Jun 212010

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Greater DC Cares’ annual Business & Nonprofit Philanthropy Summit, an event that brings together leaders from the corporate and nonprofit sectors to recognize achievement and impact in the region.  Congratulations to this year’s winners in the nonprofit and business categories!

Michelle Nunn, CEO of Points of Light Institute and the day’s keynote speaker, had the unenviable task of following last year’s keynote (Michelle Obama).  She shared her thoughts on the current state of volunteerism and service in the U.S., recognizing that it’s at a “critical juncture.”

Not coincidentally, I imagine, the Corporation for National & Community Service released its annual Volunteering in America report  earlier in the week, showing the greatest single year increase in the number of people volunteering nationwide since 2003.  The report is intended to help organizations answer a most critical question: how to mobilize more Americans in service to address local needs and problems.

Nunn offered some insights into answering this question, sharing what she considered the three biggest emerging trends in service today.

1.  Connection between service and solutions

Nunn quoted a recent speech by President Obama, in which he said “the need for action always exceeds the limits of government.”  Service, she said, must fill that gap.  And organizations must be held accountable for demonstrating the impact they are having.  From a funder’s perspective, Deloitte’s Emily Rothberg summed it up nicely during an earlier panel on partnerships: “I don’t want to fund a nonprofit,” she said.  “I want to fund a solution.”

2.  Corporate engagement

Nunn cited the increasing sophistication of corporate engagement models that have evolved to include not only employees, but customers as well.  Disney, for example, offered a free ticket to anyone who volunteered for a day of service with a participating organization in its Give a Day, Get a Day campaign.  Starbucks’ I’m In campaign likewise rewarded volunteers with a free cup of coffee.  Interestingly, Nunn said most people didn’t even redeem the reward once they earned it, which points to deeper motives for volunteersim beyond just a free caffeine fix.  “Simply being asked to volunteer was so important,” she said.

3.  The Millenial’s toolkit

Millenials are using an entirely different set of tools and actions (not to mention their overall greater civic-mindedness) to volunteer than any generation before them.  Nunn cited Crop Mob Atlanta, tech-savvy young adults interested in sustainable agriculture who come together as a community to learn, engage, and work, and The Extraordinaries, a startup that has pioneered the idea of microvolunteering–small tasks that can be easily completed via mobile phone.  Millenials want to be involved in change.  They want to lead change.  And they’re organizing in different ways, often outside of traditional institutional structures.

People are the most valuable resource of any organization, and the key question is how to galvanize that human capital to meet the challenges of our time.  Organizations like Greater DC Cares are going a long way toward making Washington, D.C. a model for the rest of the country.

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