From Business Case to Storytelling: Bringing Volunteer Engagement Out of the Shadows

Guest post by Reed Dewey, Volunteer Frontier

Guest post by Reed Dewey of Volunteer FrontierOne of the bigger challenges we’ve all faced for a long time is getting nonprofit senior managers to make volunteering a bigger priority for their organizations. And this is not for lack of trying.

Yet as a profession, the field of volunteer engagement continues to be marginalized with senior managers and those who focus on capacity building for nonprofits. I think it’s time for our profession to tell our stories of success in ways that inspire senior managers to sit up and take notice.

Volunteer management experts have been pushing for years the business case for making volunteer engagement front and center for government and nonprofits. Thanks to folks like Susan Ellis, Betty Stallings, Rick Lynch, Jill Friedman Fixler and many more, there are good books and tools out there to help nonprofit executives think through how to ramp up their volunteer utilization. As a field, however, I don’t think we’re very good storytellers, which is how we might get more traction.

The report I recently wrote called Volunteer Engagement Stars was a move in that direction. I felt that the field of volunteer engagement needed more case studies – especially with the involvement of agency CEOs/Executive Directors. The publication is packed with practical, real-life examples of how nonprofits are dynamically engaging volunteers that deliver bottom-line results. I realize now that the report will be most useful to volunteer managers, rather than CEOs. It’s written in a journalism format – not in a story format, which may be a drawback for helping stimulate change.

For over-loaded agency executives, I think stories and YouTube clips will increasingly be the way to go. I intend to write more stories and encourage you to do the same for the field and for your agency.

Stories don’t have to be long – in fact shorter is probably better. Stories tell of challenges confronted, a turning point that can emotionally draw in the reader, and an ending that provides lessons learned, results attained, and a clear path forward.

Do you think those in the field of volunteer engagement need to be better storytellers? Will that move the dial?

Reed Dewey is principal of Volunteer Frontier, a consultancy helping nonprofits and government strategically engage volunteers. He worked for the Points of Light Foundation and ran the volunteer center in Montgomery County, Maryland.