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Get enough of us progressive Boomers in places that need help and we’ll push for reform. We’ll make room for others to participate to their fullest. We’ll demand more of non-profits as we demand more of ourselves.

It’s starting to work. There are roles where experienced folks can do more than sit on boards; they can affect change, they can put all their skills to work…now I need you to put up your hand. The door has been opened and we need to continue bringing in new ideas and all kinds of mindsets, skills and experience. Okay my fellow Boomers, get involved – volunteer.

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted here because somehow I went from frustratingly idle to overwhelmed with “work.” I am pleased to say that I am fully engaged as a Strategic Volunteer with multiple projects and ongoing initiatives on my plate. So many, that I can now be selective about what I take on.

DeskI am still on my quest to redefine volunteerism models in the non profit space so that Boomers can put all their skills to work when they choose to give back. There is a lot of work to be done here.

I have managed to find an anchor from which I can expand my reach, involve others and in so doing, provide myself with fulfilling challenges.

This has taken 5 years. It has been a journey of patience and persistence. The patience to wait for the opportunities to surface. The patience to wait for others to understand your value proposition. The persistence to keep looking, asking and offering to help even when the response is uninviting. The non-stop faith that you can add value, that you can make a difference, and you can do it using all the tools you have.

Now I understand why someone would start their own non-profit or focus on major gifts (aka give BIG money). Some would say it’s about control and there’s an element of truth in that. It’s also about focusing on what you think is important. As a person who has made a career of operational excellence, I’d say it’s about getting the job done.

Trying to add strategic value as a volunteer is very difficult. There is tremendous resistance. So if you want to do strategic volunteering you’re going to need to buy your way in.

There’s no belief that you’ll stick around so there’s this pervasive feeling that if they just wait, you’ll give up and be gone.

Yes, many volunteers have conflicting priorities that often put other commitments ahead of their volunteer work. Or they may consider volunteering a lighter commitment than family or work. For the most part, no one holds volunteers accountable so there is no pressure to keep promises. I would also say that not all volunteers are the same. Some are more committed than staff.

There’s a hard line between volunteer and staff roles. Staff are happy to pass along routine activities needing just time and hands, as this frees them to focus on higher value work. But they are not inclined to partner or share higher value work.

In this rushed world it may be considered easier (faster) to do it themselves. And faced with a professional from the corporate world, there is a bias that these folks couldn’t possibly add value as they just don’t get it (besides business practices are unpalatable to most non-profits).

There’s a surprising lack of creativity in this sector that is continually burdened with limited resources. You’d think that creativity would rule as non profits are constantly challenged to do more with less but the general solution seems to be to ask for more money.

Given the choice of getting $50k or getting $100k in guaranteed services, I bet they’d go for the $50k and hire more staff. They are keen for partnerships but these are either sponsorship partners (generally providing money, venues, food, press or the like) or non-profit partners (bound together for an aligned purpose). Offer operational help and they don’t know what to do with it and don’t seem to want to think about it.

And yet non-profits will jump through hoops to provide services to meet funding models, sacrificing core objectives or creating operational nightmares.

So my conclusion at this moment in time is to pay for a program that needs to be done and tie the funding to an operational model with metrics that will drive targeted results. Use these programs to prove value and encourage operational excellence. And the program I have in mind….operationalize a model to make best use of professional level Boomer volunteers.

I’ve started a movement. At first I thought it was plagiarism but in this social media-fueled world, the right thing to do is send out an idea and let people carry it forward. Little did I know that it was my title of “Strategic Volunteer” that would be the moniker for the movement.

What I wanted was for non-profits to reconsider their volunteer models to make best use of Boomer talents. What I have instead is volunteers of all ages adopting my title, calling themselves Strategic Volunteers, and so both identifying those types opportunities and showing what this new breed of volunteerism can do.

So whether you’re a retired executive volunteering CEO level consulting, or a career shifting Gen X-er volunteering corporate marketing experience to green causes, or anywhere in between, adopt the title and show the non-profit world the value of a Strategic Volunteer.

I “retired” June 1, 2008 a little early by most folks standards but then I’ve never been one to follow the rule book. After a year as the Entrepreneur in Residence at Laurier University and with time to travel, reconnect with friend and explore concepts I found my new direction and started blogging about it in the fall of 2009.

Realigned and rewriting the rules for volunteerism

I am now fully “realigned” in my new life, balancing my role as a Strategic Volunteer and adding that work-life balance with an equal amount of time devoted to fun. It takes a lot of work to do this.

To stay fully engaged as a strategic volunteer demands constant focus on my next opportunity while I fully relish the work on my plate. Being a strategic volunteer, a role that people intuitively understand but which doesn’t really exist, means I am once again rewriting the rules and forging new ground.

My purpose is clear – find meaningful ways to use my time and skills as a social investment and to set a path so that my cohort, retiring boomers, will have an easier time doing the same.

In 2010 I achieved some great milestones but I could have done so much more:

  • I helped a great foundation win its just reward, acknowledgement as the Outstanding Foundation of the Year
  • I helped set a strategic framework for both a small non profit and the alumni organization within my university
  • I completed a marketing study and target profiles to help a major non profit reach boomer volunteers
  • I continued to mentor students and budding entrepreneurs
  • I helped in small ways by stuffing envelopes, working the soup kitchen, and setting up an art show
  • And I used my blog to bring attention to great organizations and ideas

One skilled, focused strategic volunteer available for free

2011 has just begun and I am crystal clear on what I want to do – maximize my social investment by working with non-profits that can leverage my skills to boost their performance AND expand volunteerism models to provide opportunities for others like me that can do way more than stuff envelopes.

Let’s talk about what I can do for you – imcindyrp [at] hotmail.com

Great concept, monetized and expandable.

“The mission: To mobilize volunteers and community partners in building affordable housing and promoting home ownership as a means to breaking the cycle of poverty.”

Want a company outing for team building and to give back – it’ll cost you. It should – as organizing your group takes time and effort. Expandable as they’ve gone vertical with their ReStores where they sell quality new and gently used donated building materials. I’ve had many a friend who donated their old kitchens through the ReStore – it was easy and Habitat did it all.

Now they’re recognizing the mass capabilities of retirees and “soon to be reitrees” through their ReTooling Build program.

ReTooling for Soon-to-be Retirees

Look at the positioning: “The ReTooling Build aims to inspire healthy, active retirees in volunteerism and philanthropy to make Toronto a better place to live for all.” Then see how they artfully phrase it for the target audience.

The Habitat for Humanity Toronto ReTooling Build is a perfect opportunity for you to make volunteerism a part of this exciting new phase of your life. Designed for retirees and soon-to-be retirees, the ReTooling Build is a way for you to make a tangible difference in a family’s life – and also to meet new friends, learn new skills and and have a great time working hard for a good cause.

Rather than think that this group is just waiting for a spot in a nursing home, they understand the untapped potential and are making it a win-win. How do I know this…they paid a visit to my little lawn bowling club.

Kudos to Habitat for Humanity!

Best use of the web

A further pat on the back for making the best of the online medium. Seamless integration, appropriate content and use of each platform, robust actionable information and story telling in each site. Here are just a few examples of what the Canadian and Toronto chapters are doing – explore for yourself.

The program: http://www.retoolingbuild.ca

The main site for Toronto: http://www.torontohabitat.on.ca (see the volunteer section)

The community: http://www.facebook.com/HabitatforHumanityToronto

More social media:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/habitattoronto

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/habitattoronto

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/habitattoronto/

Blog: http://habitatforhumanitytoronto.wordpress.com/

One of the big issues for volunteers is finding opportunities that truly take advantage of their skills – particularly corporate skills. I must admit that it looks like volunteers are primarily the mass labour force of fundraising and then front line service and administrative tasks.

Volunteer public speaking

So I was pleased to hear of a role at Habitat for Humanity where the volunteer was responsible for information delivery sessions – presentations to new home owners explaining the financial obligations and details of home ownership. This took advantage of the volunteer’s speaking and coaching skills and did not, as is synonymous with Habitat, involve a hammer.

A little research online uncovered a similar role at the Canadian Diabetes Association.

Become a Presenter for our Community Education Programs

Volunteers are trained to facilitate our Learning Series Presentations to people affected by diabetes including community groups, corporate lunch n’ learns, seniors, service clubs etc.  This is an excellent opportunity for anyone looking to improve their public speaking skills and to help educate people about diabetes and diabetes management. (www.diabetes.ca)

This got me thinking. How many causes out there need to explain their story? Why not use energized, professional level volunteers to carry the message.

Volunteer consulting time

I’ve run into a few management consulting oriented volunteer positions. Non profits apply for help with a project and professionals give their time and skills, usually in a team structure. Very similar to the work they do during the day, these volunteers come from consulting shops or marketing agencies and essentially do pro-bono assignments. One aggregator of opportunities is Endeavour (www.endeavourvolunteer.ca).  Of course, the established versions of this are the executive level volunteer organizations like CESO (www.ceso-saco.com) and CUSO (www.cuso-vso.org) where the work is in country and usually developmental.

What would you do with free or low cost staff?

So I ask what roles are considered only the domain of employees? Where could you do some creative structuring to augment your workforce, take advantage of specialty skills and share the workload?

There are many folks looking for opportunities to contribute. If you don’t have the roles for them today, start thinking about your volunteer model for the near future.

Over the next 10 years my cohort is retiring and they’re looking for something meaningful to do. After a few rounds of golf, those special projects and time with grandkids, they’ll get restless and start looking for something to do. In fact, many of them are starting to think about that as they ramp up their departure from the corporate towers.

Get ready for the next generation of volunteers. You nonprofits out there should be drooling over the opportunity that’s coming your way.

This group is huge in number, well skilled, well connected, healthy, driven and a powerful raw material for the non profit that recognizes that value.

Right now as a volunteer I can “stuff envelopes” or sit on a board. Most non profits haven’t a clue what to do with a strategic volunteer. I don’t want a traditional role. I want to add maximum value and leverage my skills and ecosystem.  Courtesy of some open minded non profits I’m beginning to define this new type of volunteerism and it’s giving my friends some hope that when they’re ready for a change of lifestyle and to incorporate volunteerism as part of it, I will have paved the way.

That’s not to say that the generations of volunteers that have come before me haven’t done some of the work. But what will make the next 10 years so different lies in the numbers – 1/3 of our population. Imagine what even a fraction of those people can do when they focus on making a difference.

Non profits – start thinking different!

It’s been 3 months and I finally have some interesting and hopefully valuable work to do.

When I started out on this journey, everyone was impressed by the title Strategic Volunteer. They thought it promised great value but they warned that it would take quite a bit of effort to find fitting opportunities. And they were right.

Organizations that are taking me up on my offer of strategic help are doing so as a test or with isolated projects. Non profits that use volunteers regularly, are set up to use them for specific purposes – usually committee helpers (think fundraising) or service delivery (think mentors, literacy tutors). At a strategic level, most think board membership which may or may not be an active role depending on the organization.

And so I am delighted to be invited to help a variety of non profit organizations.

  • One is small and I am working with the founder who needs a strategic framework to help guide the organization forward.
  • Another is a large organization that has given me a marketing/PR project that can be done by an outsider and if successful will be of great value.
  • Another organization who is located miles away from where I am, is leveraging the Web Goddess, my former life. This is a young organization, global and modern social technologies are at the heart of their organization.

I’m sure there will be more in my future, that these are just the beginning of my new path. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m starting this blog to track and aggregate my findings and activities around my new imperative, strategic volunteering. My hope is that by posting this information, I can enlist support when needed and inspire one of you who share my values.

I will be highlighting causes (NGOs, charities, non-profits) that I find compeling and corporations/organizations that are doing good work under the umbrella concept of corporate social responsiblity (CSR).

Personally, I’m looking for opportunities to strategically volunteer – applying my professional skills in strategic thinking, team structures and mobilization, project delivery and innovative thinking. And of course, I am/was the Web Goddess and so I bring a modern, internet-fueled, user-centric sensibility to anything I take on.

 

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