5 Visions Of The Future Of Service In America

More and more Americans are making volunteering an important part of their lives. How will that shape the business landscape in the coming years?

Today’s social entrepreneurs are making it easy for us to open our wallets and our hearts to our favorite causes. Leveraging online technology, innovators are making giving so easy and enjoyable that the experience does not feel like “giving” at all. Take Sevenly, a service that provides the user with a wonderful shopping experience in which one can buy uniquely designed T-shirts and where a portion of proceeds benefit a different charity each week.

This is the final post in a series on the future of service in America, in conjunction with Catchafire.

Social entrepreneurs are also helping us sort through and make sense of the nearly 2 million social good organizations in the United States. From curating causes and nonprofits for us to using the crowd to help surface the most “worthy” projects and organizations, innovators are giving people more choice when it comes to donating.

On the lesser-known side of “giving innovation,” are the innovators who are making giving time more efficient, effective, and accessible. Over the past weeks, we have been proud to hear from innovators like Jack Rosenthal and Marc Freedman, who have created organizations that provide opportunities for retirees to serve and build encore careers with social purpose organizations. We have also heard from the leaders who have built the organizations that have defined the volunteering sector as we know it today: Idealist.org, VolunteerMatch.org, and the Taproot Foundation.

To wrap up a series that has, for the first time, showcased innovation in the volunteering or “service” sector, let me share with you what I, as a humble and relatively new player in the space, see as the future of service in America:

1. People will easily be able to access tailored volunteer opportunities via technology platforms

Much like online dating, Sparked.com and Catchafire.org (my organization) take an individual’s preferences and use the power of online technology to push volunteer projects to them that are tailored to their skillsets and cause interests. The next step is to make this matching even more nuanced, taking one’s communication style, work style, and motivations (such as networking, professional development, finding love, learning a new skill, etc.) into account when matching one to relevant volunteer opportunities.

2. Companies will provide their employees with volunteer opportunities aligned with their skill sets

Eight out of 10 companies believe in skills-based volunteering but fewer than half have any kind of skills-based volunteering program for their employees. Further, 91% of HR managers of Fortune 500 companies believe that volunteering knowledge and expertise to a nonprofit is an effective way to cultivate many skills including critical thinking and leadership skills. But only 16% of these companies actually use skills-based volunteering for talent development. This disconnect between what companies want to do and what they actually do in regards to skills-based volunteering is in large part due to companies lacking the infrastructure to access relevant skills-based volunteer projects and then manage individual employees’ projects. It has only been in the past year or so that organizations such as Catchafire, Sparked, and NPower have started to structure pro bono projects to companies for their employee base to access. And the hard reality is that there are still not enough of these pro bono projects to service corporations at scale, but this is changing. Watch for it.

3. Volunteer work will become an increasingly important aspect of one’s resume and social cache

Last year, LinkedIn made it possible for their 150 million users to add their "Volunteer Experience & Causes" to their LinkedIn profile. More than 40% of the professionals that LinkedIn surveyed stated that when they are evaluating candidates, they consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience. One-fifth of hiring managers surveyed agree they have made a hiring decision based on a candidate’s volunteer work experience. "Given the current economic climate and the hypercompetitive job market, it’s essential to include your volunteer work on your profile, " wrote Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s Connection Director, in a statement. "Even if you’re currently unemployed, you can still actively volunteer and begin to accrue new skill sets. When hiring managers or business partners are comparing two people side by side, volunteer experience makes you a more multifaceted professional and can set you apart from the competition."

4. Volunteering will become competitive

When users have the power to pick and choose their favorite volunteer projects--causing the best or most popular projects to float to the top--people start to compete for these opportunities. On Catchafire, every day we see more and more professionals applying for the same pro bono projects. This healthy competition will ensure that social good organizations are getting the best volunteer talent. It also incentivizes the organizations that are looking for volunteer talent to invest in themselves in order to attract the best talent. This is tremendously exciting, because it implies that competition among organizations for volunteer talent could force nonprofits to become more efficient and effective, a huge positive externality.

5. Volunteering will be tax deductible

Time is money. We all know this. So why shouldn’t the value of a professional’s time be tax deductible if it is spent doing pro bono work? The more common it becomes for us to give our time pro bono, the more power we have as a group to demand from our government that the gift of time be treated the same as any philanthropic or in-kind gift, an action benefiting society that should be incentivized through tax deduction.

It’s been a pleasure to curate and be a part of such an insightful series about the future of service in America. Reading the posts of my fellow innovators who have contributed to this series reminds me of how much history and work there is behind the “giving innovation” we see today. I’m proud to say that my work stands on the shoulders of giants.

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2 Comments

  • Michael Sattler

    Great piece, Rachael. We were doing some thinking on this at Cauzoom and describe it as people using different forms of capital to support the causes they care about. Monetary capital (donations) is the default many choose, but temporal/skill-based capital (volunteering) and social capital (sharing) are just as valid. We think there might be other forms - consumer capital (tailoring your shopping) and advocacy/content capital (blogging/writing), for example - all of which extend the concept of service even further. 

  • Aaron Hurst

    Great series Rachel and wonderful recap with predictions about the future of service.  

    Technology will certainly play a major in the future of service and I suspect that LinkedIn will be at the heart of that change given their role in connecting talent to needs.  It will be interesting to see how much of service is DONE online vs supported online (connections, infrastructure).

    The tax issue I fear is wishful thinking.  We are fighting now just to keep donations deductible in this political and economic environment where they are being positioned as tax breaks for the rich.  Making service tax deductible adds another challenge - how do you audit and value?  How do you prove that my time is worth $250 an hour and I donated 500 hours last year?

    Keep up the great work and thinking!