Retiring after twelve years on the front line of Jewish volunteering

Leonie Lewis, outgoing director of JVN
Leonie Lewis, outgoing director of JVN

After 12 years at the helm of the leading faith-based volunteering charity, I have decided to retire.

It is time to move on; time for a new direction for the charity and time for me to pass on the wonderful Jewish Volunteering Network (JVN) mantle.

Do I leave the charity in a good place? Have I made a difference? And what is my legacy?

Since becoming the first JVN director, I have witnessed and experienced key changes in volunteering and, in my view, volunteering just ain’t what it used to be. The biggest (and most noticeable) change has been the growth in popularity of short-term or microvolunteering activity. We hope they provide an introduction to longer-term relationships, but I appreciate that, with modern-day lifestyles and changes to work-life balance, this won’t always happen.

Thus, for a certain group of people, volunteering has become something packaged into small bursts throughout the year. It’s a chance for them to get instant gratification, whether in a couple of hours or a day’s event.

I’ve seen hundreds apply for one-off volunteering opportunities, where they become volunteers almost instantaneously. This does not require copious form filling, interviews or training.  These are definite advantages, especially for millennials and others under retirement age. Their lives are inordinately busy. Additionally, this generation is accustomed to online engagement. Friendships are frequently formed and sustained through social media, jobs found on a website, and finding a suitable partner is the result of a few clever algorithms.

I wonder, however, if one-off volunteering should really be the trigger for more sustained interest in a charity’s work and ongoing involvement – and if it could ever become this?

One-off activity is now an end goal for many volunteers. A consequence of this is an array of small voluntary activities that attract people who are often less likely to volunteer in the long-term, but can still add value to the charity’s work through short-term contributions. The challenge is whether charities will be able to forge lasting relationships with volunteers.

A balance needs to be found between volunteering that effectively sustains a service required by the charity in a way that has long-term positive consequences, while fulfilling the volunteer’s needs for immediacy and enjoyment. Charities will need to get smarter about the types of opportunities they have available and volunteers must understand the value of an ongoing, regular contribution of their time.

I have overseen the introduction of microvolunteering to the Jewish community, offering easy and immediate online opportunities to volunteer. The behaviour of a new generation and the emergence of distinct demographic groups of would-be volunteers, each with their own list of demands, has led us to explore fresh ideas. We work with charities to provide volunteering opportunities that complement people’s lifestyle demands. We support those with mental health challenges and learning disabilities who want to contribute to society.

We use the latest technology and social media platforms to communicate and showcase a plethora of opportunities from the Jewish and wider community. This is supplemented by comprehensive training programmes for both volunteers and volunteer managers, and we offer advice providing clarity around charity governance issues. JVN is a focal point, from which we promote and impart a culture of volunteering to the Jewish community and beyond.

I can only hope my legacy has lasting impact but, as volunteering changes day by day, JVN might also need to adapt. Perceptions and expressions of volunteering may change with JVN’s influence. When they do, I hope it represents a positive step in the direction of volunteers having real, enduring impact on people’s lives through longer-term engagement. I hope my influence and leadership has helped pave the way for a new and exciting chapter of volunteering in our community.



About the Author
Leonie is an ex charity and community consultant, and former director of the Jewish Volunteering Network
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