Susan's Quick Tip Continued...
Depending on where you live or what your organization does, some trends may be "in the news" but have not affected you...
yet. Eventually they will. Think about how you work with volunteers today. Now think back in time:
- 10 years ago: Did you need to give volunteers i.d. cards because of "heightened security" concerns?
- 20 years ago: Did you routinely collect e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers for all volunteers? Did your agency have a Web site? Could you imagine someone doing volunteer work over the Internet?
- 30 years ago: Was the fear of a new disease called AIDS making some volunteers back off from dealing directly with clients?
I could go on, but you get the point. For that matter, how old is your organization? Has it been around for a long time or was it started by founding volunteers who recognized an emerging issue (a trend!) and responded by forming a service to deal with it?
Becoming a Futurist
The first step in forecasting - and then taking action on - trends is to notice them! This means paying attention to the news and to commentaries on the news. It includes seeing recurring themes in fictional TV shows and movies, too. Thirty years ago all sit-coms concerned nuclear families of mothers/fathers/
sons/daughters. Today sitcoms offer mix-and-match families of single divorced parents, single never-married parents, couples without children, blended multiple married families, various sexual orientations, etc. If your organization serves children, for example, what do you, your colleagues, and volunteers picture as "family" and how does that mesh with what the children receiving services think?
Living in society with your eyes open is a good first step to recognizing trends. You can be more deliberate about learning what is likeliest to affect your agency, the people or cause you serve, and volunteers. For example, skim through popular and professional magazines geared to readers most like your target populations and spot check what issues seem to be percolating. As you identify trends you want to follow, recruit volunteers to help you learn more about them, including surfing the Web for more facts and opinions.
Acting on Trends
Once you feel in-the-know about trends, enlist help in analyzing the issues from different perspectives. Once or twice a year, convene a Trends Think Tank in which you invite volunteers and staff to discuss social, economic and cultural issues they feel are in flux and to consider how any of these might impact your organization. Ask volunteers to clip articles or refer you to useful Web sites whenever something catches their eye as a trend alert.
It's very important to look beyond the "first wave" of anticipated outcomes of any trend. Something that seems quite negative may, after the first turmoil fades, end up more positive in the long run. In the same way, something that looks wonderful at first glance may evolve more problems over time. A good strategy is to make yourself (and your Think Tank) identify both positive and negative possible outcomes for any trend, even if one list is longer than the other. Know yourself, too. If you tend to be an optimist or a pessimist, force yourself to see another side of the issue - or get help doing so.
Finally, recruit expert volunteers as "advisors on the future." A wealth of knowledge is available in every community and someone does not have to work on site as a volunteer to provide insight to you and key decision makers. As volunteer resources manager, you can ask all sorts of people to give a few hours a year to a meeting, a phone call, or a long e-mail to answer to specific questions from their trained perspectives. Such advisors can be political figures, funders, media reporters, university faculty, or any type of civic leader.
While you're imagining the future, can you picture an organization that looks to the volunteer services office for its visionary thinking? That asks you to be on the strategic planning team? That uses the unique ability of volunteers to respond quickly to new circumstances by testing innovative projects through volunteer action? Wow.