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The Ellis Archive: An Exceptional Resource for the Field

The Ellis Archive: An Exceptional Resource for the Field

Books and file folders
Susan Ellis' library being prepared for digitization.

When Susan J. Ellis passed away on February 24, 2019, her extensive resource library in her Philadelphia office had evolved into a collection of multiple filing cabinets and five sets of shelves packed with papers, books, documents, and periodicals. This resource library also included a stack of boxes containing the personal collection of Ivan Scheier, an early pioneer in the field of volunteer management who left his printed resources to Susan when he passed away in 2008. 

Susan always envisioned that her library materials would stay together and be available for future research. Through her express wishes and her written will, she established the Susan J. Ellis Foundation, and a key part of the Foundation’s mission is to keep Susan’s research library intact and to make it available to the public. The trustees of the Foundation have taken this mission seriously. After a year of work, this exceptional archival resource and volunteer management treasure is now officially available at the Ellis Archive on the Professional Leadership of Volunteers.

The bulk of this work has been carried out by Head Archivist Katherine H. Campbell, who started her career in the volunteer sector as an intern working with Susan. Since then, Campbell’s distinguished career over the past few decades included directing the Association for Volunteer Administration and the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration (CCVA). Now retired from CCVA (though we all know you can’t really “retire” from volunteer management!), Campbell agreed to take on the task of developing the Ellis Archive as a way to honor Susan’s legacy and make the archive broadly available for the continued advancement of the profession.  

This Voices provides a behind-the-scenes look at the history and development of the Ellis Archive, with a brief review of why and how it chronicles the development of the volunteer engagement profession. It also includes some insider information on how best to use the archive, and concludes with suggestions for how individuals like you can play a role in the future of the Ellis Archive.

The Ellis Archive Back Story

When Campbell first approached the materials for the Ellis Archive, she knew that there was going to be a mountain of documents to go through in Susan’s office and in her Philadelphia home. As Campbell noted, “Susan never threw away anything.” But it’s important to note that Susan wasn’t a hoarder who couldn’t throw paper away; she saved it all because she valued information. And she knew that one day each of those pieces of information would be valuable to someone else. During her lifetime, she opened her research files to anyone, and people in the field often visited her professional office to do research. 

Not long after Susan passed away, Campbell made three trips to Philly to review Susan’s materials, wading through the treasure trove in Susan’s cabinets. She had to decide what was important to put online – both as relevant to the field today and to capture the field’s history. In order to help determine which information had academic value, she consulted others like SarahJane Rehnborg of the University of Texas at Austin, who would be searching the archive through a different lens.

For nearly a year, from 2019 to 2020, Campbell went through every file folder. Because she had already worked closely with Susan and was actually involved in Susan’s earlier cataloging efforts, Campbell understood Susan’s system and used it to organize the multiple piles of papers and documents waiting to be processed. Campbell said that she “felt Susan sitting on her shoulder” throughout all of the work.

One interesting footnote: Campbell and Susan not only worked together early in Campbell’s career but they also co-wrote the seminal volunteer book, By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers, published in 2005. While working on the archive, Campbell noted that one of the best parts of going through Susan’s papers was rediscovering the history she personally lived through as she got started and learned the profession. This included documents that Campbell had worked on as Susan’s student intern – long forgotten by Campbell but carefully saved and filed away by Susan. It was actually exciting to see the things that Susan had valued and saved, an unexpected trip down memory lane.

Historical and Quirky Jewels Saved by Susan

Along with bits of her own history, Campbell discovered that Susan’s folders contained important pieces of history that are little known and would have been forgotten if not for Susan. Some of these include:

  • A 1947 booklet called Volunteer Workers, published by the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, Inc. This is the earliest example of written volunteer management guidance and practices on the timeline. This booklet, written almost 75 years ago, yellow and frayed around the edges, still contains guidance relevant to us today. It also demonstrates the professions’ roots in the mental health field, which was the first to create and designate a paid role in managing volunteers. (This one Katie couldn’t bear to recycle once she had it digitized!)
  • A number of writings by pioneers in the field that have not been published in books –including works and white papers by Ivan Scheier, Marlene Wilson, and Harriet Naylor. For instance, Naylor did a lot of work advocating for the profession at the federal level in the United States; she succeeded, as our profession is now recognized in the American government’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles.
  • Early documents related to the creation of the Certification of Volunteer Administration (CVA) and professional ethics.
  • A pamphlet called “It’s our time” about The International Year of Volunteers in 2001 that raised the awareness level of volunteering and leaders of volunteers globally. This event is considered a turning point for a greater focus on professional development.

The Ellis Archive also includes some quirky and humorous finds from Susan’s cabinets:

  • A 1965 cartoon depicting “a typical director of voluntary service” is drawn as a man. But a second drawing in the folder of “a typical director of voluntary service” updates the male figure into the image of a woman. 
  • Erma Bombeck, a well-known syndicated newspaper columnist from 1965 to 1996, wrote seven columns about volunteers, all saved by Susan. One column about the unrecorded history of volunteerism muses about unrecognized volunteers throughout time. “And what mother who ever suffered through merit badges has not wept for Evelyn Cheeseman, who traveled alone among cannibals in the South Pacific in 1881, and collected more than 42,000 insects and parasitic worms.” Another column,  “Say thanks before all the volunteers stop trying,” noted that “volunteers are like yachts. No matter where they are, they arouse your curiosity. Who are they? Where do they come from? Why are they here?”
  • Reflecting her love of popular TV shows and her printed collection of TV Guide, Susan was a keen observer of how television portrayed volunteerism and volunteers. In 1979, Susan wrote “The Mass Media Image of Volunteers,” an article encouraging us to “raise our consciousness to recognize when and how volunteers are being presented.” This is still good advice today.
  • Do you know what “scrounging” is? “Scrounging,” an April 1980 booklet published by the U. S. Department of the Interior Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, gives instructions for recreation department staff to expand their acquisition process to beg the community for items and services not covered by limited budgets. Today, we may know this as “soliciting in-kind donations and services.” At least it sounds a little better than “scrounging.” 
  • And believe it or not, Susan saved an April 1984 memo about a volunteer management software called “The Volunteer Administrator,” sent on typed letterhead by Micromasters of Asheville, North Carolina.   

Two Main Features of the Ellis Archive: A Database and a Milestones Timeline

After she had reviewed every box and every file, Campbell ended up taking 20 boxes filled with the most important, quirky, and significant papers back to her home to digitize. This laborious step would ultimately turn the documents into online resources and create the Ellis Archive. 

As a result, the Ellis Archive already has two main features – a Database and a Milestones Timeline. Here are some details about both.

The Ellis Archive Database

The Ellis Archive Database is the largest part of the Ellis Archive. It currently provides 1,162 pieces of information, including articles, sample program materials, booklets, how-to manuals, original writing, speeches, newspaper clippings, research reports, data, and examples of trends related to volunteer management. While most documents are from the United States, there are several from Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries.

To help you browse through and locate information, the database contains a robust search feature that ensures you can find exactly what you are looking for as you search by title, source, year, author, or keyword topic. Items are currently organized into 32 keyword topics, with some cross-referencing.

For example, here are a few keyword topics already programmed for a search, with a few results:  

The database also includes an option to search by an individual author’s name. For instance, a search for “Susan J. Ellis” brings up 80 pieces of Susan’s writing that help illustrate the breadth of her expertise: 

The Ellis Archive Milestones Timeline

The second main feature of the Ellis Archive is the Milestones Timeline, which offers the ability to view the evolution of our field on a timeline.

Currently running from 1947 to 2005, this Milestones Timeline is based on existing database documents and seeks to chronologically reflect a portion of the pivotal events and trends that influenced the work of volunteer engagement professionals during the 20th Century. While it is by no means all-inclusive, the Milestones Timeline provides a relatively simple way to explore the database content without being overwhelmed. For instance, during a quick break from work, you can scroll down the Milestones Timeline and mark a few notable milestones that speak to you, open, and skim.

Some of the content that Campbell highlights in this timeline reflects not only historical milestones but also important people in the profession, recognized for their contribution at the time and also relevant to our work today.  Consider these examples:

  • In 1974, Harriet Naylor succeeded in getting the U.S. Department of Labor to add job titles related to the volunteer management profession to the Directory of Occupational Titles. The archive includes a document outlining the career lattice of positions focused on volunteer leadership and management. This was considered a major step in lending credibility and official recognition to the roles of our field.
  • In 1982, the Virginia Division of Volunteerism published “Money Talks: A Guide to Establishing the True Dollar Value of Volunteer Time.” This guide by G. Neil Karn is the first-known articulation of methods that can be used to monetarily value volunteer time. The two-part series, republished in The Journal of Volunteer Administration, lays out methodology that we still use today.
  • In 1999, the former Administration for Volunteer Administration (AVA) published “Positioning the Profession: Communicating the Power of Results for Volunteer Leadership Professionals.” This 12-page white paper, complete with a list of participants and a collection of useful exercises, was the first coordinated attempt to document the value of investing in volunteer management positions while sharing this message with and advocating for it to executive directors. The paper, based on survey results, provides words for helping to tell our story along with practical suggestions. It also shares the negative results, which are important to review. 
  • In 2000, The Urban Institute conducted the first study on “Volunteer Management in America's Religious Organizations.” The report – which focused on volunteer management and usage in congregations with social service programs and charities with a religious mission – was the first rigorous study to provide research about the profession. Some of the key results, including the fact that 1 out of 10 of the people with these responsibilities are full-time employees, helped pave the way to justify the importance of investment in volunteer management.
  • In 2001, AVA held a conference in Toronto around the International Year of Volunteers (IYV 2001), which convened a global task force of country representatives. The convening culminated in a “Universal Declaration on the Profession of Leading and Managing Volunteers.” The document was written to use language that crossed boundaries and universally applied values and elements across cultural lines. Today, as our communities are increasingly global, this document remains relevant as a reference that recognizes the diversity in our work. 

The Continued Work and Future of the Ellis Archive

As you browse through the Ellis Archive database and timeline, you’ll get a sense of the great gift that Susan left to all of us by being a caretaker of history and a collector of works important to the field. What you may not get a sense of, however, is the immense amount of work that went into curating all of this information. For this, we owe Katie Campbell a tremendous debt of gratitude. 

And the work isn’t over! There is more to do! Though Campbell has digitized and catalogued most of Susan’s original folder contents, there are still mountains of books and professional journals that need to be prioritized and digitized. Thanks to a grant from The Leighty Foundation, we are working to make this happen. 

For instance, from 2020 to 2021, the Ellis Archive anticipates digitizing and sharing online a selection of the professional journals originally housed in the Susan J. Ellis Resource Library. This project includes the complete collection of journals published by the former AVA. Campbell and others are also working to determine which books from Susan’s professional library are in the public domain, and can therefore be digitized and shared with the public.

And in the future, the Ellis Archive also plans to create guidelines around accepting and adding additional material to continue to build the archive. Last but not least, there are plans to include a “Trailblazers” page to share information about those who had a significant impact on the professionalization of the volunteer management field.  

The result? Under a vision shared by all involved, the Ellis Archive will one day be the ultimate repository of volunteer engagement leadership information, the go-to-place for cataloging and securely holding the history of the field. The Ellis Archive will include not only include resources from Susan J. Ellis but it will also be a permanent home for the extensive writing about volunteer engagement that was previously scattered throughout the Internet or in boxes in people’s offices. And the Ellis Archive will constantly involve and expand, as it continuously adds and incorporates documents from an evolving field.

Here’s How You Can Help  

There are a few ways that you can become a part of the Ellis Archive and contribute your skills:

  • Katie Campbell is putting together a team of advisors to help with future development. If you have any interest in and excitement for this work, if you value history, or if you have experience in archiving, contact Katie at ktcampbell49@gmail.com.
  • New additions are needed to cover milestones in the 20th Century, especially from around the world. Please contribute.
  • Read and use the archive and give feedback on ways to improve this resource.
  • Add tags for research or academic research to move forward scholarly development in the field.
  • If you are interested in sharing information about the archive with your colleagues, feel free to contact archivist Katie for assistance at ktcampbell49@gmail.com.

Conclusion

The mountain of paper that created the Ellis Archive is no longer in Susan Ellis’ office in Philadelphia, and her office doors have been closed. 

But the virtual doors that Susan and other volunteer engagement trailblazers have opened – and the volumes of information and documents they left behind – will help us carry on that legacy.  And hopefully, Susan will always be that “angel on all of our shoulders,” constantly pushing us to take the profession to the next level.

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