COVID served as a sort of stress test for many volunteer programs. Could they survive without in-person activities? Could you adapt them to the new circumstances?
Most important – Were there changes you made that you’re adopting permanently?
At WaterGrass we convened a discussion on the topic. (WaterGrass is an organizational database that among other things manages volunteer activities, so we have the raw data on volunteering.) Jason Frenzel from the Huron River Watershed Council Council and several other volunteer managers share their experiences and insights over the last two years.
This was a preliminary discussion – a more extended one will take place at River Rally in June – but some fascinating insights arose. If you or your organization manages volunteers, I’d love you to post your comments.
- Organizations that had already begun managing volunteers through online portals or even delivering programs online saw a much smaller drop in their volunteer hours.
- Some groups reported changes in their participant demographics. In particular, low income populations were less represented.
- Some urban groups pivoted to provide other needed services to marginalized populations, beyond their standard education and recreational activities.
- Trails and waterways attracted more use and highlighted the importance of these organizations in their missions. Few of them capitalized on that to raise funds or Garner new volunteers.
- Volunteers were eager to find activities during the pandemic, and hungry for anything offered.
One organization reported that when it closed its volunteer programs it also lost the ability to stay in contact with and cultivate new volunteer leaders, on whom it depends to lead many of its large activities the impact of this will be felt in the coming years.
Volunteer programs were forced to adopt digital strategies when they couldn’t convene face-to-face activities; many of them discovered things that they would now continue to do online instead of in person.
What was your experience? What changes did you make in your volunteer programs? Which will you keep? Please post your comment below.
And if you’re interested in the WaterGrass database as a tool for managing volunteers and donors, give me a shout!