and being hard to replace; 45% percent of respondents to the survey reported seeing an increase in this trend, and many shared comments on how this trend has affected their volunteer programs. For more on these findings, as well as MAVA’s past tracking of generational shifts and other trends in volunteerism, visit the Shifting Environment page on the Research and Initiatives page of the MAVA website.

We will continue to track volunteer demographics and new developments, but MAVA is also interested in helping you stay current on the best ways to make sense of trends and adapt your practices to take advantage of them. In this newsletter, you’ll find an update on the experiences of Boomer volunteers, compared to what our early research predicted, and thoughts on what the newest generation of volunteers looks like, as well as tips on how to engage with them. Dr. Ken Culp, principal extension specialist for volunteering for the Department of 4-H Youth development at the University of Kentucky and one of our Points of Light Conference speakers, has provided us with an overview of all the generations found in the volunteer space today, and how they approach volunteerism. You can find his article, “Understanding Generational Differences” linked in the What We’re Reading section, along with links to materials we’ve been exploring to expand our understanding of generation-linked issues.

In the future, we’ll be taking an even deeper dive into changes in generational cohorts and how these shifts are echoed in volunteerism. MAVA is preparing a new training on working with all the generations that are part of today’s volunteer pool; let us know if you are interested in hosting a test run of this workshop at your organization or in your community. This fall, our Professional Development Committee plans to offer an expanded training created by MAVA members on working with older volunteers to manage changes related to age-related declines. And on November 14th, our Annual Meeting will feature Minnesota State Demographer, Susan Brower, who share a presentation on Minnesota’s changing demographics; we’ll use our gathering to explore the implications of generational changes and the increasing diversity of our state for the volunteer marketplace and engage in creative thinking about how our sector can respond. Watch the MAVA website for more information about being part of this conversation.

You don’t need to wait for the Annual Meeting to start talking about these changes, though – use MAVA Voice to share your thoughts about how generational shifts are impacting your volunteer engagement outcomes, post success stories about strategies that for connecting with different generations, and let us know what additional tools, training and resources would be helpful as you navigate changes in the volunteer marketplace. We want to hear from you about you are seeing in your organizations and communities, and how you are managing change.