Posted on Oct 22, 2021
When many service-based and civil society organizations, like Rotary, were formed, the world was a very different place.
Today, several organizations within the voluntary and community sector in many countries face the challenge of reshaping and even redefining volunteering in the 21st century.
Rotary, like other service-based organizations, has done unbelievable work and accomplished so much since it started in 1905. However, Rotary is a very different organization from the one which was established 100+ years ago...and that is only right.
When we look at Rotary's current strategic priorities (Increase Our Impact; Expand Our Reach; Enhance Participant Engagement; and Increase Our Ability to Adapt) we already see the foundation upon which we as Rotarians and Rotary clubs must start to build when looking at becoming sustainable and successful for the next 25, 50 or 100 years.
But what do these priorities mean and how do they help when we are faced with intergenerational issues?
Many clubs find themselves asking: "Can we attract the selfie generation to Rotary?"

As clubs, societies and organizations struggle to find new blood to sustain their work, one narrative is that people today don’t care as much about causes or the community around them. That is just not the case!

People, and young people, in particular, want to volunteer. The challenge, in many cases, is that organizations such as Rotary have to make sure they are relevant to those people who want to change the world around them.

If the world is still changed by individual acts of kindness, by people getting involved and doing things together, then we, as Rotarians, have got to make sure that Rotary and the work it does is relevant to them. Essentially, we have to be relevant to how they want to change the world and how they want to do things.
Today, everyone carries a pocket computer, or a mobile phone, which allows them to do things like everyday banking without ever going to the bank, or buying clothes without ever going to a store. While such advances are altruistically good, they have also led to a culture where people not only expect to be able to do many things on their phone but they also expect an instant response.

So...If you want to volunteer, why can’t you go on an app to find out how?

People today don’t want to receive a letter in the post or an appointment three weeks later, they will want to do the transaction side immediately.

Similarly so, many persons, particularly those from the younger generations, are still looking for "opportunities to volunteer" – after all, volunteering is still considered good for the soul because the world is changed by charity and service – it is just now a matter of offering and delivering those opportunities in a more contemporary and up to date mode.

While it may be very easy in these difficult times to be cynical about the human spirit, or the world we live in when we read in the newspapers about divisions in society, there is still something brilliant about us all as people and communities. In particular, whether it is about Rotary or other charities, where we can feel really positive is that we are vehicles for people to come together and to multiply those individual acts of kindness.

So if volunteering is to appeal to a younger generation, then the way it is organized will have to change.

One of the first changes to deal with and accept is that young people today don’t necessarily use the word "volunteering" – instead it is "social action".

Indeed, the whole concept of so-called volunteering in the 21st century is different. The younger generation want to get involved, but they want to do it differently.

Whereas previous generations were familiar with the model where you stayed with the same organization for many years, where you were committed and loyal by giving large chunks of time, that’s not how all people want to get involved anymore.
The second change is that there is a lot less traditional loyalty now. If there is loyalty, then it is to a cause, not to an organization, so we have to be clear about the cause.
A 2021 Deloitte Global research across 45 countries, found 70% of persons under 40 want to volunteer and 46% of persons aged 18 to 35 rated “Flexibility” as the number one incentive to join an organization.
They also found that 21st-century young people volunteer for “causes” they are “passionate” about rather than for an organization’s cause.

People today do not want or may not be able to commit at all, so you have got to be able to offer volunteering opportunities where, if you get involved, you are not saying you are going to get involved for the rest of the year.
They want flexibility in terms of timing and they want to give smaller chunks of time. One relatively new expression is "micro-volunteering" – people giving smaller amounts of time with no commitment.
Another revised approach  could even amount to how can we help people volunteer without having to be at the organization. For example, they can volunteer remotely.
There is no denying that  young people want to get involved, but they want to do it differently!

Therefore, the challenge for us, as Rotarians, Rotary clubs and members of the service-based sector, is how we provide opportunities which fit with how people want to get involved.
RI’s current flexibility policies for clubs allow us now to be creative with our club by-laws to innovate new club styles. Together with brave district and club leaders who have the willpower to bring about and sustain change, the information on what the next generation want out of an organization like Rotary is also a great opportunity to form new Rotary clubs with more flexibility, creativity, technological savviness to attract cause-centric young people.

We have to think about people’s motivations and why they get involved. Sometimes we forget that as human beings, one of the reasons we volunteer is because people want a social experience, where they can have enjoyment and fun – and Rotarians will understand that better than anyone. So let us make the effort to revisit, review and reinvent our approach to engagement of young persons and we will certainly find a wealth of highly willing and motivated persons to assist in our club projects and activities.