Initial feedback on UNV plan to integrate volunteerism in development

United Nations Volunteers has proposed a plan to further integrate volunteering in peace and development action. UNV is now collecting feedback on the Zero Draft to revise it before submission to the UN General Assembly in 2015.

I’m still digesting the report, but at first read, the two recommendations that got me the most excited/agitated:

  • Strengthen the evidence base for the impact of volunteerism through concerted research…


  • Exchange practices in the areas of volunteer management, safety and security, innovative approaches such as online volunteering, inclusion of marginalized…

Regarding the research recommendation – hurrah! Research is so needed, particularly regarding what works, and what doesn’t, in

  • engaging groups of volunteers onsite in one-time, just show up activities – not just park cleanups, but hackathons and edit-a-thons
  • involving youth as volunteers,
  • involving teams of volunteers online
  • microvolunteering online
  • involving volunteers from other countries (organizations wanting to or expecting to host such volunteers need guidance on assignment development, necessary support for volunteers, training for those that will work with such volunteers, etc.)
  • measuring the impact of non-traditional volunteer engagement, such as hackathons and edit-a-thons, group volunteering, and episodic/microvolunteering (online or onsite), on the participating volunteers, on the organizations they support, on the causes they support, and on the communities in general
  • involving volunteers that represent a range of cultures and languages in group volunteering, online volunteering (particularly in teams), and traditional volunteering (commitment of more than just a few days, with a set time and place to be regularly)
  • recruiting volunteers from among ethnic and religious minority groups and creating a welcoming environment for such
  • using volunteering as a way to build cultural understanding among different religious, ethnic, economic or age groups
  • the costs of involving volunteers (because, of course, volunteers are never cost free; there are costs associated with engagement them)

I hope there can also be a promotion of the growing body of research regarding online volunteering  / virtual volunteering.

Regarding the volunteer management recommendation: I’m even more excited about that than the research recommendation. Without more promotion of the necessary systems and practices needed to support and engage volunteers, no other action recommended in this plan will work – every other recommendation will be doomed to failure. For too long, campaigns have focused on encouraging people to volunteer, rather than helping organizations to involve volunteers. I’ve been recommending this action since I first became involve in UNV back in February 2001, while directing the UN’s Online Volunteering Service and managing the online components of the United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS). I can’t take the credit for it finally being a priority, however.

That said, I STRONGLY disagree with the suggestion from the report that, as a part of the promotion of volunteer management, that we:

Advocate for the implementation of  the methods suggested in the ILO  Manual for Volunteerism  measurement; Member States to integrate the ILO  methodology in their household surveys.

The ILO Manual has NOT been agreed to as the measurement of volunteerism by most volunteer-involving organizations. Far from it; the ILO manual uses the old-fashioned, highly controversial method of measuring volunteerism by assigning a monetary value to volunteer hours. This kind of measurement for the value of volunteerism is something that has caused a tremendous backlash from unions and other working people, who see this as fuel for corporations and governments to say to nonprofits and non-governmental organizations, “Cut paid staff and replace them with volunteers.” Did UNV learn NOTHING from the backlash from the UK’s “Big Society” push which used a similar measurement for the value of volunteers?

There are much better ways to measure the value of volunteers. It’s time for UNV to promote those more modern ways.

Also, volunteers as are not free, I would have liked to have seen this statement explicitly in the report. It would have been nice to see an explicit statement saying, “Corporations and governments have to be prepared to help fund organizations in the engagement of volunteers.”

I’ll be reading the report more thoroughly in the coming days and formally responding via UNV’s mechanism for such. I encourage you to do the same.

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