The Strategic Leadership Role

of National Volunteering Leadership Organizations in Response to COVID-19

IAVE regards National Volunteering Leadership Organizations (VLOs) not as passive actors within the environments in which they operate, but as active players creating and shaping that environment:

Formal, recognized and sustained national leadership efforts are essential to creating and sustaining an enabling environment for volunteering.

The IAVE Mexico conference of 2016 was formative in bringing together a coalescence of the importance and role of strategic leadership.

Spontaneous voluntary acts of helping remain an essential part of life in every society, no matter how traditional or contemporary. However, organized volunteering, like all sustained, high impact activities, requires strong, effective leadership and management. It is strongest when it happens in an enabling environment, one that places high value on it and that creates an affirmative expectation that people will participate.

This assessment of strategic leadership is echoed in the findings of the 2021 IAVE research report Leadership for Volunteering: the COVID-19 Experience.

The Impact of COVID-19

  • VLOs operate in complex ecosystems, working closely with other agencies, most often in networks. Here they lead volunteering nationally, regionally, and in some cases, internationally (as is the case with IAVE’s Global Network for Volunteering Leadership (GNVL). This collaborative approach has been especially evident as VLOs responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The disruption caused by COVID-19 sometimes caused confusion, but also worked to the advantage of some VLOs enabling them to increase recognition for volunteering and enhance their leadership role.
  • 74% of respondents to the research survey indicated that in response to the pandemic their strategic leadership role had changed.
  • 88% of survey respondents indicated that the biggest change in their strategic leadership role was in working to create an enabling environment for volunteering.
  • Strategic leadership has been central to both how and whether VLOs were able to reposition themselves in an environment dominated by COVID-19. VLOs have had to work with and respond to changing interests within the state, the private sector and communities, as these stakeholders developed their own strategies to deal with the pandemic.
Volunteers from Volunteers Involving Organisations Network (Sierra Leone) install hand washing stations throughout the community, while spreading awareness on how to prevent transmission.

The research data shows…

strategic leadership role had changed in response to the pandemic74% of respondents
biggest change in their strategic leadership role was in working to create an
enabling environment for volunteering
88% of respondents
promoting quality standards for volunteering has becomemore important for
their work due to the pandemic
76% of respondents
Kaohsiung City Youth Volunteer Group led by Volunteering Taiwan at the Jhouzai Wetland to clean the exotic plants and fallen leaves for the migrant birds to inhabit in the breeding season.
  • COVID-19 accelerated the need for a more diverse range of partnerships and new ways of operating.
  • The pandemic increased the fluidity of the volunteering landscape (e.g. multiple lock downs; move to online volunteer mobilization and support) and this forced VLOs to be adaptive, crafting strategies within uncertain contexts.
  • COVID-19 induced changes made organizations more aware of their strengths and weaknesses with VLOs assessing their capacity to find solutions to strategic challenges.
  • Within a fast-changing volunteer landscape, the issue of quality emerged as a key concern. 76% of survey respondents said that promoting quality standards for volunteering has become more important for their work due to the pandemic. VLOs played a significant strategic leadership role in raising new areas for policy making.
  • When the state or business recognized the value of volunteering, this did not always translate into an enabling environment for the volunteering sector. It is clear from the research data that creating the enabling environment requires working with others and the complexity of working in coalitions is evident. In response to COVID-19 some VLOs changed their strategic leadership approach to widen the range of their collaborative alliances and partnerships, but a critical factor was developing trust-based relationships between diverse players.
To find out more about what the research is saying about the Strategic Leadership Role of National Volunteering Leadership Organizations in Response to COVID-19  please go directly to Section 4 of the Report.