Reflections from the IAVE World Volunteer Conference and Time for Change 


On Monday we’ll join in the global celebration of International Volunteer Managers Day. This year’s theme is Time for Change! It’s an opportunity to discuss the changes that are needed in the profession of volunteer management and leadership so that it continues to remain “relevant and powerful into the future”.  

The other week I got to attend the IAVE World Volunteer Conference in Augsburg, Germany. Almost 800 participants from all over the world gathered to discuss ideas, innovations, trends and emerging issues relating to volunteering. Much of what came up related to change and I’ve set out three main reflections under this below: 

  1. Volunteering is Changing 

Our global world is changing, and by extension, volunteering. Technology drives much of the change that we experience and see: 65% of kids in school today will work in jobs that do not yet exist.  The nature and form of volunteering itself is also changing. Citizen-led engagement and self-organising groups are growing. This allows people to express their autonomy or solidarity with a cause through volunteering and to self-organise around their own priorities. In some countries, including Ireland, formal volunteering (through an organisation) is becoming more episodic, influenced by work, leisure and technology. Volunteer retention will be more of a priority. As Ireland moves closer to full employment these trends are likely to continue.  

How volunteering changes is also impacted by culture, values and policy frameworks. Delegates from Russia, explained how a new culture of volunteering is taking root, thanks largely to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014. 25,000 volunteers from all over Russia took part, changing the status of volunteers and the importance of volunteering to the country. Funding and initiatives followed, with 2018 being dedicated as the Volunteer’s Year in Russia. Neighbouring Russia to the south, lies Korea. Similar to Russia, volunteering really took off in Korea after the Seoul Olympics and developed rapidly from the 1990’s to 2010. In the years that followed volunteer rates steadily declined. In order to revitalise volunteering in Korea civil society groups are collaborating on the “Korean Year of Volunteering 2016-2018”. Part of the work has involved a review of the past 20 years of volunteering in Korea, with a view to making the necessary changes to help volunteering thrive over the coming years. 

  1. Volunteering needs to Change 

Volunteering has a key role to play in helping the global community to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Whether it’s climate action, strengthening democracy, protecting the environment, speaking up for change or tackling health issues, volunteering needs to be ready to adapt and respond in the right way. Self-organising and citizen-engagement is seeing change come from the bottom up. As civil society groups we need to empower volunteers to lead the way but also communicate what the responsibilities around standards and best practice are, so that we have sustainable solutions. 

Much was said about technology – Aarathi Krishnan, Global Futures and Foresight Coordinator, IFRC, observed that many charities are trying to solve 21st century problems with 19th century technology. If our organisations cannot keep up with changes in technology it won’t be long before we become irrelevant. This is also true for how volunteers engage with us and vice versa. Two examples of how charities are engaging with volunteers via technology came from the Volunteer Centre in Munich, which uses WhatsApp Broadcast lists to engage with primarily single professionals who are time-poor but want to socialise with others, and the youth charity 4-H who deliver most of their volunteer training via webinars, YouTube videos and podcasts.  

Adults aged 60+ will grow from 900 million to over two billion over the next 35 years. For Volunteer-Involving Organisations (VIOs) this presents both an opportunity and challenge. As people live healthier and more active lives for longer what changes do we as VIOs need to make to attract this potential pool of committed mature volunteers? How do we also think sensitively about supporting older volunteers and developing new social roles that preserve the skills and experience of people in old age? 

  1. Volunteering effects Change 

Lastly, there were examples and case studies of how volunteering can bring about change. One was how volunteering is playing an integral role in integration in Germany. As Germany took in one million refugees from Syria and other conflict zones in 2015, many civil society groups have sought to create a ‘welcome culture’ and show that integration has benefits for both communities by changing the discourse. It is also recognised that volunteers have a crucial role to play alongside paid professionals and bring something else. 

Cautionary notes were added – volunteering can achieve many things but the enabling conditions need to be in place e.g. regulatory frameworks. Smaller organisations also have to decide at some point what they want to be – if you want to be bigger then you need to accept the risk and the required changes that go with this; if you want to remain small then focus less on creating ‘efficiencies’ and focus more on the impact you’re making at local level. However, as VIOs we can all work on increasing trust and good governance by making necessary changes that show what we are/stand for.  

As volunteer managers we can also envision. What do we want our organisations and volunteer programmes to look like in five years? What change(s) do we want to see? A starting point is to put the building blocks in place for what’s required and making incremental changes today. Not tomorrow. Today. 


Edwina is the Manager of Dublin City Volunteer Centre and presented on the benefits of engaging older volunteers at the 25th IAVE World Volunteer Conference in Augsburg, Germany, 16th – 20th October 2018. Want to continue the conversation? Get in touch edwina@volunteerdublincity.ie or find us on Facebook and Twitter IVMDay18