Volunteer Engagement 2.0 Author Spotlight: Tobi Johnson, Tobi Johnson & Associates

Jun 25, 2015 2:35 PM ET

Originally found in the VolunteerMatch blog: Engaging Volunteers

VolunteerMatch’s new book, Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World, features chapters from 35 experts in the field of volunteer engagement. In this series of blog posts, get to know these #35experts and their areas of expertise.

Today’s expert: Tobi Johnson, MA, CVA, President, Tobi Johnson & Associates.

First of all, what is your chapter about?
​I discuss four key trends affecting science, society and our way of life: New insights from brain science, demographic and educational changes, technological advances, and workplace shifts. Our world is changing so rapidly. These shifts have a deep impact on our needs, desires, preferences, requirements, and lifestyles. Ultimately, they are also transforming how we volunteer​ and serve.

​I also discuss some interesting contradictions and paradoxical themes that seem to embody our epoch. With this in mind, I call out a few “legacy mindsets” in our field that bear closer scrutiny. It may be time to shake things up a bit!

Why is this topic important?
At its core, volunteerism is about connecting people with one another for the greater good. ​In order to do this effectively, ​we need to examine our practice and continually evolve. By embracing innovation​, we’ll be better equipped to build trust, form authentic human bonds, focus attention, and build the clarity of purpose needed to ​tap the talents of the change-agents of the future.

Explain your background on this topic. (In other words, what makes you a “volunteer engagement expert?”)
My chapter in Volunteer Engagement 2.0 kicks off with a story of my experience as a volunteer program leader at Larkin Street Youth Center, an agency that serves homeless youth in San Francisco. It is one of several programs I’ve developed throughout my 25+ year career in nonprofits. Most of these were powered by volunteers and staff working in partnership. The majority of what I know I learned in
the trenches.

​About seven years ago​,​ I left ​direct service to start my consulting practice​. I now ​have the pleasure of helping organizations strengthen their own volunteer programs. Part of that process means I have the luxury of following research and pondering new developments that might impact volunteer administration practices.

What did you learn and/ or struggle with when writing your chapter?
I was really lucky, because when Robert Rosenthal, the editor of Volunteer Engagement 2.0, contacted me, I had just completed a project and had a few weeks of open time. I was able to focus purely on research and writing. It was actually relaxing! I could sit in the sun on my back deck and just delve in.

The more I researched, however, the more fascinating the possibilities (and the deeper my pile of notes) became. At some point, I had to start trimming things down. It felt like I had to wrestle that dang topic into submission!​ ​Luckily I had help. As editor, Robert provided some wonderful notes to my first draft, and my husband made some incredibly insightful suggestions and encouraged me to tell my story.

What is the one piece of advice you would give volunteer managers to take with them to the future?
​Only one?!  LOL!  I would say…When engaging volunteers, do your best to understand what really drives human behavior (luckily, we know a LOT about that nowadays). Work with human nature, not against it. We are hard-wired for certain behavior, and there is nothing more futile than trying to change our basic instincts!

To read Tobi’s full chapter, Big Shifts That Will Change Volunteerism for the Better, order your copy of Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World today.

About Tobi:
Tobi Johnson is the President of Tobi Johnson & Associates, a consulting firm whose mission is to help nonprofits connect with remarkable volunteers who share a common vision for a better world. This spring, she launched VolunteerPro, an online professional development community for volunteer program administrators and others who want to take our field to the next level.