Skip to main content

Some Personal Notes about Ivan and People Who Are Like Him

Some Personal Notes about Ivan and People Who Are Like Him

e-Volunteerism tends to be a pretty straightforward management journal.  Despite the people-centered perspective that is at the heart of volunteerism, we don’t normally publish human interest soft stuff.  So why devote an entire issue to one person?  In this Points of View, Steve and Susan try to explain why – aside from the fact that we just liked the guy – we dedicate this issue to Ivan Scheier and to those unsung heroes of volunteerism both past and present around the world.

A Personal Look at Ivan

Ivan wasn’t much to look at – short, a bit scrawny and, as he was prone to point out, kinda on the homely side.  He wore two hearing aids that often drove him crazy (we well remember beeping batteries) and therefore always preferred presentations to small groups to assure that he could hear people’s questions.  He also had the worst handwriting on the face of the earth.

So you wouldn’t know, by just looking at him, that Ivan was a genius.

Of course, if you listened to him it was a different story.

One of Steve’s first projects over 30 years ago was to do a survey for the American Bicentennial celebration of the literature on volunteer involvement. It didn’t take long to assemble most of it, since the sum historical total of written material at that time was much less than is produced now on a yearly basis around the world. It took even less time to figure out that the majority of the really interesting stuff was all written by the same person – Ivan Scheier. You can read much of it at the collection of Regis University ( It’s well worth working through, especially once you get past Ivan’s penchant for some of the more ridiculous nomenclature (Mini-Max, Glad Gives, Needs Overlap Helping Analysis, etc.) in management literature. Ivan had a peculiar sense of humor.

It is almost impossible to overestimate Ivan’s contribution to volunteer management as we know it today, and as a different discipline from managing paid workers. You will see some discussion of this in the articles in this issue. 

Just a Few of Ivan's Contributions

Ivan fell into volunteerism, as so many of us do.  In the 1960s he was a juvenile court psychologist in Boulder, Colorado, who wanted to do more to help kids on probation. He ended up creating and running that court’s first volunteer program. Seeking others trying to do the same thing, Ivan found colleagues but recognized the need for a centralized resource center. So he founded the National Information Center on Volunteers in Courts (NICOVIC) in 1967, an organization still based in Boulder.

Under the NICOVIC umbrella, Ivan began to publish monographs and newsletters – on a shoestring budget, mostly mimeographed onto white paper. He fostered some of the first studies of the field, especially about the people who held a paid position as volunteer coordinator. He also produced the earliest materials focused on evaluation: what was the impact of a volunteer program?

It quite quickly became clear that the work on justice volunteering was applicable to most volunteer programs, regardless of setting. By 1970, Ivan changed the name of NICOVIC to the more generic National Information Center on Volunteerism (NICOV), becoming the first institutional use of the term that Harriet Naylor had coined (and, therefore, the direct forerunner of this journal’s name).

For nine years, NICOV provided Ivan with an umbrella for his many, varied volunteer-related interests.  Among some of his firsts were:

  • The first studies of professional volunteer program managers, including their titles, education  and time allotted to do this work.
  • Creating The DOVIA Exchange – the first, and really only, attempt to connect those local membership associations around the country for “directors of volunteers in agencies.”
  • Conducting training and consultation in every state of the Union and on every continent.
  • Developing a wide array of group interactive exercises to equalize “those who give” and “those who get” in a community-building, boundary-eliminating manner (see this issue’s Training Design for his most famous technique).
  • Turning attention to informal volunteering, both at the individual and the neighborhood level.  Ivan always disliked the concept that volunteers are most effective when folded into an agency structure.  We think he vastly preferred mavericks and rebels.

In 1979, NICOV merged with the DC-based National Center for Voluntary Action, which continued to morph over two decades into what is now Hands On Network Generated by the Points of Light Institute (new name as of 2008). 

For the next 30 years, Ivan moved to New Mexico and focused his attention on community sustainability, particularly towns in which people can walk to everything important. His no-frills home was always open as a retreat for a day or a month, where colleagues could do research in his personal library of volunteerism materials or simply have a quiet place to think. For a while he ran a small organization called Voluntas, where he continued to publish and also create the Voluntas Time Capsule on Volunteerism project (  Voluntas also produced the first traveling museum exhibit (sponsored by the Museum of New Mexico) on the contributions of volunteers, which circulated to schools and community centers around the state for a year.

More than anything, Ivan was about creating communities. And he did so wherever he was and whatever he was doing.

Although he was never fully comfortable with the Internet, he understood its potential outreach power.  With the help of friends, he launched the Web site, On a Walking Way (, and agreed to join the e-Volunteerism editorial team when we began in 2000.  He became a Reiki practitioner and teacher, with the key caveat that anyone he taught had to promise never to charge for the service!  He wrote about this in one of his periodic “Musings” for e-Volunteerism, “Relapse Into Volunteerism: An Unsuccessful Attempt to Resign From the Field" (
Volunteer/Ivan/sect21.htm).  He wrote poetry, too.

But…His True Legacy

You can’t easily read, however, about what may have been Ivan’s greatest talent – helping people to think.  You’ll see some of that in the comments of those who attended any of Ivan’s justifiably famous Think Tanks, experiences that changed people’s lives by helping them explore their own minds.

Dorothy Parker once wrote an epigram about the contribution of Oscar Wilde to conversational wit:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Trainers, consultants and experienced volunteer program managers can make the same assumption. No matter what the idea, the chances are very good that Ivan was there 30 years ago and thought of some part of the subject that you missed.

The other thing about Ivan that you need to understand is that he was terribly modest. He didn’t like talking about himself and he wasn’t comfortable with other people talking about him, especially if they kept saying nice things. Ivan was the kind of guy who, if given an award for personal achievement, would spend his entire acceptance speech talking about the more important contributions of others. Unlike most people in that position, however, Ivan would actually mean what he was saying.

Which brings us to the key admission in this Points of View – Ivan would be totally embarrassed by this issue of e-Volunteerism and both Susan and Steve are thoroughly aware of it. 

Some Thoughts about Others Like Him

So, given that, why are we doing this to him?

Well, first, because he deserves it, as you might have gathered from the homage above. Part of the reason we’ve devoted our lives to this field is directly attributable to Ivan, who helped us both professionally and personally. 

But, secondly, it is because remembering and honoring Ivan and those like him is a requirement if volunteer management really wants to be a profession.

True professions are built on the contributions of many, and they are built over time with each generation of contributors improving and expanding the work of those who came before. These precursors stand both as pillars of learning and as role models; both are necessary to sustain a sense of continuity.

One of the greatest weaknesses in volunteer management is the turnover among practitioners, which  makes it difficult to maintain this sense of history and continuity. Susan’s Voices from the Past section of e-Volunteerism has tried to help maintain that record, but it is a fragile effort in a field that sees 25 percent new faces every year and in which most practitioners never read a book or attend a serious training course. We work in a field where the volunteers could be called the “professionals” and the volunteer managers could be called the “amateurs.”

As the saying goes, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

That past consists of both what happened and who was there.  Each is worth knowing and each is worth remembering and honoring.

There are people like Ivan in many countries around the world – many very much still alive! We’ve started the list with two names below, and invite you to add the names of the volunteering pioneers in your country as well.

  • Joy Noble in Australia
  • Alec Dickson in England

To honor Ivan in a way that he would approve, we present the following starter set of ideas for you to consider, either as an individual or as a project for a DOVIA or state/provincial association.  Assure a legacy of practice in your community.

Most of all, remember that you not alone in this. You’ve got the help of people who were there long before you and cared enough to spread their knowledge to others by writing, teaching or sometimes just talking. Recognize that we all have the ability, and the responsibility, to build this profession.

Nothing would make Ivan happier.

To add or view comments