The 21st Century Volunteer

Volunteer recruitment has changed over the years—not just from the development of new techniques and technology, but in the way that people perceive and take on service opportunities. ESC President & CEO Bethany Kendall breaks down the key characteristics of the modern volunteer in her workshop on volunteer management, based upon material by Thomas and Jonathan McKee.

The new volunteer is very busy with multiple obligations. 21st Century volunteers have many demands on their time. They’ve got numerous obligations to attend to—often several volunteer responsibilities on top of jobs, parenting, and other engagements—and need to be expert time managers. This implies that they’re willing to wear a lot of hats, but will need to feel passionate about a mission in in order to agree to take on an assignment and stick with the commitment.

The new volunteer wants flexibility. Busy people can’t always manage their time perfectly, so 21st Century volunteers need an organization they work with to be flexible. If your nonprofit thinks making 100% in person meeting attendance mandatory for board members or volunteers, you’d do well to think again. Modern volunteers will commit, but must have the opportunity to connect virtually when necessary.

The new volunteer thinks outside the box. Of the organization, that is. The 21st Century will bring your nonprofit innovation and may suggest ways in which to help shake up the status quo. Be sure staff and board members alike are open and willing to accept that new volunteers are eager to explore efficiency through innovation.

The new volunteer will not tolerate incompetent volunteers or staff. Your organization should be comprised of individuals appropriate to your nonprofit’s success. For example, if a volunteer board committee is led by someone who has no meeting facilitation skills, you are very likely to quickly lose members. . There are two solutions that can go hand-in-hand: conduct appropriate trainings—sessions that are additional to basic foundational training, specific to certain volunteer roles, and when recruiting target particular strengths, prior experience, and interests. Targeting and training can help you avoid many pitfalls in volunteer relations and overall organizational success.

The new volunteers dos not want to just make a contribution—they want to make a difference. This is the overarching ideal of all 21st Century volunteers. Engage volunteers in activities that allow them to directly impact –and be aware of their contributions in the community– for the best possible retention and volunteer satisfaction.

Source Materials, McKee, Thomas, and Jonathan McKee. “Keynote Talks on Volunteer Leadership.” Volunteer Power.1 Sept. 2012. Web. 21 Aug.2014. <>.

If your nonprofit could benefit from affordable management consulting, please contact ESC’s Director of Consulting, Ulea Lago, at or call 617-357-5550. We serve nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and we offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit for all interested area nonprofits.