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!
- 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…
- When and Where to Use Wage Replacement Rates (or Not) for Volunteer Value (updated for 2022)“The most enduring and controversial question within the field of volunteerism is the one that relates to the ‘value’ of volunteers and the hours they contribute”. Andy Fryar This enduring question comes to the forefront each year during National Volunteer Month when Independent Sector releases its annual update of the financial value of a volunteer…
- A Contrarian’s Guide to Volunteer Value (Or an Ode to Volunteer Worth)1 Abandon numbers and dollars when describing volunteer value. In folk tales, when a gift is counted or priced, it loses its magic.1 2 Remember that you cannot measure everything that matters, especially when it comes to community and volunteerism. As William Bruce Cameron puts it, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not…