What's Ahead for 2009?

By Susan J. Ellis

New Year’s Eve inevitably causes reflection on the year coming to a close and hopes, wishes, and resolutions for the year about to start.  Since you can read my thoughts on the key issues of 2008 in past Hot Topics, let’s focus on what might be ahead. /hot-topics-and-news

The Obama Effect

The United States is about to inaugurate a new president who represents the hopes of many for a brighter future.  Barack Obama won the election in large part because of his unprecedented ability to mobilize volunteers at the local level – many of whom had never gotten engaged in political action before.  He had special appeal to young voters, with whom his campaign connected mainly by Internet technology.  

Here are several ways that the Obama Administration may impact volunteering in the United States, along with some of my own editorial comments.

  • Obama campaign leaders are working hard to maintain the momentum and engagement of their election volunteers in ways that 1) truly give people a way to serve their communities, and 2) are not cynically seen as a ruse to keep the corps intact for the 2012 campaign.  They are making a very interesting start with their “Change is Coming” house meetings, in which volunteers are being asked to suggest priorities for the new Administration and develop ideas for grassroots action on real needs.

             Already there have been e-mails from both Barack and Michelle Obama urging volunteer action of various sorts.  Michelle’s holiday message on December 23rd started with:

This holiday season, the grassroots movement you helped build can     make a big difference for those in need. I hope you will join me in supporting your favorite charity or contributing to causes that are especially meaningful to me and my family.

She specifically recommended donating to a local food bank or giving to Operation USO Care, and provided links directly to such sites.   Perhaps in the future this Administration will talk about ending hunger and war rather than palliating the effects, but it’s a nice start.

  • Candidate Obama made campaign promises about enlarging stipended service programs such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.  Many also believe that he will favor the proposed U.S. Public Service Academy.  So we may see legislation and appropriations that fund these efforts. 
  • President Obama will be appointing the next director of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which will set the tone for that agency’s work in the coming years.  From the volunteer management perspective, we’ll be watching whether the new person understands that stipended service is only a small part of “service” and will seek ways to strengthen volunteering infrastructure.  Still on the table is the idea of training AmeriCorps members to be volunteer coordinators at the local level (something successfully done by VISTAs in the 1980s) – will this happen and how?

          There is also the question of whether someone new will break down the silos that have encased AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn & Serve projects.  It’s time that the Corporation presses all these “streams of service” to find their commonalities on the ground.

Our Profession

Volunteer management continues to percolate professionally, although the outcomes are rarely clear.  Some developments on the horizon are:

  • This may be the year that the U.S. finally develops a viable professional association.  The $100,000 grant to ALIVE (Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement) may be just the push needed to help this fledgling effort live up to its name.  And, maybe there will be progress in uniting with   the struggling AVRM (Association for Volunteer Resources Management) so that we can stop fighting each other and tackle the real issues we fully share.
  • Keep an eye on the professional associations, trainers, and authors outside of the USA, particularly in the UK and Australia.  They are growing in strength and will lead the way in redefining our work, how we learn best practices, and how we exchange ideas.
  • Despite the counter-intuitive reasoning, it’s already starting to happen that volunteer program managers are being laid off in the face of tightening budgets – just as the demand for more volunteers is growing.  As a profession, we must respond when executives make short-sighted decisions.  DOVIAs and state associations ought to develop “position papers” on the importance and value-added of the volunteer management role and use them on behalf of their members, whether directly with each offending agency, with funders, or even with the press. [Some associations have already done this and I hope, if you’re a member of one of these,  you’ll reply to this Hot Topic with a link to the statement you’ve developed.]
  • Everyone is rethinking conferences, which are expensive to produce and attend.  A few long-standing events are testing an every-other-year schedule and some organizations are moving to regional-level gatherings instead.  This will drive more groups to consider online training options, although, with a growing number of exceptions, we’re still a field that dislikes online interaction, electronic documents, and the feel of cyberspace.  Also, it’s much harder to create quality online learning than to put on a real-world workshop.  Energize has been working hard for 5+ years to understand this medium in creating Everyone Ready®.

          On the other hand, it is increasingly simple and inexpensive to add technology to group events, such as setting up an Internet connection and Web cam and “inviting” a guest speaker from anywhere on the globe.  Maybe in 2009 we’ll do more experimenting with this sort of idea.

And now it’s your turn… 

What do you predict (or hope) will develop for volunteering in 2009?

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