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Volunteer Engagement: Defining the Future of the Profession

Volunteer Engagement: Defining the Future of the Profession

Consider the term that has become popular in recent years in English-speaking countries: “volunteer engagement.”  Do you really know what it means? Surprisingly, despite its widespread use, there was no research on volunteer engagement until 2008. In this two-part e-Volunteerism feature, Erin R. Spink shares her seminal research on volunteer engagement and explores why volunteer professionals have been talking about volunteer engagement without a definition for more than a decade.

In Part 1 of this feature, which is based on a presentation at a national Canadian conference and published in the current issue, Spink examines the work of four mainstream authors and their efforts to present a framework for how concepts like "volunteer engagement" are first used and then embraced. Part 2 of Spink’s article, published in our next issue, concludes that a proper definition of "volunteer engagement" is not only necessary and practical but a step that will help define the future of the profession. Readers of Spink’s article will be challenged, provoked and perhaps somewhat surprised as Spink questions who we are as a profession and where we're heading.

To read the full article

Wed, 01/19/2011
This is a good article for challenging current thinking, and particularly relevant in the UK with the pending ‘Community Organisers’ initiative. The coalition government intends to create a “Neighbourhood army” of 5,000 community organisers (1000 of which will be full-time roles). Their role is intended to include: - identify gaps or failings in services provided by the state - Mobilise community support to tackle these gaps or failings locally - Help people to start groups and charities - Enhance social capital and strengthen interactions between all parts of the communities - Liaise with civil society organisations, the state and the community This is currently a controversial agenda, with many people stating that this is already being done in the UK by the current volunteer-involving agencies. For example, Debra Alcock-Tyler (CEO of the Directory for Social Change) comments: “But we don't need it. We already have a perfectly good network of organisations supporting local voluntary action and community endeavour, which, with a bit of core funding from government, could do considerably more. Or perhaps the government simply hasn't heard of the CVS network or of volunteer bureaux? Isn't this another completely unnecessary waste of money by a government duplicating work that has already been done - just like the last lot did?” Erin’s article provides some helpful insight into this debate, stating: “What we do has never been about management; it’s about leadership. You can’t manage goodwill or community, but you can lead it.” I would add a further thought that (transformational) leadership is often defined as: “inspiring people through change”. It can be argued that the ‘Community Organisers’ initiative is designed to link into this agenda...inspiring people to take up the challenge of real interaction within their communities, both with identifying needs and developing local solutions. The point Debra makes is a valid concern, and shared by many, and when this reflection is combined with Erin’s article, it helps to highlight that a successful Community Organisers programme will need to be focused on leadership and engagement rather than involvement and management...“inspiring people through change”.

Sat, 01/22/2011
Thank you Stephen for making such excellent points and important connections between Deb and I's comments. I agree and would say that the UK agenda sounds very much like what has been created in the US, where it could be argued that the federal investment in a 'service' movement has more to do with paying people minimum wages to get them off government support than truly investing and transforming communities. A great article that speaks to this is Keep the great feedback and conversation coming! Cheers, Erin

Mon, 02/28/2011
Erin, A brilliant, educational and provocative article. Thank you. This is the first article I have read in a long time that stimulates and challenges me in the way some of the great texts (from The Top Down, Essential Volunteer Management etc.) of our field did when I first started in it 17 years ago. I eagerly await part two.