Technology and its impact on volunteer management in the future

Technology and its impact on volunteer management in the future

This is the second article of a two-part series about technology and volunteer management. If you missed part one then please take a few minutes to read it before you continue with this article.

As we saw last time, technology has changed the way we work in volunteer management. We are so familiar are with the technology that is now a part of our lives that it’s easy to forget the extent of the change that taken place in the last few years. Yet, despite all that change, we have adapted, both personally and professionally.

But what about the changes that are coming? Changes that could be even more momentous. I want to look at just two examples and how they may affect volunteerism – Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles.

Artificial Intelligence

HAL, the AI from 2001: A Space Odyssey
HAL, the AI from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Once the preserve of Science Fiction movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” with the sinister HAL, AI is becoming increasingly common in our modern world.

“AI is anything a computer can’t do yet.” – Seth Godin

Seth’s point is that as soon as what was once branded as AI becomes commonplace, we no longer think of it as AI. Consider Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa for a moment. Show them to your 2005 self and you’d be amazed, but in 2018 they are simply an accepted part of our lives.

The same will be true of AI in our work in 2028. What seems outlandish now will be the norm.

Today, AI systems are helping people do mundane tasks like schedule meetings. Just think, no more email tennis to plan in all those meetings with volunteers. What a time saver!

A tennis ball and net on a computer monitor
A tennis ball and net on a computer monitor

AI is also helping with recruitment for paid jobs. An AI whittles the applications to a long-list of candidates before an AI powered chat bot conducts an initial interview, asking pre-agreed questions. In theory this approach is fairer than an human interviewing as the AI interprets responses without the unconscious biases all humans posses.

This approach to recruitment is intriguing and it’s application to volunteer recruitment is clear – volunteer managers could save considerable amounts of time deploying AI in this way, allowing them to focus their efforts on those people most likely to be suitable volunteers.

Think this is pure fantasy? Well, AI is already being used by some volunteer involving organisations. Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) use a chat bot to answer frequently asked questions from volunteers on CHAS’s Workplace by Facebook platform, releasing staff time to focus on other tasks.

Logo for Children's Hospices Across Scotland
Logo for Children’s Hospices Across Scotland

Autonomous vehicle

Despite some bad press recently, driverless cars are here to stay, not least because many people see them as a way to vastly reduce the horrifying number of people killed or injured on the roads every year.

Back in 2015 Jay Samit, writing in TechCrunch, predicted that a human driving a car will be illegal by 2030. We can debate if that time frame is correct, but it’s safe to say that within the next twenty-five years taxi drivers, bus drivers, lorry drivers and other driving related jobs will be obsolete, replaced by AI drivers.

Dilbert debating with a robot about who will do his work in future.
Dilbert debating with a robot about who will do his work in future.

What will this mean for thousands of volunteer drivers giving their time right now? Will they be out of a ‘job’ too, forced to sit on the sidelines as technology does their work for them?

I suppose that depends on whether the core of their role is the driving or, in the case of those who drive other people, the personal connection they have with their passengers? For example: a volunteer who’d drives to empty charity collection boxes may well no longer be needed – especially as collection boxes are likely to go cashless; whereas a patient transport volunteer may instead be able to focus all their attention on their passengers whilst the vehicle does the work of driving them both to a hospital appointment.

If you are managing a volunteer driver scheme right now, what are you doing to prepare for this change? What threats and opportunities does it present?

Closing thoughts

I want to close with the Bill Gates quote I opened the first article in this series with:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”.

The changes I have hinted at above might seem outlandish and far-fetched to some of you, but they are coming. They are the tip of the iceberg in how technology will change the shape our lives and societies in future. Volunteering will not be immune to those changes and we have to think now about what it means for our work as leaders and managers of volunteers. Embracing these changes will not be easy and we may feel ill-equipped to adapt. But adapt we must. Change we must. For, as retired US Army General Gen. Eric Shinseki said:

“If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”

Further reading

For those interested in doing a little more reading about AI I highly recommend three articles that indicate some of the ways in which AI could be harmful, especially as it may not be as unbiased and neutral as some people argue:

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Technology & its impact on volunteer management to date

Technology & its impact on volunteer management to date

Bill Gates once said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”. In this new two-part blog series I want to briefly explore how technology has changed volunteer management in the last few years and how it might shape our work in future.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

An age of wonder

As someone who grew up in the technologically simple days of the 1970s and 1980s, I am often amazed by the modern technological world. The jump has been immense, from the computer games loaded from tape I played as a child to the immersive, Virtual Reality Ultra HD gaming consoles available today. Throughout my life the stuff of science fiction truly has become daily reality.

A young man wearing a VR headset
A young man wearing a VR headset

People are fearful

Yet as technology has become a more integral part of our lives, so people have become more fearful that it will have a negative impact, from the Terminator like annihilation of the human race to machines taking our jobs. Such fears are perhaps inevitable but they certainly aren’t new. Since the industrial revolution people have feared the loss of their livelihoods as machines, computers and technology have become more commonplace.

Letters spelling out the word fear
Letters spelling out the word fear

Some jobs no longer exist

From my own childhood, I can distinctly remember visiting my dad at work in the Bolton branch of Barclays Bank. One of the offices was full of women sitting in rows typing correspondence to customers. No more. Today, that work is done by computers. Those jobs are gone.

A typing pool in the 1970s
A typing pool in the 1970s

Some new jobs have been created

We often forget, however, that as these ‘old’ jobs disappear, new ones are created. For example, fifteen years ago there was no such thing as social media and so no job called Social Media Marketing Manager. Now there are thousands of these jobs around the globe focused on promoting brands, products and services via social media.

A woman working at a laptop
A woman working at a laptop

How volunteer management has changed

Volunteer management hasn’t been immune to these changes. Some of the volunteer roles we once relied upon have become extinct, whilst technology has also helped us do our jobs better. Here are two examples:

  1. Envelope stuffing. This was a crucial role in many Volunteer Involving Organisations when I started work in 1994. Few organisations had access to email, so teams of volunteers would come together to put newsletters and mass mailings into envelopes. It was a great way to get people to try out volunteering in an easily accessible role that allowed for lots of social interaction with other volunteers. Today, thanks to email and software like MailChimp, envelope stuffing has gone the way of the dodo.

    Envelopes
    Envelopes
  2. Volunteer management software. If we occasionally mourn for the loss of roles like envelope stuffing, we rarely mourn the loss of some of the more tedious aspects of volunteer management. Today there are a plethora of software products to help us in our work. These tech tools allow volunteers to keep their details up-to-date, manage their own schedules, engage in basic induction and training activities, and much more. Volunteer Managers are freed from a range of administrative tasks that sucked our time and took us away from the human aspects of our role – engaging with volunteers, paid colleagues and the public. Thanks to technology we can now spend more time on the people parts of our roles and allocate more time to do the strategic thinking and planning so necessary for success.

    Two people talking
    Two people talking

Final thoughts

When Bill Gates spoke of underestimating the change to come in the next ten years, he didn’t mention how easily we forget the changes of the past. We live so much in the moment, and with an eye to what is to come, that we rarely look back. I hope the two examples I have shared I have made the case that technology has changed volunteer management in the last few years because, as we will examine next time, there is plenty more change in store for us in the future.

Over to you

In what ways have you noticed technology changing volunteer management in the last 10-20 years? Have those changes been good or bad in your view? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.