This site is an emergent commons and learning lab: a place to share, play, and experiment with ideas about volunteer engagement.
Ultimately, I hope it helps change the conversation about volunteerism. Too often the narrative about service is sweet and anemic (“look at what those nice volunteers did”) or defaults to logistics and transactions. Instead, I envision a:
- narrative about service that is as generative and compelling as the work volunteers do.
- practice of service that draws on community-centric principles such as reciprocity, interdependence, love, stewardship, right relationship, justice, and co-creation.
- framing of service that understands it as a powerful adaptive tool that brings community together to meet common needs.
To support that vision, I borrow a tactic from the Solutions Journalism Network of complicating the narrative. Journalist Amanda Ripley explains it this way:
“Complicating the narrative means finding and including the details that don’t fit the narrative – on purpose. The idea is to revive complexity in a time of false simplicity.”
- Because service, volunteers, the agencies that engage volunteers, and the practice of community are complex and diverse. Oversimplifying them diminishes their richness and nuance and meaning.
- Because we need to fully reckon with the light and the often-overlooked shadow of service if we are to realize its potential.
- Because we have an opportunity to come up with more enlivening and equitable answers to the question of how we want to be in community with each other.
Ready to get started? Check out, comment on, and share the blogs below or on the right. Explore the concept of the Commons or the application of developmental theories (All Quadrant Model and Action Logics) to volunteerism. Go down a rabbit hole with my dissertation, which is a deep dive on volunteer value and the application of gift economy principles to volunteer engagement: Making the Invisible Visible: Capturing the Value of Volunteerism in Nonprofit Organizations. Thanks for visiting!
- We Get Out of Volunteer Engagement What We Put Into It“Organizations that invest in volunteer management capacity are more likely to attain high net benefits”. That was one of the conclusions that researchers Mark Hager and Jeff Brudney made in a 2003 study1,2 of volunteer management in nonprofits. That conclusion held true when they revisited some of those nonprofits in 20193. It sounds pretty basic,…
- Finding Connection and the Top Volunteer Commons Posts for 2022One of the best parts of writing a blog is finding like-minded colleagues on the other side of clicking “publish”. This year, I was delighted that some readers reached out with an email or phone call. Some wanted to dig into or question a blog topic. Others just wanted to share that it was good…
- Beyond Measurement: Cultivating Attention and AlivenessIt’s been said that what gets measured gets managed. The adage is useful: the process of measurement supports goal setting and accountability. And yet, it can also fall short when it comes to things that are hard to measure or when the act of measurement is harmful or distracting. In those cases, it may be…
- Reckoning with the Shadow Side of VolunteerismWhen I started out as the executive of a volunteer center, I thought volunteerism was a win-win-win for everyone involved. It seemed to offer benefits to volunteers, agency hosts, corporate partners, and the community at large. Right? Not entirely. The view up close revealed a more complex picture. In fact, I discovered a shadow side…
- I Love Tracking My Volunteer Hours!
–No Volunteer EverBehind every annual report touting the number of hours that volunteers serve is a host of staff harassing gently reminding those volunteers to submit their time sheets. Tracking volunteer hours inflicts pain ranging from annoyance to misery and does so across sectors and role. Volunteer Directors, Corporate Social Responsibility Managers, Service Learning Coordinators, and the…