Tag Archives: volunteer engagement

I’m thrilled with UNV’s 2015 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report – Transforming Governance

state of volunteerism 2015I’m thrilled with the United Nations Volunteers program’s recently published 2015 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report – Transforming Governance.

Oh, yes, you read that right. THRILLED. And , as you know, I am a tough audience.

Why am I thrilled? Because, instead of doing the usual – talking about the value of volunteers only, or mostly, in terms of money saved because they aren’t paid a salary – this report talks about the value of volunteers in the terms that are much more powerful and important, value that goes far beyond money. Excerpts from the reports introduction explain better than I can:

For the post-2015 sustainable development agenda to succeed, improving governance, tackling inequalities, and expanding voice and participation need to be addressed simultaneously. Volunteerism can help by giving voice to stakeholders and by mobilizing people and civil society organizations to contribute to solutions.

The report suggests that the ability of volunteers to support development progress depends on the willingness of national governments to ensure that the space and supportive environments which encourage their participation and initiatives are available. The Report finds that volunteerism can help to generate social trust, advance social inclusion, improve basic services, and boost human development. Volunteers and volunteerism bring the greatest benefits where enabling conditions like freedom of speech and association and an atmosphere of vigorous political debate are already in place. At the local level, the Report suggests that volunteerism can increasingly be a vehicle for people in excluded and/or marginalized communities to be heard, and to access the services, resources, and opportunities they need to improve their lives.

Examples of formal and informal volunteering attest to the fact that those who are marginalized, such as women, indigenous populations and disempowered young people, can create spaces where their voices can be heard and where they can affect governance at local levels. This report addresses the issue of women’s engagement, providing interesting examples of how women have been able to engage in spaces outside the traditional norms, hold authorities accountable and ensure responsiveness to their needs and those of their communities.

Further research and innovative strategic partnerships are needed for better understanding, documenting and measuring volunteerism and its contribution to peace and development. This report starts a conversation that can and needs to be deepened.

And this, from the executive summary:

This report shows, using a body of knowledge collected through case studies, that volunteerism provides a key channel for this engagement from the local through to the national and global contexts.

This report has identified key strategies, challenges and opportunities for volunteerism, focused on three pillars of governance – voice and participation, accountability and responsiveness – where volunteers have shown impact. Specific volunteer actions and strategies illustrate the diverse ways in which volunteers engage in invited spaces, open up closed spaces or claim new spaces.

Volunteerism spans a vast array of activities at the individual, community, national and global levels. Those activities include traditional forms of mutual aid and self-help, as well as formal service delivery. They also include enabling and promoting participation and engaging through advocacy, campaigning and/or activism. The definition of volunteerism used in this report refers to “activities … undertaken of free will, for the general public good and where monetary reward is not the principal motivating factor.”

Volunteering in this report is also understood as overlapping and converging with social activism; while it is recognized that not all activists are volunteers, many activists are volunteers and many volunteers are activists. The terms volunteerism and social activism are not mutually exclusive. The idea that volunteers only serve to support service delivery or are only involved in charitable activities is one that is limited and provides a superficial line of difference between volunteerism and activism.

The report recognizes that volunteering is highly context specific and is often not on a level playing field. Women and marginalized groups are frequently affected by this unevenness; not all volunteers can participate equally or on equal terms in each context. Volunteerism is harder in contexts where people are excluded, their voices curtailed, their autonomy undermined and the risks of raising issues high. An enabling environment that respects the rights of all enhances the ability of volunteerism to contribute to positive development and peace. The report shows that creating a more enabling environment that allows positive civic engagement in sustainable development is critical for success.

If you do nothing else, PLEASE read the report’s executive summary.

Every program or project manager in every local, regional or government office needs to read at least the executive summary: government workers that are focused on police, fire and emergency response, parks and recreation, environmental issues, agriculture, the justice system, education, public health, arts, library, historical sites, economical development – they all need to read this report, look at how they currently involve the community, and ask themselves lots of questions:

  • Could you do a better job involving volunteers in decision-making?
  • Could you do a better job involving a greater diversity of volunteers – women, minority groups, children, the people that are the target of government services, etc.?
  • Are there tasks that volunteers actually might be better at doing than paid staff, because they wouldn’t have any worries regarding job security or loss of pay?
  • Are – or could – volunteers help your organization be more transparent to the general public and improve services?
  • Could volunteers help you build bridges with hostile communities?
  • Have you handled critical comments from volunteers appropriately?

This report can help you start answering those questions.

For more on the subject of the value of volunteer or community engagement

Research: Immunity under the Volunteer Protection Act (USA)

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing work of volunteersVolume 6, Issue 1 (Apr 2015) of the Nonprofit Policy Forum features research by Patricia Groble and Jeffrey L. Brudney, “When Good Intentions Go Wrong: Immunity under the Volunteer Protection Act.” It’s research about a law in the USA. The abstract says:

The Volunteer Protection Act (VPA) was enacted in 1997 to encourage volunteerism by protecting individuals from liability for their negligent actions while volunteering. Proponents intended to provide legal safeguards for volunteers, whom they claimed were deterred from volunteering by fears of liability. Little attention has been paid to this legislation since its enactment, however. This article examines the implementation and interpretation of the VPA through the lens of case law to determine whether the act has had its intended effects for volunteers. Our analysis of all court cases in which the VPA has been cited shows that volunteers are at risk for lawsuits over a variety of actions during the course of their volunteer activities. This analysis also demonstrates that although volunteers can avail themselves of the VPA’s protection, their success in invoking this defense is mixed.

A must read for managers of volunteers… however, it’s cost-prohibitive for most of them: the article costs $42.00 / 30,00 € / £23.00 to access (the entire issue of the journal is $235.00 / 172,00 € / £129.00. I’ll be heading to my local library to see if I can access it through them (I suspect I’ll have to schlep 100 minutes by mass transit one-way, all the way to downtown Portland via the bus and train to read it, in order to read it). The Nonprofit Policy Forum is an international journal that publishes original research and analysis on public policy issues and the public policy process related to the work of nonprofit organizations.

Also see: List of

List of research and evaluations of virtual volunteering, as a practice in general or focused on specific projects (much of the research is free to access).

How I ended up at a Philly Tech4Good event

When I get to travel for work outside of my home near Portland, Oregon, I do a search on Google and Twitter to see what people and organizations might be worthwhile to connect with while in a particular area. I look for volunteer centers, international nonprofits, nonprofit development/support centers, nonprofits focused on computers and the Internet in some way, and academics that have done research or teach regarding nonprofit management or international aid work. I write each of those organizations, departments or people and ask if we could meet, just so I can hear about their work and so I can offer any advice or resources, in an informal setting.

Sometimes, my schedule fills up quickly, and I get to meet face-to-face with people I might never get to meet otherwise. Other times, I get confused email responses from people that find this old-fashioned “networking” idea as oh-so-strange.

Last week, I went to Philadelphia to present for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)’s  US National Thrift Shop Conference, about trends in volunteer engagement. I also contacted a few nonprofits, university offices and government offices to see if they would like to meet. The organizers of Philly Tech Week said yes (thank you, Brian James Kirk and Corinne Warnshuis!).

Philly Tech Week featured an event on the campus of Temple University while I was in the area:  Exploring Civic Volunteering With Technology: Kickoff for Commit Service Pledge. The event was to launch the Commitpledge.com web site that asks Philadelphia-area nonprofits to post tech-related volunteering opportunities, and for volunteers to offer their expertise through the web site to help with those opportunities.

The event also featured a panel discussion by Jeff Friedman, the new Director of eGovernment Business Development at Microsoft and recently a part of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, Mayo Nissen, a New York-based designer who has been involved in urban improvement initiatives involving technology, and Anthony Pisapia, Associate Executive Director of Tech Impact, the nonprofit behind npCloud and VolunteerConnect.

The panelists talked not just about how tech helps nonprofits, but also how it helps governments better engage and support citizens – too many of tech-for-good initiatives leave out government programs, IMO, so this was great to hear.

Some good questions were asked, including:

  • How can big data help more in helping citizens?
  • How do we make products that result from hackathons sustainable?
  • How do we better address the disconnect between tech and who it should serve?

A moment I loved was when, in response to several panelist comments about how to find out what the community needs, an audience member said “Go to city council meetings!” She’s so right – nonprofits and individual citizens are being loud and clear about their needs, in government meetings, in their own meetings, on newspaper Facebook pages, on government program Facebook pages, and on and on. Quit wondering and start reading and listening!

My favorite moment, however, was when Anthony Pisapia said “Nonprofits are geniuses at innovation, but maybe not at technology.” I’ll be quoting this again and again! He’s absolutely right: nonprofits have expertise, and their staff and volunteers do amazing things with very little resources. In fact, they have as much, if not more, to teach the corporate, for-profit world as the other way around! Too many tech folks think nonprofits are incompetent or inefficient; in fact, nonprofits are some of the most innovative entities around.

There was also the inevitable questions of “What’s the difference in a social entrepreneur and a volunteer? Actually, what is a volunteer? Is our goal that, eventually, everyone gets paid for their work?” As I was an observer and outsider, I didn’t enter into that discussion during the event, but afterwards, did my best to answer the question one-on-one. That may turn into a blog…

If you will be in the Portland, Oregon area, and want to meet with me, contact me! Just tell me who you are, what your area of work is, and what you would like from me in terms of a face-to-face discussion.

I write a LOT about tech-related volunteering. Here are some of my resources:


Thank you, Portland metro area

While updating my web site last week, I realized that I have done FAR more training here in the Portland, Oregon metro area since moving here in Fall 2009 than I did in Austin, Texas while living there from 1996 through 2000 – in fact, it was rare I presented in Austin, or the rest of Texas, when it was my home. It was a shock to realize this – I consider Austin my spiritual home, and get misty eyed at the sweet memories of living there. But, indeed, the greater metropolitan Portland area has been much kinder to me, professionally speaking.

So I want to give credit where credit is due: thank you, PDX! And a long overdue thank you to the people and organizations who have made this happen:

Here’s more information about the training I provide (both onsite and online training!).

I’m been quite hard on Portland since moving here – but the reality is that it’s a community that has believed in me. And I am oh-so-grateful for that support!