As 2023 gets underway, it is perhaps wise to take a moment to reflect on what the year ahead might have in store for Volunteer Engagement Professionals.

Here are three refections from me.

1/ In-person becomes ever more common

Living our working lives online has become the norm over the last three years. And this approach has much to commend to it. It means less travel — so it’s better for the environment — it gives people more access to a wider range of events, and helps overcome some barriers to inclusion, to name just a few benefits.

My prediction is that in 2023 we will really start to see a return to in-person volunteering (not least because people want somewhere warm to volunteer where they don’t have to pay the bills!) and in-person events, trainings and conferences, alongside the continuation of some things happening online. A better balance will, I think, be found.

“Volunteers were likely to appreciate digital interaction under lockdowns. Outside of lockdowns, the sense of connection is hard to achieve online.” — Time Well Spent: Impact of Covid-19 on the volunteer experience, NCVO 2022

Last year, only the AVSM conference was held online. All the other large, national volunteer management conferences took place online. This year, the Volunteer Management Conference is happening in-person in London on 31st January, and I expect others will follow.

Of course, some things will stay online. I hope this will happen because online is the best way to do these things, not because it’s just how we’ve done things since 2020 and so become the default norm.

And, for a similar reason, I think in-person will grow in 2023: because after three years of staying at home, being back with others in the same physical space is sometimes the best way for us all to get what we need as we advance into the opportunities and challenges of the months ahead.

2/ The cost of living continues to bite

We all know that the cost of living crisis isn’t going away soon. We’re all feeling its effects. That includes volunteers, and I continue to hear of organisations facing a range of issues as volunteers change behaviours to simply survive the winter.

In such times of hardship there exist the conditions for innovation, for creative new approaches to spring up, for change to happen.

I’m excited to see how Volunteer Engagement Professionals, Volunteer Involving Organisations and communities find new ways to do things in these challenging times.

Nobody wants the cost-of-living crisis to last any longer, but here we are. How we respond will say much about us as a volunteering movement and could lay the foundation for a brighter future ahead.

3/ Visions, actions and strategies

Which brings me to my third point. In 2022, we saw the launch of England’s Vision for Volunteering and Scotland’s Volunteering Action plan. We also so work get underway for a new National Volunteering Strategy in Australia, to be launched this year.

All these initiatives are pointing to a better future for volunteering, one where it is recognised, valued and supported as vital to healthy and successful communities.

In 2023, we all need to seize the moment of opportunity these plans, visions, and strategies provide. We need to find the time and energy to lift our heads from the day-to-day of our roles and find a way to contribute to the better future being envisioned.

We cannot wait for someone else to make the first move or seize the initiative. The future is in our hands. So, we must ask ourselves, what role can we play as individuals Volunteer Engagement Professionals and as a collective volunteering movement?

I want to conclude this article with a short post I shared on social media before Christmas 2022. Whether you read it at the time or not, I think it sets out a positive visions of our role as Volunteer Engagement Professionals that you may find helpful to reflect on as we face the opportunities and challenges of the year ahead.

Stewards of hope

That’s what we are as Volunteer Engagement Professionals — stewards of hope.

It’s easy to focus on the day-to-day of our work. Systems, processes, forms, meeting, frustrations, budgets. All are important. All help us get things done.

But we do so much more. We are so much more.

We are stewards of hope.

We help people to channel their hope for a better world into tangible action, volunteering to bring that future closer to reality.

We are stewards of hope.

We help people to take actions that give others hope. Those who see hope in the acts of kindness towards others. Those who, through the support of a volunteer, perhaps see a glimmer of hope in their personal world.

We are stewards of hope.

We help channel people’s hope to rebel, speak up, campaign, disrupt and (yes, sometimes) fight against oppression, discrimination, prejudice, and hatred.

We are stewards of hope.

Without us, the world would be a darker, less inspiring place. A world that would be harder to face every day.

We are stewards of hope.

So, when what you do gets you down, take a pause and remember the position we have.

We are stewards of hope.

Find out more about Rob and Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd on the website.

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One thought on “Here comes 2023: three reflections on the year ahead

  1. Love that phrase…stewards of hope. I will be bringing that term into my dialogue when I’m advocating for the role of volunteer management and volunteers in my organization. I also recently heard the comment that hope has more to do with being honest than being happy. Volunteer professionals can’t move forward until we stop trying to make everyone happy and start speaking truth. If you can’t trust your steward of hope who can you trust!?!

    Liked by 1 person

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