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The end of 'voluntourism' and the rise of skilled volunteers

28 March 2022 at 6:03 pm
Victor Lee
In a saturated digital landscape, “traditional volunteering” is fading as skilled volunteers meet the technological demands not for profits need to thrive, writes Victor Lee.

Victor Lee | 28 March 2022 at 6:03 pm


The end of 'voluntourism' and the rise of skilled volunteers
28 March 2022 at 6:03 pm

In a saturated digital landscape, “traditional volunteering” is fading as skilled volunteers meet the technological demands not for profits need to thrive, writes Victor Lee.

Not for profits (NFPs) are struggling to find people with the right skill-sets, due to a lack of interest and mis-matched volunteer placements. This is a missed opportunity for business executives looking to increase employee engagement and retention, and establish an emotionally intelligent, empathetic team.

“Traditional volunteering” is often connoted with physical activity – like working at a soup kitchen, rebuilding villages after a disaster, or coaching a local sport team. These romanticised notions have been largely formed by media and film depictions of volunteering. 

This type of volunteering serves a purpose to support the service delivery of NFPs, but stops short of building operational capacity or strategic thinking.

This is largely a result of the high demand on NFPs to compete for relevance in the digital space. Additionally, the inherently colonial, privileged roots of “voluntourism” are becoming more commonly recognised, demonstrated by works like Ours to Explore: Privilege, Power, and the Paradox of Voluntourism.

As a result, NFPs are seeking technologically-skilled volunteers above all else. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, “skills-based volunteering means leveraging the specialised skills and talents of individuals to strengthen the infrastructure of NFPs, helping them build and sustain their capacity to successfully achieve their missions”.

NFPs’ most commonly desired skills tend to centre on marketing, IT, people and culture, and content creation. As much of the philanthropic world has moved online, Australian NFPs have had to adjust and reassess the core skills needed to preserve their longevity.

Corporates may have the resources to keep pace online, and cultivate a distinct digital brand, but it’s harder for NFPs to upskill their workforce and maintain digital transformation while delivering essential services.

According to Volunteering Australia, three in 10 Australians volunteer in some capacity. However, only 15 per cent of corporate employees volunteer. Ninety two per cent of Australian volunteers reported significant levels of satisfaction resulting from their work, and 93 per cent said they saw positive changes in the organisation based on their work. So, we know that people achieve personal satisfaction and engagement by volunteering and having a greater purpose outside of themselves.

Individual stories of Australian volunteers show that when one’s skill-set can be utilised effectively by a NFP, then the satisfaction and results are greater on both ends.

Vijay Pawar volunteered for almost 80 hours with Endo A.C.T. , a charity in the ACT raising awareness about Endometriosis and advocating for improved treatment for women.

As an IT expert, Pawar was able to completely overhaul and improve its website, from design and usability all the way to its SEO. This gave Endo A.C.T. a significant uptake in website views and a lower bounce rate overall: thanks to Pawar they saved over $2,000 on developmental costs, in only three days.

“The most precious resource that we as humans have is time,” Pawar said. “The number of breaths each of us has is limited. Devoting some of this limited time to make it a better place makes our life meaningful.”

Skilled volunteering also has many other benefits in comparison to traditional methods. It can be flexible; be carried out remotely from home, or from your regular office. It also allows employees to develop both soft and hard skills, and thus increase their personal development.

Working from home during the pandemic has given many employees a glimpse into a hybrid workplace. As a result, people are looking for more balance, or for a wider purpose, when it comes to their work. At a time when burnout and staff turnover is so high, it’s essential for business leaders to prioritise the overall wellbeing of their team.

When employees come back to their workplace after their time as a skilled volunteer, they will come back having truly made an impact using their specific talents, like Pawar. Additionally, the NFP will be a stronger, more digitally adept organisation.

Employees then begin to operate in their normal workplace as a more well-rounded individual, with a wider perspective, deeper empathy, a greater range of contacts, and – most importantly – re-energised and reinvigorated.

Victor Lee  |  @ProBonoNews

Victor Lee is the founder and CEO of Communiteer, launched in 2018 as a one-stop solution to connect not for profits with the corporate partners, people, and the skills they need to make a difference.

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