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Volunteerism + Sustainable Development: Are You Ready to Join the Movement?

You're being called, along with all volunteer leaders, to join the global movement for sustainable development. The United Nations has set a goal for 2030 to reach 17 Sustainable Development Goals and is asking for organizations to join in alignment with these goals.

Your volunteers contribute to a larger, global ecosystem of volunteer impact, and are the essential link between organizational initiatives and global impact. As a volunteer leader, therefore, you are an agent for change on a global scale! By incorporating the UN’s principles into community action and volunteer engagement, you can align your program with this larger movement and create greater momentum for change. 

Use this resource to align your volunteer program with a more sustainable future!

Article Contents
What are the Sustainable Development Goals for Service Organizations
How Were the UN’s Sustainability Goals Determined
How Does Volunteerism Fit Into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?
Where do Volunteer Leaders Fit Into the Sustainable Development Goals?Measuring Volunteer Program Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals

What are the Sustainable Development Goals for Service Organizations

In 2015, the United Nations published the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In this document, the UN identifies 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for volunteer organizations. These goals will guide funding and policy for service organizations who can help “end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change” by 2030. 

These are the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Goal 1. End poverty everywhere all around the world
  • Goal 2. Eliminate hunger and food insecurity while improving nutrition and investing in sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Promote well-being for people at all stages of their lives
  • Goal 4. Promise inclusive and equitable access to education for all
  • Goal 5. Empower women and girls and eradicate gender inequality
  • Goal 6. Sustainably manage and provide clean water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

The SDGs is comprised of five interconnected elements of sustainable development:

  • People 
    • End poverty and hunger while also ensuring dignity and equality
  • Planet 
    • Practice environmental stewardship by protecting our environment and preserving it for future generations
  • Prosperity 
    • Ensure fulfilling and prosperous lives 
  • Peace 
    • Nurture peaceful, inclusive and fair societies for all people
  • Partnership
    • Implement the SDGs through a committed global partnership 

Read the full version of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

How Were the UN’s Sustainability Goals Determined

For over two years, UN officials extensively consulted with the public and other stakeholders, paying particular attention to the voices and feedback of underserved populations around the world. Thus, the report is community-informed and tackles some of the most pressing issues of our time.

How Does Volunteerism Fit Into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?

Volunteerism is a key to strengthening civic engagement, inclusion, and community. It’s also a vehicle for organizations to increase reach, scale impact, build capacity, and spread their mission. 

Without volunteerism, it’ll be impossible to meet the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, the report specifically states that volunteers are a crucial,  “powerful, and cross-cutting means of implementation” for the SDGs.

Volunteerism can help achieve the SDGs through:

  • Raising awareness of the SDGs
  • Modeling behaviors and practices that are in alignment with the SDGs
  • Skills-based volunteerism
  • Interacting with the government for actionable and scalable solutions
  • Sharing technical expertise 
  • Providing technical support 
  • Expanding and mobilizing community members
  • Engaging others in planning and implementation of the SDGs
  • Reaching out to people, including those who are marginalized or otherwise difficult to reach
  • Being community ambassadors
  • Building community preparedness and resilience 
  • Monitoring SDG progress

Where do Volunteer Leaders Fit Into the Sustainable Development Goals?

Volunteer managers are key to driving community engagement, encouraging community action, and building resilience in their programs and communities.

Volunteer leaders, therefore, have a unique opportunity to make a global impact by incorporating the UN’s principles into their organization’s volunteer program.

Volunteer leaders can assist in accomplishing the SDGs by:

  • Growing volunteerism in order to bolster national and global implementation strategies for the SDGs 
  • Facilitating citizen action through civic engagement and empowering  the community's ownership of the SDGs
  • Monitoring the SDGs
  • Tracking and sharing volunteer impact data in order contribute to global understanding of progress towards the SDGs

Measuring Volunteer Program Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals

The UN is calling on all the people of the world to come together to meet the 2030 goals. The decentralized nature of this call to action poses a significant challenge in terms of understanding global progress towards these goals.

That means tracking and reporting on volunteerism at the local level is key. Volunteer leaders should create strong data collection strategies that properly measure volunteer impact.

Here are some tips and considerations for volunteer leaders who need to measure and report volunteer program progress:

  • Share impact with community-facing  reports that illustrate your program’s contribution to the SDGs and beyond
  • Regularly share reports internally with your organization’s leadership, board, or executive directors
  • Find meaningful ways to demonstrate program impact. This could take the form of data reports, volunteer testimonials, videos of volunteer impact, etc
  • Keep your community up-to-date on total impact. Automating this data will save you time and energy 
  • Regularly check in with your impact data to see if there are any trends or areas for growth 
  • Set goals for your community that you communicate transparently

Though these 17 goals feel big, they provide a framework for the vital work volunteer organizations of all sizes are doing each and every day all over the world. Start weaving these goals into your organization’s procedures to have the greatest impact.

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