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3 min read

Now What? Moving Volunteer Engagement Forward in Changing Times

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Volunteerism in 2023 is facing a unique set of circumstances: A decades-long decline in volunteer engagement was exacerbated by the 2020 pandemic, and new trends are emerging as groups engaging volunteers settle into post-pandemic conditions. Organizations that rely on volunteers to meet their missions face challenges in attracting the types and numbers of volunteers they need.

The Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement (MAVA) has surveyed the field of volunteerism for 15 years to better understand the impact of a shifting environment on volunteer engagement. MAVA recently conducted research on the impact of the pandemic and recent disruptions on volunteerism. Our findings are reported in "Post-Pandemic Volunteerism: Trends and Strategies for Volunteer Engagement in 2023 and Beyond.” The report provides a snapshot of shifts in volunteerism, and identifies current trends, along with recommendations for volunteer engagement leaders moving forward.

Trends noted include emerging developments and exacerbation of factors we’ve watched over the last few years. They are:

  • Virtual volunteerism is here to stay
  • Recruitment alone is not enough
  • Flexibility is more important than ever
  • Internal advocacy can’t be overlooked
  • Variety is key
  • Groups are changing
  • Skill-based volunteering continues to grow
  • New volunteers have different needs

Concerns about volunteer shortages surfaced as a key concern of organizations surveyed, but the degree of difficulty reported in recruiting and retaining volunteers varied widely. Reviewing strategies employed by organizations with enough volunteers versus those reporting a shortage, key differences emerged. Successful organizations were more likely to have involved volunteers in new positions, increased flexibility of volunteer roles, added virtual/remote roles, and increased internal advocacy for volunteerism. Organizations struggling to fill volunteer roles seemed to focus more attention on reinvigorating recruitment approaches, and less on the other strategies named.

With a better understanding of current volunteerism trends and factors fueling volunteer shortages, MAVA compiled a set of recommendations for organizations struggling to find volunteers. They are:

Amp Up Internal Advocacy

Internal advocacy is about getting those inside your organization to understand the importance of volunteers. For staff, this means shutting down misperceptions about volunteer roles, and promoting ways to partner with volunteers. For organizational leadership, this means ensuring that they can recognize and promote volunteers’ contributions to meeting the mission.

Evaluate Your Volunteer Roles

Organizations with stagnant volunteer roles seem to have more difficulty recruiting volunteers. In some cases, roles can’t change because they are the only way to get the work done, such as transportation programs that rely on in-person volunteers’ availability at set times. In other cases, it’s possible to get more creative with the types of positions offered, and the timing or location of roles – but that may mean the organization itself needs to become more flexible.

Assess Your Processes

Potential volunteers often report frustration with processes that seem lengthy or unclear, such as onboarding. Auditing how volunteers learn about your organization, and steps between applying to volunteer and actually doing the work, can provide ideas for streamlining and simplifying your volunteer processes, and make it easier for volunteers to opt in.

Shift from Passive to Active Recruitment

Current recruitment practices typically require people to self-identify as volunteers and seek out an opportunity to get involved, usually through places they already know of, like volunteer centers, organizational websites, or online listings. Getting out of the ‘waiting by the phone/inbox’ mode by proactively connecting with new audiences can help you find people who may not see themselves as volunteers or know how to find volunteer opportunities.


In times of disruption, new ways forward can emerge. These recommendations offer ways for volunteer engagement leaders to meet this moment, but more important than specific ideas are cultivating curiosity, creativity, and courage. It’s critical to ask tough questions about what you’re seeing, look at your organization’s services and the role volunteers play in delivering them with a new lens, and take risks in trying new approaches to better match organizational and volunteer needs. We encourage you to take time to dig into trends affecting your volunteer engagement work and adapt your response to find your way forward in a shifting volunteer engagement landscape.

You can find the full Post-Pandemic Volunteerism Report or the Executive Summary on the MAVA website. The full report is free to MAVA members and $20 for non-members. Consider joining MAVA this fall for a series of working sessions on the report’s recommendations, designed to dig deeper into each by highlighting real-world experience with the strategies and foster peer exchange on ways to put them into practice. For dates and details, check MAVA’s Training and Events calendar.

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