This site is a sandbox or learning lab of sorts: a place to play and experiment with ideas about volunteer engagement.
Ultimately, I hope to help change the conversation about volunteerism. Too often the narrative is sweet and anemic (“look at what those nice volunteers did”) or defaults to a series of logistics and transactions. I envision a:
- narrative about service that is as generative and powerful 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 application of developmental theories (All Quadrant Model and Action Logics) or the concept of the Commons to volunteerism. Geek out with my dissertation, which is a deep dive on volunteer value: Making the Invisible Visible: Capturing the Value of Volunteerism in Nonprofit Organizations. Thanks for visiting!
- Abandoning Niceness in Volunteer EngagementThe late volunteer management expert Susan Ellis used to tell a story about visiting a friend who engaged hospital volunteers. (We’ll call her Judy). Susan met Judy in her office before a lunch date. Judy opened the closet door to retrieve her jacket before heading out and grumbled as baby booties rained down. “What’s the…
- What If We Stopped Counting Volunteer Hours?“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” William Bruce Cameron The path ends at a sign informing users that their lap doesn’t count unless they hit the target. I never hit the target. It’s a principle. I know that I have walked or skated the distance; I…
- Are Volunteers More Trouble Than They Are Worth?Nonprofit leaders love to extol the virtues of volunteers. They declare that volunteers are the heart of the organization. They assert that the organization cannot do what it does without volunteer involvement. Yet the dirty little secret of the nonprofit sector is that many of these same leaders think that volunteers are more trouble…
- Reclaiming Power in Volunteer Engagement“One of the most common ways people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Alice Walker For years, the big funder in town had been bringing by wealthy donors to volunteer in the large community center. The donors often wanted to (and did) serve in the preschool. The problem was that…
- Gathering Volunteers – On PurposeA little more than a year ago, many nonprofit agencies told their volunteers to stay home. This unthinkable action became reality almost overnight. Now, as we slowly emerge from a world turned upside down, nonprofit leaders are planning for what happens next and reimagining their volunteer strategies. One colleague in the throes of these decisions…