Why do ‘silo solutions’ fail for volunteer engagement?

When we’re speaking with volunteer organizers, a phrase that often comes up is our notion of ‘silo solutions’. Typically, it’s met with an understanding nod, but occasionally, the response is different. In those instances, the reaction is more puzzled and inquisitive, and that’s when we know we have to step back and reorient the conversation.

We believe this is a foundational issue and at the root of many issues that prevent volunteer organizations from being as effective and impactful as it could be. Youth engagement, volunteer burnout, and social disconnect are just three symptoms that arise from an ongoing pattern of overlooking core truths about engaged citizenship.

A word about silos.

I spent my early teen years living on a dairy farm in Southern Ontario, so I got to learn a thing or two about silos. Looking back now, there’s a few that ring true for how we’ve learned to treat volunteers. To be clear, these 150ft concrete walls are good for a lot of things - keeping grain protected from the weather for example, but when it comes to managing volunteers, silos kinda stink for two reasons:

  1. They take a lot of effort to fill; and
  2. They have a pretty awful view.

Recruiting volunteers into a silo.

When you think about replenishing your volunteer pool, how easy is that process? Unless you’re looking for volunteers to cuddle puppies all day, chances are it’s quite a mission to add new members to your team. When you use a silo solution to manage your volunteers, the effort involved in getting new members can be exhausting. Building awareness, hope, and excitement, before finally driving action can be a major undertaking but it’s a necessary process in order to ensure longevity for your organization.

Retaining volunteers you’ve already trapped - I mean recruited.

When you consider the volunteer experience, that silo model continues to illustrate why it’s hurting your cause. For a siloed volunteer, the design of most volunteer management tools acts like a concrete barrier that prevents them from instigating their own deeper engagement. If they only learn of opportunities when you call on them, your volunteers can quickly grow stale. In fact, if you’ll bear with the metaphor a little longer, one of the biggest problems with long term silo storage is rot.

Fostering civic engagement wherever you can.

Are your volunteers engaged and getting the affirming experiences they need in order to stay fresh for your organization? Can you say that’s true for the entire roster or just your core team? This is a vital consideration because volunteering, like running, writing, or riding a bike, is a habit, quality, and skill that develops over time and continued engagement. If we allow our volunteers to grow stagnant, we will lose them.

A platform that fosters community involvement across multiple organizations deepens community integration and builds those engaged habits and lifestyles, creating volunteers who will step up and can be counted on when you need them. A silo will not accomplish this.

We need to do this together.

The ineffectiveness of silo solutions is why we designed Tandempark differently. We turn the lens around and, instead of looking at the issues from an inside-out perspective, we look at the volunteer sector from the outside-in. We see volunteer engagement as a societal issue - not an organizational one. As a result, our ecosystem approach makes our platform uniquely unifying, providing rich, meaningful opportunities for our community of volunteers.

We consider the unifying desire to make the world a better place to be far more important than our age or ethnicity. Rather than asking ‘how can we engage youth, or new immigrants, or any other special interest group,’ we consider how we can engage all volunteers. Instead of focusing on a specific cause or organization, we strive to provide a solution that can help everyone work together to build strong, vibrant, connected communities.

Live generously,


Liam Squires

Founder & CEO

Liam Squires is the founder and CEO of Tandempark, an online civic engagement platform that helps organizations recruit, manage, schedule, and communicate with their volunteers, while making it easier than ever for people to discover and engage in meaningful and rewarding activities. With a background in volunteerism, event management, education, and marketing, he has delivered talks and workshops on volunteer recruitment and engagement, entrepreneurship, and disruptive technology.

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