Volunteer engagement frameworks or no?

There are two fantastic volunteer engagement spectrum/ladders that I have come to know and use in my strategizing for volunteer engagement, and another that looks more at the purpose/intent of volunteerism. I wanted to share them with you as potential frameworks with which to view how you engage volunteers, and for you to identify gaps in how volunteers might be engaged.

Framework 1: Spectrum of Volunteer Engagement (Volunteer Canada)

Spectrum of Volunteer Engagement
Source: Volunteer Canada. Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement. p. 20. Available at http://volunteer.ca/content/canadian-code-volunteer-involvement-2012-edition 

I like this framework in its simplicity. It is easy to envision the types of roles volunteers and supporters can play for each colour of the rainbow. It recognizes that the value of giving in ways other than hands-on time (e.g. who share their social capital by sharing information about the organization/issue with people in their networks). It acknowledges that people might come to volunteering through less active support, meaning that volunteer engagement and marketing/social media folk should work together within an organization.

The weakpoint of this framework is the absence of more robust descriptions and assistance for the reader in implementing what the framework suggests. I suppose that is what strategists like me can do for organizations, but it would be great for organizations to play with it more in house. While there isn’t really a link to more info about this framework, members of Volunteer Canada can try out their audit tool to help gauge their volunteer engagement work.

Framework 2: Engagement Pyramid (Groundwire)

Engagement Pyramid
Source: Idealware / Groundwire. Engagement Pyramid. Available at http://www.idealware.org/articles/engagement-pyramid-six-levels-connecting-people-and-social-change.

The original source of this framework (Groundwire) has ceased to exist, but you can find a description of it at Idealware.

What I like about the framework, and especially the information supporting the framework, is its detail in what each level might look like, how to measure engagement at a specific level, and how to move people up levels. I highly suggest a read of blog post describing the Engagement Pyramid.

I spoke about this tool/framework in June 2013 at Social Media for Nonprofits conference in Vancouver. In that space I used it more as an idea generator. But those who have the capacity to conduct strategic planning around volunteer engagement, in conjunction with marketing/communications and fundraising can really benefit from what the framework offers.

The upside of this tool for some is a downfall for others – its complexity. For organizations with little time and resources to spend on volunteer engagement strategy, this might be too robust. At a minimum, however, it’s great for ideas.

Framework 3: Continuum of Service (Morton, 1995)

Continuum of Service
Source: Morton, K. 1995. The Irony of Service: Charity, Project and Social Change in Service Learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 2 (1), 19-22.

This one is a little academicky, but it speaks to different motivations/intents of volunteers, and the types of work they can be engaged it. Organizations that only offer roles that connect to charity (often because the mission/service model of the organization is focussed on charity) will serve a very specific type of volunteer interested in hands-on work, that can be short term in nature (though some volunteers will continue longer term). Social change opportunities exist more frequently in advocacy and public education/policy oriented organizations, which again will attract a specific type of volunteer.

Each type of opportunity has its benefits and downfalls (e.g. feeling evidence of impact various) but each serves a purpose AND a specific type of volunteer.

Framework 4: No framework

Time limited? Want to think the least about volunteer engagement?

If you just want to start somewhere, I suggest continuuing with your work, sharing it publicly, saying YES to those that contact you with something important to offer, and focussing your efforts on those who often support you.