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Philosophy of Volunteerism

Remembering Susan: Thoughts and Reflections on an International Influencer

Susan J. Ellis was more than a passionate advocate for the change that great volunteering could make, and more than a passionate voice for the influence that Volunteer Engagement professionals could make while forging that change.

She ‘walked the walk’ and ‘talked the talk.’ She invested time, money, and her expertise into the development of resources that have become the benchmark of volunteerism the world over.

But more than that, she was a generous soul with a heart that was driven to not only help build volunteerism in her home country – but the world over. Whenever the name ‘Susan J. Ellis’ is brought up at a volunteerism conference or a DOVIA meeting, stories are inevitably shared by volunteer leaders about the knowledge they learned from one of her publications, or the encouragement they personally received while meeting her at the Energize booth during a conference or over a quick chat at the conclusion of a workshop.

To celebrate Ellis’ life, her long-time colleague, friend, and fellow writer Andy Fryar, who serves as manuscript developer for e-Volunteerism, approached key volunteerism leaders from around the world and asked them to share their personal insights about the difference she made to volunteerism in their country – and to them personally. This unique e-Volunteerism feature presents stories and reflections from 10 volunteerism leaders on the influential lift of Susan J. Ellis and her life’s work.

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Social Prescribing: The Healing Power of Volunteering?

"Social prescribing" is a means for tackling poor health without, or alongside, prescribing  pharmaceutical drugs. Schemes for social prescribing cover a wide array of activities and programmes, ranging from physical activities such as dance classes through culture programmes and volunteering.  As research proves that volunteering has a positive impact on mental health, volunteering has become an efficient and increasingly popular way of addressing health and well-being concerns and a part of social prescribing schemes. Participating in volunteering activities in the framework of social prescribing is especially beneficial for patients with mental health issues, and/or suffer from loneliness and isolation, perhaps caused by physical illnesses or other social issues.

In this e-Volunteerism feature, author Gabriella Civico explains how volunteering is an important part of social prescribing schemes for patients. “Social prescribing leads to patients requiring less on-going support and enables them to contribute to an important cause, often continuing to support it even after the prescribed period ends,” she writes. “In this way, social prescribing has a positive impact on society as well as the patients.”  

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Financial Disbursements to Volunteers: Reimbursements, Payments, and Non-Cash Benefits

Reimbursing volunteers – a contradiction in terms or an evolving strategy? In search of clarity, a team at Colorado’s Community Resource Center (CRC) started digging into an issue that has clearly emerged as a critical and lingering one in the volunteering field. These team members didn’t find the straightforward answers they had originally hoped for. But they did come up with good questions to ask, and practical ideas to help shape your own exploration of this issue. This comprehensive e-Volunteerism feature by the CRC team includes an overview of the team’s research methods, key findings, recommended steps to navigating financial reimbursements, and case studies from the field.

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Not Everything that is Voluntary is Volunteering

Definitions are important. But when it comes to volunteerism, a focus on the language we use can often result in a lot of navel gazing and little practical action. In this Points Of View, Rob Jackson looks at the ethical implications that can arise when we aren’t clear on the terms we use. Erin R. Spink relates this to actionable advice for anyone working in volunteer engagement. As these two authors clearly point out, not everything that is ‘voluntary’ is ‘volunteering.’

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The Year Past, The Year Ahead: What Will Be Your Legacy in 2018?

The year 2017 is behind us and a shiny new year lies ahead, full of promise and potential. But before we look to the future, we should take a moment to reflect on the year past, to look back at the journey taken over the last 12 months, and consider whether that journey is setting us in the right direction for the new year—both individually and as a profession.

In this Points of View, Rob Jackson and Erin R. Spink raise important questions about the concept of legacy in the Volunteer Engagement profession; present three reasons to explain why there is often a disconnect between the purpose and the impact of volunteer management work; and challenge everyone to take action now to define a better legacy in the year ahead. 

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Values in Volunteerism: Reflections of Ivan H. Scheier from 1975-1998

Loyal readers of e-Volunteerism will remember Ivan Scheier as part of the journal’s advisory team and frequent contributor until his death in 2008. He was a pioneer and mentor to many of us and we devoted an entire issue in 2009 in tribute to him. He was also a prolific writer. In this Voices, we reprint one of Scheier's article on values that evolved in various stages between 1975 and 1998. It does not surprise us that the challenges Scheier laid down more than 40 years ago remain pointed today.

Here is part of Scheier's introduction to the topic:

I believe volunteerism has the potential to integrate with the best and most powerful values in our society today. We can draw more fully on that power if only we will understand, appreciate, and publicize values. This means raising our own consciousness first, launching dialogue and debate, reaching some decision on what the main values are, then announcing them.  The first announcement should be to ourselves – volunteer leaders and volunteers. Then announcements should be made to the world. The purpose is to buttress our case for fundamental, rather than ornamental, status in the world of work and caring, to place us more securely in the mainstream of society. This article attempts to stimulate dialogue.

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Volunteering for Social Change: Voices from the 2016 IAVE World Volunteer Conference

In this special Voices, Allyson Drinnon, the director of the Volunteer Resource Center for Habitat for Humanity International in Americus, Georgia, reports from the field at the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) World Volunteer Conference that took place in Mexico City, November 2016.

Through her reports and on-the-spot audio interviews, Drinnon presents an array of diverse voices and opinions from the international volunteer community, capturing thoughts on issues, challenges, and ideas. Read and listen as Drinnon talks with Joselito C. De Vera, Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency; Alex Torres, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Viviana Zazil, Centros de Integracion Juvenil; Anita Ramachandran, Micromentor; and Alejandro Mayoral Banos, PhD student from York University. 

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Volunteer Hounded to Death by Fundraisers? Lessons To Learn

Was Olive Cooke, a 92-year-old volunteer for the Royal British Legion, hounded to death by fundraisers this past May? In this Points of View, intrepid sleuths Susan J. Ellis and Rob Jackson turn the Olive Cooke case inside out and use it to debate a question that volunteer organizations everywhere need to address: What is or should be the connection between donating money and donating time?

“It’s been our experience that too many organizations place a great divide between people who volunteer and people who write checks,” write Ellis and Jackson. The authors then outline how to integrate money donors and time donors; how to compare and analyze the two groups for greater efficiency; how to ask volunteers to give money to an organization; and how to ask money donors to give their time and talents.

“Integrating engagement with all your supporters is key to running an effective non-profit in the 21st century,” the authors conclude. “If more of this takes place, then something good will have come out of the sad death of Olive Cooke.”

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Is Finding a Comparison a Sign of Achievement?

In this Points of View, authors Rob Jackson and Susan J. Ellis debate an issue that every volunteer manager must confront: Should you compare and contrast your volunteer engagement to that of other organizations? Is finding a comparison a sign of achievement, or is it compromised by the limits of benchmarking? And given the diversity of settings in which volunteers serve, is comparison even possible?

“We certainly have our reservations,” the authors note, as they explore the limits imposed by benchmarking, numbers crunching, retention and turnover rates, and the ubiquitous Key Performance Indicators or KPIs. This article, which is a follow-up to last quarter’s Points of View on the problems of sharing template documents, will challenge everyone to reconsider how they measure volunteer involvement, mindful that they should resist comparing elephants to acorns.  


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