In the previous issue, we asked e-Volunteerism readers to help us in “Keeping the Plural in Points of View,” and a number of you did just that. We received a range of thoughtful and provocative opinions about the major challenges facing leaders of volunteers in their everyday work and about trends, issues, or controversies the journal might pay attention to over the coming months. Thank you!
Some of the responses were completely predictable but others opened new territory. Briefly, let’s review the responses and then see what we might do together about the issues raised.
Some Things Never Change
Two overriding concerns surfaced repeatedly: the need to educate our bosses and colleagues about the value of volunteers and our work; and the need for more effective development of our profession.
The phrase most often repeated by respondents was “staff buy-in.” Or, more specifically, how to get it. Whether new or experienced, whether inside or outside the United States, and no matter the type of setting, leaders of volunteers too often feel they are fighting an uphill battle to gain true understanding and support of volunteers. I have been working in volunteerism for 41 years and this has never changed. Unfortunately, it seems as if it has not even budged an inch.
There are many reasons for this. Just a few include:
- A world in which we bestow status based on income and wealth, so that “working for nothing” seems second best.
- Prejudice and negative stereotypes about who volunteers, why they do so, and what work they accomplish.
- Priority given to raising money and managing paid staff, so that volunteers are pushed lower on the list.
- It is actually easier to work with paid staff (who have a consistent schedule) than with volunteers (who offer a jigsaw puzzle of coordination challenges).
- How few organization staff ever receive formal training in how to partner with volunteers – especially its absence from the curricula of most professional schools and graduate programs.
These are complex realities that will obviously take even more time to change. What they demand from us is vigilance. We must recognize and define those perspectives that unfairly limit volunteer contributions – and challenge them when they appear. But we must also understand how deep rooted they are, and recognize that our colleagues, even our executives, are not purposely trying to make life hard for us or for volunteers. Rather, they simply do not know better. I usually describe their lack of support not as malice, but as uneducated neglect.
I believe that e-Volunteerism has been trying to educate since we began publication. Every article these past 12 years has a common subtext: Volunteers are vital contributors to our many causes and it takes skill to coordinate them effectively.
Have you ever shared an e-Volunteerism article, or even an excerpt, with a colleague or executive? Have you used an article to start a discussion and possibly open the eyes of those who resist volunteer involvement? If you are doing any advanced academic study, do you reference e-Volunteerism articles in your papers so that your professors discover the world of practitioner writing?
- Have you ever used any article in e-Volunteerism to “educate up”? How? Did it work? What tips do you have for other readers in doing this well?
- What else can e-Volunteerism do to give you “ammunition” and credibility in your work as in-house educator and advocate for volunteers?
Please take a moment and provide your answers in the comments area at the end of this article.
Volunteer Management as a Profession
The other most referenced topic in our last issue was the slow development of volunteer management as a profession. Several readers were dismayed at the state of our field’s professional associations and the continuing lack of recognition and status of our work. Again, e-Volunteerism has always attempted to highlight this important issue; you can tell by looking in the e-Volunteerism Archives for the long list of articles under “Profession/Field of Volunteer Administration.”
The fact is, however, that no one bestows professionalism on anyone. It is an identity that is earned once deserved. It begins with one’s self-image, knowledge base and behavior. Martin J Cowling and Jayne Cravens wrote about this in 2007 in “Sabotage Part Two: How Managers of Volunteers Diminish Their Role.” The same year Steve McCurley and I wrote a Points of View essay, “If You Think Education is Expensive Try Ignorance,” in which we proposed a self-development plan for leaders of volunteers.
If anyone has any suggestions for how a journal such as e-Volunteerism can do even more to advance our profession, we would be very open to considering them. Again, we welcome you to leave your ideas here in the comments area.
We Need More Writers – And Here are Some Possible Topics
Responses to last issue's Points of View also produced several additional possible topics for articles. Readers asked:
- What will an economic recovery mean to volunteerism? What will happen if the unemployment rate drops, the housing market booms and people start traveling more frequently?
- Is micro-volunteering a trend or a mirage? Do volunteers and agencies really get enough benefit from these experiences to justify the amount of time needed to manage these volunteers? Could we spend the same amount of time to recruit and manage volunteers with longer commitments and generate better results?
- Are the Baby Boomers really changing the way we volunteer and the way we work with them? How many Baby Boomers have actually taken on projects, changed or improved organizations?
- Where is family volunteering really happening? In what kinds of settings and what risk management issues does it raise?
- What might we be doing to help low-income youth who have no experience in the work world to volunteer? What are the risk management implications and how do we know if we are having an effect on the young people?
- How can we use demographics to engage volunteers more effectively?
- “Internships:” What should they be, how have some for-profit businesses abused the practice, and what does that imply for truly volunteer internships?
- How can “reciprocal” volunteering initiatives – where people receive a reward or service for their volunteering – be encouraged to develop enduring relationships and altruistic motivations?
- What is the impact of healthcare reform and the changing environment of healthcare on volunteer roles? (And, of course, this question could be applied to almost any setting or type of work volunteers do.)
- “Social entrepreneurship:” What is happening, what will happen and how can more traditional volunteer programs capitalize on the trend and remain relevant? If volunteers are doing it all on their own, why should an organization support what we consider to be appropriate volunteer management?
So. Who out there wants to tackle any of these topics?
I am not necessarily as concerned with academic or statistical studies as I am about educated experiences. As always, e-Volunteerism strives to expand the thinking of our field and this includes publishing articles that:
- Pose good questions – or better questions than we’ve asked before;
- Share experiences, both successes and failures, with an attempt to analyze what happened and why; or
- Start with one piece of a study that might later be expanded, such as developing one small or local survey that could be replicated or enlarged.
If anyone reading this is interested in becoming an author, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are willing for your organization to be a study group for someone wanting to do research, e-mail us, too. We mentor new writers and strengthen the presentations of others. In this way, e-Volunteerism is an activist publication. Our mission is to grow our important field – and we’re all in this together.