A community organizer is usually a social agitator who wants to build grassroots power. While a volunteer manager may be working toward social justice, the primary goal of this position is usually tied to a pre-determined objective, like service delivery or broader organizational support like fundraising. In practice, the roles often overlap. Both require a high level of interpersonal skills, insight into what motivates people, and the leadership to get those people to act in ways that benefit the community.
In this e-Volunteerism feature, author Aimee Inglis discusses the often fine line between the two fields and the tension this creates in the volunteer community. Inglis explains that “as a volunteer manager who is also trained in community organizing — and currently working at a nonprofit that organizes for social and economic justice and tenants’ rights — I have felt the line blur between the two fields. I have also felt the tension as both fields professionalize and learn the same lessons in silos where they would be stronger sharing notes.”
Inglis builds on her personal experiences as she examines not only the history of community organizing but also how community organizing and volunteer engagement have become part of the profession. Inglis also proposes ways for volunteer managers to bridge what she calls the unnecessary divide between these fields.