Tag Archives: volunteering

Voluntourism is fighting back

I have voluntourism in my Google Alerts, so that I can get links to press releases, news articles that mention the term. I’m not fond of voluntourism, where volunteers pay large amounts of money to go abroad for a few weeks, or even several weeks, to engage in a short-term activity that will give them a sense of helping people, animals or the environment. I look at this growing industry with great skepticism in terms of actually helping anyone, because it’s focused on the wants of the volunteer – that feel-good, often highly photogenic experience – not the critical local needs of local people or the environment, and there’s little screening of volunteers – most everyone is taken, so long as they can pay. What these foreigners bring through these voluntourism programs is often not skills, experience or capabilities that cannot be found locally – it’s money, and I see no evidence that this money benefits local people – maybe the people that run the program are “helped”, but not those meant to be helped by the volunteers. I don’t think all pay-to-volunteer schemes are horrid, and I don’t think creating a vacation that has a social or environmental “good” goal (transire benefaciendo) is a bad thing, but I think there are a tremendous number of voluntourism programs out there that aren’t really benefitting communities in the developing world – and some are actually causing harm. I push back to questions about and posts prompting voluntourism on Quora and Reddit, and I’ve been pleased to see more and more people doing the same. That push-back must be working, because now I’m also seeing a lot of voluntourism companies aggressively fighting back on the blogosphere, asserting that their programs are worthwhile (but never offering hard data to prove it).

I’ve been happy to see the tide turning against many forms of voluntourism as people realize that work abroad should make local people the number one priority, not the feel-good experience for a foreign volunteer. For instance, Australian NGOs are refusing to place volunteers in orphanages abroad, because of the exploitation of children, potential harm to children, and lack of any data showing such voluntourism helps children at all.

The UK’s International Citizen Service (ICS), which has placed thousands of young people in volunteer roles around the world, is now under scrutiny: Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) has taken action against ICS and other members of the UK consortium of organizations providing volunteering opportunities over safety concerns. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), according to a report by VSO, regarded ICS as a “high-risk programme due to the security and safety issues” involved.  “ICS safeguarding incidents have included death by drowning of two volunteers, sexual assaults, and the detention of volunteers by local police.” Volunteers live and work in countries where they may be exposed to petty and violent crime, political instability, endemic diseases and natural disasters.

There’s even a growing backlash against medical voluntourism, per reporting by Noelle Sullivan, a member of the faculty in global health studies at Northwestern University, who says her research shows that some people volunteering abroad for a few weeks, or several weeks, to engage in medical “help” for people in developing countries “does indeed cause harm.

It must be taking its toll, because I got a link to a press release about how a certain African “foundation” has hired a PR agency “to change the public perception of medical volunteering or voluntourism.” I’m not going to link to the press release – no free publicity here for a for-profit marketing company. But I had a look at the “foundation”‘s web site. The site is mostly about the gorgeous “luxury” accommodations for volunteers on a game reserve, whcih has an onsite gym, an infinity pool, a private patio “for stargazing,” and nearby opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, golfing, weight training, yoga, abseiling, white river rafting, tubing, kloofing, microlighting, helicopter rides, “and hot air ballooning!” The company can hook volunteers up with wildlife photography tours and photography courses, half day trips to an animal rehabilitation center “featured on National Geographic,” and visits for “pampering yourself at the local spas.” I’m surprised there aren’t workshops provided on how to take the perfect “Look how I’m helping these poor people” selfies… Oh, there is a page or two about the medical services volunteers will squeeze into their busy schedule enjoying all that hiking and hot air ballooning.

Also see:

More than helping: wanting to make a difference

One of the most common questions on Quora and the Community Service section of Yahoo is regarding what kind of volunteering is “best.” Given the number of these type of questions from teens and 20-somethings on these platforms, I don’t buy the line about millennials not caring about society, not caring about others, etc. They wouldn’t keep asking questions about volunteering if they didn’t care about something more than themselves. But the number of questions, always about what kind of volunteering they should do, which one is “best”, etc., also shows that a lot of people are lost when it comes to knowing what is a meaningful volunteering opportunity and what would be most worthwhile to them.

Too many initiatives have focused on promoting volunteering without giving realistic guidance on how to find volunteering opportunities – not just how to use a database that lists volunteering opportunities, but how to choose which task or role would be best for someone.

I put assistance to people and communities into two categories:

  1. relief/aid/comfort/charity, such as giving food, providing emergency shelter, providing emergency medical aid, chopping wood for people that heat their homes with such in winter, singing for sick kids to cheer them up, making blankets for children in cancer wards, collecting food for a food bank, etc.
  2. development, such as educating people about HIV/AIDS, educating people about organic farming, providing preventative medical care, educating people about the importance of spaying and neutering pets, creating a community garden that provides food, educates about food production and builds community, etc..

Activities in category number one usually don’t change anything long-term. They usually don’t create a widespread or sustainable change — it helps just in an immediate moment. Not that that’s bad – sometimes, often, that’s exactly what’s needed, such as providing a cold weather shelter on a freezing night, or food for an area decimated by a natural disaster.

Activities under the second category are focused on changing things long-term. The activities are meant to change people’s behavior or how people think about something or to help people to not need emergency aid anymore. These are the activities that, I admit, I am MUCH more interested in personally and professionally.

One kind of assistance isn’t necessarily better than the other. Some situations call for approach #1, and some call for approach #2. Also, activities that seem to be short-term charity can actually contribute to longer-term development and transformations. For instance, say you have a program that helps youth explore leadership activities, better understand their community, work together better, reduce conflict with other young people, etc. So you organize charitable activities for the youth, like participating in a Habitat for Humanity build, or cleaning up a beach, or serving food at a homeless shelter. All of those activities are charitable activities that provide immediate, but not lasting, aid – yet, those activities can contribute to long-term changes / transformations for the youth involved.

Several years ago, because of these frequently asked questions from young people about volunteering, particularly Girl Scouts looking for Gold Award ideas, I made a list of Ideas for Leadership Volunteering. It grows regularly as I come across articles about young people making a difference through their own, self-initiated volunteering activities. It’s focused mostly on that second category of community assistance. If you are a young person looking to make a long-lasting impact on your community through volunteering, this is a good place to start. In fact, I have used this list with women in developing countries who are looking for avenues to cultivate their own community leadership skills.

I also have a list of ways for young people to find community service and volunteering.

Other resources I have for people who want to volunteer:

If humans can do it, so can volunteers (who are, BTW, also humans)

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersWhen should you involve humans in the care and support of vulnerable populations, like children, people with disabilities, women who have been victims of domestic violence, etc., or in high-risk situations, like working with wildlife or fighting fires?

Most people would say humans are essential to all of those scenarios – that care and support cannot be provided in those situations without humans, that emergency response cannot be provided by humans, that addressing the needs of wildlife adversely affected by humans cannot be done without humans. And I would agree. I bet you would too. What’s the alternative – robots? Not yet, robots… not yet…

But what do humans need in order to be able to provide appropriate care and support in those high-responsibility, even high-risk, situations, and to stay safe themselves? Humans need:

  • to be appropriately screened and vetted, with inappropriate humans turned away and appropriate humans brought into the program
  • specific training for these situations – and, perhaps, ongoing training
  • regular, appropriate supervision
  • regular, quality support

You would agree with all of that, right?

Now change the word humans in the aforementioned text the word volunteers. Suddenly, the conversation changes.

Volunteers aren’t appropriate!

Volunteers could endanger the clients!

Volunteers will harm the wildlife!

What’s different? Just one thing: when we were talking about humans before, you were immediately thinking of paid staff. Now that I change the word to volunteers, we’re talking about unpaid staff, and many automatically assume that means untrained, unsupervised people who work whenever they might maybe find some time.

Volunteers mean just one thing: people who aren’t paid a wage, that aren’t given financial compensation for their service hours. That’s it! Volunteers do NOT have to mean untrained, unvetted people, just anyone off the street who says, “I have a good heart! I want to help!”

No one who has not been appropriately vetted, no one who lacks the necessary training, no one who cannot be appropriately supervised and no one who is not regularly supported should be doing any work with vulnerable populations or with wildlife, paid or not. A paycheck has nothing to do with a person’s appropriateness to undertake a role at a nonprofit, NGO, charity, etc.

So, with that said, when should a nonprofit, NGO, charity, school or other mission-based organization involve a paid person instead of an unpaid person? Susan Ellis of Energize says it best, in her book, From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program Success:

Offering a salary gives the agency a pre-determined number of work hours per week, the right to dictate the employee’s work schedule, a certain amount of control over the nature and priorities of the work to be done, and continuity. When you pay a salary, you can require that the person give your organization forty hours a week or whatever number is necessary. Because most people need to earn a living, people can rarely give one agency that much volunteer time per week… (pages 12 – 13).

And, to be fair, people DESERVE to earn a living. I’m looking at you, United Nations agencies that have six-month unpaid internships – volunteer gigs that only well-off young people can undertake…

Volunteers can do high-responsibility, even high-risk activities, and they can fill expert roles. In fact, they actually DO all of these things already, all over the USA and all over the world. What the vast majority volunteers usually cannot do is provide 40 hours a week of service, even 20 hours a week, to an organization, week-after-week – they can’t afford it! Many roles at a nonprofit, non-governmental organization or charity require a person to staff a role full-time, or even part-time, 20 hours a week, week after week – and that means, to keep that role staffed at all times, the agency must pay someone. Many roles at nonprofits, NGOs, charities, schools, etc., require someone to have a great deal of training and experience in order to do the role that needs to be done, and most people that have the training and experience necessary for such roles have such because it is related to their career, their paid work, and they got the certification or degree(s) necessary for such for their paid work.

I don’t believe in involving volunteers to save money – I believe an organization should create volunteering opportunities primarily because they believe a volunteer would be the best person for that particular role, just as an organization reserves certain roles specifically for paid staff, and you make those decisions based on a myriad of criteria. I also believe that one needs to tread carefully when asking an economically challenged community, one with a very high unemployment rate and people struggling to pay for the basic necessities of life, to donate their time to keep a nonprofit afloat.

So, how much time and responsibility may you ask of a volunteer? What’s reasonable?

That is a question that is frequently asked. And there are no easy answers. It can vary from organization to organization, from community to community.

There are communities that are well-served by entirely volunteer fire stations, with enough well-trained, constantly trained volunteers always on-call to respond to any fire or other emergency. But in those same communities there might be a cold-weather shelter for the homeless and the nonprofit running such is struggling to find over-night volunteers to manage the facility for 6-8 hours at a time. Why does one group have a waiting list of people that want to volunteer while another in the same community, with less requirements for training and less of a time commitment each month, struggle?

There can be all sorts of reasons why one organization can easily attract volunteers to high-intensity, high-responsibility, high-commitment roles, and another cannot:

  • One role may look fun, exciting, interesting and even heroic, while another may look difficult, scary, even depressing.
  • One role may look like it could help the volunteer in his or her career or university studies, while another may just look like a lot of work for no pay.
  • One role may look like the challenges would be uplifting, while another may look like it would be disheartening.
  • One role may seem like you get a lot of community recognition, that you are frequently thanked, while another may be rather thankless.
  • One role may look like it would be fun, at least some of the time, while another may look daunting and soul-draining.
  • One organization may be targeting a particular social or economic group that has the financial safety net and family structure (child care) to be able to afford to volunteer, while another organization may be targeting a group that can’t afford to do unpaid work (they are already caregivers, they have child care needs, etc.).

If you are having trouble attracting volunteers, you need to look at a lot of things:

  • Is it easy to know just from looking at your web site what volunteers do, the different roles, the time commitment, the training requirements, and how to sign up?
  • When someone calls or emails about volunteering, or submits an application, do they get an immediate reply regarding next steps? In fact, do they get info at all, or does someone take their name and say someone will get back to them and then, most of the time, no one ever does?
  • Are your next steps for volunteering with your organization something that the volunteer can get started on in a few days? In several weeks? In a few months? The further away the next step, the more likely the volunteer candidate won’t follow through.
  • Do you need to alter the volunteer role so that a volunteer would get more out of it, in terms of training, career-development, university class credit, or personal fulfillment? Is there anything you can do to make the role more fun?
  • Can the people you are trying to recruit as volunteers afford to volunteer – to work for free? Do they have child care responsibilities that are preventing them from helping?
  • Could you make the time commitment less for volunteers? Could you try to recruit more volunteers for shorter shifts, for instance, instead of fewer volunteers for longer shifts?
  • Does the task seem especially intimidating or daunting? Could you make it less so, by reducing the time commitment the volunteer would have to make, or by guaranteeing that there is a seasoned volunteer or employee always with the new volunteer? Or by taking away the tasks in the role that are the most intimidating and giving them to paid staff? Or by better assuring candidates that they will be fully trained before they are put into potentially challenging situations?
  • Are you asking too much from volunteers in terms of a time commitment, training and the responsibilities they will undertake as unpaid staff? Do you need to convert such roles into paid positions, in order to better attract the people that can make the time and emotional commitment to the role?

This is yet another blog that was inspired by my own real-life moments – two, in fact: one from a nonprofit that felt I was being inappropriate for disagreeing with them that their work is too high-risk for volunteers, and another from a situation that is happening in my own community regarding volunteer recruitment. It was supposed to be two blogs – but they seem so closely related, I put them together.

Also see:

Why Should the Poor Volunteer? It’s Time To Re-Think the Answer

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersIn 2006, I was invited by Mary Merrill to write a column about the ethics around asking poor people and chronically unemployed people – those desperate for funds – to volunteer. It was in response to an article on the United Nations World Volunteer Web.

Below is an archived version of my 2006 article for Mary:

Why Should the Poor Volunteer? It’s Time To Re-Think the Answer

In an article on the World Volunteer Web in December 2005, a university student in Yemen asked, “How can you volunteer if you have no income, no money and are concerned about the means to provide your kids with something on their plates every night? With all due respect to those calling for Yemenis to volunteer, I say, ‘Please be serious!'”

In an article from the BBC, reposted on the same web site, Tom Geoghegan said, “the prospect of unwaged employment might not be so appealing if you’re a cash-strapped school leaver who wants to help mum put food on the table.”

When volunteering is so often presented just one way — as a state-sanctioned free labor activity — these responses are completely justified.

Current promotions of volunteerism, whether in rich or poor countries, are focused primarily on government-endorsed or state-driven activities: the state or large corporations, through their sponsorship of such campaigns, encourage people to work without pay to address community and social needs, the gain being a better community, improved self-esteem for the volunteer, and less money needed to pay for such action, as volunteers aren’t paid. It’s an appallingly-limited view of what volunteering is and its true importance and power, and it’s no wonder that the unemployed and the disenfranchised scoff at such campaigns.

The world and its history are rife with examples of volunteering by the unemployed and disenfranchised to positively affect people and the environment in confrontation to or outside of the state or other power structures. These activities have sometimes empowered the volunteers as full citizens for the first time. Those who organized in the Southern USA in the 1950s and 60s to register voters, to shine a blinding light on social injustice and to stop Jim Crow, the American version of apartheid? They were volunteers, often socially-excluded themselves, working against local power structures, in order to improve American society and to change their own destinies for the better. Local people engaging in campaigns to counter the practice of female genital mutilation or to improve women’s rights, often in direct opposition to community leaders or long-held traditions? Again, volunteers and, often, people who do not enjoy full employment and perhaps, in the case of women, who do not enjoy full rights as citizens. Yet, most volunteerism campaigns and conferences ignore these passionate volunteer campaigners working outside “the system,” whom Mary Merrill calls both “vigilantes” and “entrepreneurs.” Talking about volunteering as a way to challenge the state or other power structures, or to empower people and communities, would probably be quite appealing to that earlier-mentioned Yemeni student, or others who are unemployed and disenfranchised. However, mainstream campaigns continue to promote volunteerism as just a feel-good activity and a way for the state or others to not have to pay people for work — a message that just does not resonate with so many.

There’s also a tendency by such campaigns to equate all community service with volunteerism. However, if a person is paid to provide a service to the community, he or she is no longer a volunteer. That isn’t to say he or she, because of the receipt of money, has less dedication than a volunteer; I’ve certainly encountered UNDP and NGO paid staff members who are every bit as committed and heartfelt in their work as people providing unpaid service. But “volunteer” should mean the person is unpaid, or at least, giving up his or her employment for a significant period of time in order to provide full-time community service. In certain situations, volunteers may be the most appropriate to staff an initiative, while other situations may call for paid staff — and these situations often have nothing to do with whether or not there’s a budget to pay people.

If governments and donors want volunteerism campaigns in poor communities to actually lead to more volunteering, they must radically update their message. They must be prepared to show why volunteers, rather than paid staff, are best for a particular task, beyond that there’s no budget to pay such people. They must show how those whom they are trying to entice to volunteer will benefit directly in terms of potential employment or an improved life and a greater voice. They need to point out that volunteering can give a person a first-hand view of the work of the government or others, and a fact-based perspective and voice to endorse or oppose it. They need to explain that volunteers can also have their own agendas for their service, just as those promoting volunteerism do. They need to say, point blank, that one of the primary benefits of volunteering is that it can create the platform for “ordinary people” to become decision-makers, even leaders, regarding their communities and the environment, and that it can allow a diversity of voices to be heard regarding a diversity of issues. And governments and donors need to put the individuals in charge of defining their own volunteerism goals and activities, and to be prepared for those activities, at least sometimes, to be counter to the volunteerism campaigner’s agendas.

NGOs need to talk about and to volunteers as investors. They need to think of volunteer involvement as a way to build trust among community members and those whose support they need. They must learn how to translate volunteer involvement into long-term and consistent support. Volunteerism should be viewed as a way for local people, including youth, to influence policy-making. And NGOs must be explicit in their message to youth regarding how volunteering can help young people, if they so choose, to pursue their future educational and career endeavors.

VENRO, the Association of German development non-governmental organizations (NGOs), says on its web site that “NGOs are described as the core of democratic civil society. NGOs protest and interfere, they are dedicated to dialogue and cooperation. NGOs reflect the will of socially and politically responsible and committed citizens who, to a large degree, work on a voluntary basis.” It’s a much more powerful view of volunteering that what is being promoted by so many mainstream organizations, and one that would certainly appeal to that university student from Yemen.

It’s a challenging proposition for the mainstream promoters of volunteerism to think and speak so differently. But without meeting this challenge, we will turn generations and groups all over the world off to volunteering. What a tragedy that would be.

Note: Mary Merrill was a consultant regarding volunteer engagement, a dynamic, provocative speaker, a skilled facilitator, and a frequently-cited source by other consultants and volunteerism researchers, including me. Her company was called Merrill Associates, and her web site, merrillassociates.com, is archived at archive.org. Mary served as a consultant to numerous nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations, charities and professional associations in the United States, Canada, Russia, Armenia, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil and the United Kingdom, and consulted with the United Nations Volunteers programme based in Germany. She taught the Institute for Community Leadership and Volunteer Administration at Ohio State University. She coordinated international study abroad projects for Ohio State University Leadership Center and North Carolina State University 4-H. She was editor of the Journal of Volunteer Administration. She was a featured speaker at three World Volunteer Conferences. She was also a licensed social worker. She received the Distinguished Service Award from the International Association for Volunteer Administration, a Lifetime Achievement Award for dedication to Volunteerism in the profession of Volunteer Administration from Volunteer Ohio, and an Award for Excellence from the Volunteer Administrators’ Network of Central Ohio, she was named Peacemaker of the Year by the Interfaith Center for Peace, and received the Walter and Marion English Award from the United Way of Franklin County. She was a graduate of Ohio State University. Mary died in February 19, 2006. She was my dear friend and colleague and mentor, and the resources on her web site, merrillassociates.com, archived at archive.org, are worth your time to read.

Also see:

Updated: list of research on virtual volunteering

I don’t have funding to research virtual volunteering, but in my spare, unpaid time, I try to track academic studies and evaluation reports on virtual volunteering by others. At least twice a year, I search for published research regarding online volunteering / virtual volunteering, including studies on the various different activities that are a part of online volunteering such as online activism, online civic engagement, online mentoring, micro volunteering, remote citizen scientists, remote volunteers, crowd-sourcing, etc. I’m not looking for newsletter articles, press releases or no newspaper articles; rather, I’m looking for scholarly reports providing qualitative and quantitative data, case studies, comparisons, etc.

I have just uploaded the list of such research articles on the Virtual Volunteering Wiki, a free online resource I maintain with Susan Ellis. I was surprised at how many I found published in 2017. Note that sometimes research articles do not call the unpaid contributors “volunteers.” Included on this list are also research articles on virtual teams, which often involved paid staff; that’s because these research studies are especially applicable to virtual volunteering scenarios. These mostly go in reverse publishing or research date order.

If you are interested in researching virtual volunteering, this blog can give you guidance before you get started.

I also maintain a list of the latest news about virtual volunteering. You will find a long list, in reverse date order, of news articles and blogs about virtual volunteering, focusing on especially innovative or news-worthy pieces. I also have a list of articles from 1996 to 2011, including the oldest article I can find about virtual volunteering.

vvbooklittleResearch about virtual volunteering and related subject played a major role in writing find The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. This book, which I co-wrote with Susan J. Ellis, is our attempt to document all of the best practices for using the Internet to support and involve volunteers from the more than three decades that this has been happening. Want to know more about how to create assignments for online volunteers, how to support online volunteers, how to recruit, screen and and train online volunteers, and how to ensure quality in their contributions? This book is for you. In fact, whether the volunteers are working in groups onsite, in traditional face-to-face roles, in remote locations, or any other way, anyone working with volunteers will find The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook helpful. The book is available both in traditional print form and in a digital version.

 

If you read the book, or have already read it, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites). If you could also review it on GoodReads as well, that would be terrific!

Group Volunteering during the holidays: why is it so hard?

Finding group volunteering opportunities on or around Thanksgiving in the USA, on or around Christmas, or anytime between these holidays, is much harder than most people imagine. Why is it so hard?

  • So many, many people want to volunteer during these holidays that organizations that involve volunteers during these days book their volunteer openings quickly, often months in advance (some food pantries and soup kitchens are booked with volunteers for Thanksgiving and Christmas a YEAR in advance!).
  • Most economically or socially-disadvantaged people find family to be with during the holidays. Even most people staying in homeless shelters go to a family member’s home on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. That means that many shelters and soup kitchens don’t serve many people on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
  • It is very hard for a nonprofit organization to develop a one-time, just-show-up and volunteer activity that is worth all the expense (staff time to supervise the volunteers and supervise them, particularly since the volunteer may never volunteer again); often, it’s cheaper and easier to simply let the staff do the work themselves. In addition, group volunteering activities are also quite difficult to develop, for similar reasons.
  • Staff at nonprofits often suspend all training of new volunteers the week of Christmas, through January 1 – or even for all of November and December. This is to allow staff some time off to be with their own families for the holidays.

If you are absolutely determined to find ways to volunteer during the holidays, you should have started looking in August. I’m not kidding! If you didn’t start back in the summer, then you can use this advice for finding volunteer activities during the holidays. Also see:

If you are tech-minded, you can help a nonprofit, or a group of nonprofits, to develop a One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers, where volunteers build web pages, write code, edit Wikipedia pages, and more. These are gatherings of onsite volunteers, where everyone is in one location, together, to do an online-related project in one day, or a few days. Because computers are involved, these events are sometimes called hackathons, even if coding isn’t involved.

If your organization wants to involve groups of volunteers over the holidays in meaningful ways – not just busy work that isn’t really essential to your organization, have a look at this advice for creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities

 

Also see:

Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research

CALLS FOR CONTRIBUTIONS:
Thirteenth International Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR)
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
10 July  – 13 July 2018

Conference Theme:
Democracy and Legitimacy:  The Role of the Third Sector in a Globalizing World

DEADLINE FOR CONFERENCE ABSTRACT SUBMISSIONS:   27 OCTOBER 2017

Conference organizers are keenly interested in a wide range of submissions, especially on topics related to democracy and legitimacy. In addition, ISTR is also interested in research which advances our understanding of theory, policy, and practice of third sector organizations. Conference themes include:

  • Democracy and Civil Society Organizations
  • Challenges and Opportunities of Advocacy by NGOs and Nonprofits
  • Governance, Management, Adaptation and Sustainability of Third Sector Organizations
  • Hybridity, Legitimacy and the Third Sector
  • New Models of Philanthropy and Voluntarism
  • Active Citizenship and Activism
  • The Third Sector and Development
  • Social Innovation and the Third Sector
  • Research on Teaching Third Sector Studies
  • Emerging Areas of Theory and Practice

Abstract Submissions
Contributions may take the form of a paper, a panel, a roundtable, or a poster.  The abstract must be less than 400 words in length.

Full details regarding submission specifications are found in the Call for Contributions.

Submissions for Panels, Papers and Posters
All panel, papers and poster proposals for the Conference must be submitted using ISTR’s online submission service. To submit your paper or poster abstract using this service, go to the ISTR website – www.istr.org/Amsterdam – and follow the link for ‘Submit a Proposal.’

I won’t help you recruit a receptionist/volunteer coordinator

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersRecently, I got asked if I would share a job opening at a PDX (Portland, Oregon)-area nonprofit. It was for a receptionist / volunteer coordinator. I responded:

I actually have a policy not to promote receptionist/volunteer coordinator jobs. Sorry. It’s a matter of my perspective about the importance of both positions.

It wasn’t the first time I had to tell someone this.

I will not promote receptionist / volunteer coordinator jobs. I will not promote receptionist / donor manager jobs, receptionist / marketing manager jobs, nor receptionist / legal council jobs. Not that I have ever seen those last three jobs advertised. Because such a combination of jobs would be preposterous. Just as preposterous as combining receptionist and volunteer coordinator, or volunteer manager, or director of volunteer services into one position.

I could write a long blog about why but, honestly, if you don’t get it, I just don’t have the time…

See also:

Volunteering, by itself, isn’t enough to save the world

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteers

Like so many communities across the USA, the town where I live has many, many homeless people: people, including children, who are couch surfing, living in cars, sleeping in public spaces or sleeping in shelters, because they have no space of their own. There is a patchwork of organizations trying to help them with basic, immediate needs, and I attended a presentation by one of the organizations trying to offer temporary shelter – and by temporary, I mean both temporary for people that will stay there and temporary in their own existence. One of the slides in her presentation had a list of all of the many things different agencies were doing to assist the homeless. But there was also this warning on the slide: None of which will go to preventing or ending homelessness. And that included the temporary shelter her organization was providing, and all of the volunteers helping in such.  

In Houston, we’ve seen all sorts of people volunteering to help people get to temporary shelters, to feed people in those shelters, to evacuate people from their flood ravaged homes and cars, to get animals to safety, and on and on. And that’s not just nice, that’s necessary, and I’m so grateful that I live in a country where people are so willing to donate their time. But volunteers could not do this alone, and eventually, disaster-response volunteers are going to go home, and there are going to be thousands of homeless people and animals who are going to need ongoing, continuing assistance, even as volunteers leave the area.

I love volunteerism, and I don’t trust nonprofits that don’t involve such. I think volunteers are critical for nonprofits, schools and government agencies – and not for saving money. I am passionate about the critical role volunteers can play in a range of issues and services. Again, they aren’t just nice – they are necessary.

However, I also believe we need more than only – solely – volunteers to keep schools open and of high quality, to keep water clean, to keep hike and bike trails safe, to help the homeless, to address drug abuse, to give children the safety nets they need to navigate their life into adulthood, to promote the arts, to address youth violence, to respond to disasters, and on and on. Full-time, fully funded experts are needed. Initiatives solely, completely dedicated to certain issues are needed – and these initiatives must have funding. I have been begging nonprofits and schools, for years, to tell government officials and corporate philanthropy folks explicitly that, while volunteers are great, money is ALSO needed, to meet the needs of the community. We cannot do all that needs to be done in our spare time, donating just a few hours a month. The last time I was fully on this soapbox on my blog was in 2011, regarding the UK’s “Big Society” movement.

I have often gotten a very cold reception because I don’t embrace the idea that serious community and environmental issues can be fully addressed by people giving a few hours whenever they might have some time to spare, as volunteers. I’ve even been accused of being anti-volunteer, which, given the amount of time and effort I give to promoting volunteer engagement and best practices for such, is ridiculous.

In July 2000, The New York Times published “The Vanity of Volunteerism,” by Sara Mosle. She taught public school for three years, and after she left that profession, mentored four of her former students for a few years. She writes about her experience in her Times’ piece and weaves into her account statistics and feedback about the growing expectation of the US government for volunteers to fill in the gaps in service left by the federal government withdrawing support for nonprofits, state governments and government social services. She quotes people and sources that note that the need for social services was increasing at the time, but donations and government financing didn’t increase, and volunteering wasn’t enough to fill the gaps. She also talks about the negative consequences for clients of nonprofits, schools and social service agencies of more and more people engaging in episodic volunteering – what we now call offline microvolunteering – instead of long-term, high-responsibility traditional volunteering.

The piece also references the Presidents’ Summit on America’s Future in Philadelphia, a three-day event that was aimed at boosting volunteerism and community service efforts across the USA. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, former Presidents George Bush, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and retired Gen. Colin Powell all participated. I blogged about the 20th anniversary of that summit earlier this year.

Below is an excerpt from the 2000 New York Times article. Sara Mosle was singing the same song as me back in 2000, and I think her article’s statements, and the circumstances of nonprofits, need to be revisited. Note: the piece refers to Impact Online, and that is the original name of what is now VolunteerMatch. Also, the bolded text is my emphasis, not the article’s:

Excerpt:  

For more than a decade, politicians and civic leaders have been looking to volunteers like me to take over the government’s role in providing vital services to the poor. Although the movement arguably began in 1988 with the candidate George Bush’s invocation of ”a thousand points of light” as a response to Reagan-era cutbacks in social spending, it has been embraced by the current Democratic administration, which has continued those cutbacks, and culminated in the 1997 President’s Summit for America’s Future in Philadelphia, where President Clinton and Gen. Colin Powell touted the power of volunteerism. Now George W. Bush has picked up his father’s theme of ”a kinder, gentler” America by pushing ”charitable choice” — the provision in the 1996 welfare reform bill that allows faith-based organizations to contract with government to provide social services to the poor. (Al Gore supports it, too, though less vigorously.)

”Compassionate conservatives” would probably claim that I am the kind of ”caring adult” who can transform the lives of disadvantaged kids more effectively than any government program. I’m all for volunteering, but I would disagree. While I don’t doubt that I have had some positive effects on my kids’ lives — studies show that mentoring can reduce dropout rates and drug use among teenagers — they have mostly been of the ”boosting self-esteem” variety that conservatives, in other contexts, usually disdain. Besides, I’m not a very good volunteer. To work, mentoring has to be performed consistently, over a sustained period of time and preferably one on one. For the first couple of years, I saw my kids as often as twice a week. But now I’m lucky if I see them once a month, and I almost never see them individually. In their lives, I’m less a caring adult than a random one. And my failure is representative.

Although 55 percent of Americans reported that they volunteered at some point in 1998 — a 7 percent rise over 1995 — this jump does little more than recover ground that was lost in the early 1990’s and represents just a 1 percent increase over 1989. Moreover, the total number of hours that people are giving has actually declined. ”It’s a new trend,” says Sara Melendez, the president of Independent Sector, which compiled this data. ”People are volunteering, but when they do, it’s more of a one-shot deal — half a day one Saturday, instead of once a week for x number of weeks.” Overall, Americans donated 400 million fewer hours in 1998 than they did in 1995.

Consequently, while Powell has made recruiting 100,000 new mentors a top priority of America’s Promise, his volunteer outfit, there is little evidence that people are sufficiently answering his call. In New York, for instance, Big Brothers/Big Sisters receives just 4,000 inquiries each year from potential mentors. Of these, two-thirds never follow up once they learn they have to commit to seeing their kids at least twice a month. Another 700 lose interest after the initial training session or are eliminated through the program’s rigorous screening process. Only 600 people ever become mentors — this in a city with more than one million schoolchildren — and nationally, the program has a waiting list of some 50,000 kids.

To help nonprofits cope with this new unreliable work force, groups like Impact Online and New York Cares have sprung up that act like temp agencies, matching the interests (and busy schedules) of what might be called the impulse volunteer — someone with an urge to give but only a few hours to kill — with openings, arranged by time slot and geographical location. But this Filofax approach to giving often robs volunteerism of the very thing that was supposed to recommend it over government in the first place — namely, the personal connection that develops when you regularly visit, say, the same homebound AIDS patient.

And in a volunteer’s market, not every need has a buyer. ”People will come in and do a project — a school painting, a school wiring — and think they’ve done a good service and go away,” says Paul Clolery, editor of The NonProfit Times. ”But it’s not the type of traditional, week-in and week-out volunteering that a lot of organizations really need.”…

The experience of Meals on Wheels in Dallas is typical. It can’t find enough volunteers to commit to even a few hours a month to help deliver meals to the city’s elderly shut-ins. ”People can’t get away during the middle of the day,” says Helen Bruant, the program’s director. ”So, they ask, ‘Why don’t you deliver in the evenings?’ Well, we looked at that. But for a lot of our clients, this is their only meal. They eat half at lunch and save the other half for dinner. Plus, it’s not good for the elderly to eat a big meal at the end of the day.” Therefore, the program must hire 30 percent of its drivers. Even paying people, Bruant cannot find enough help. ”We can’t compete with McDonald’s,” she says…” Yet, if anything, the need is increasing. ”The aged population has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade,” Bruant says, ”but giving and government financing haven’t increased.”

As a result, the heads of some of the most reputable nonprofits — the United Way, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities — have reported that they can’t keep up with rising demand for their services. ”We’re having to turn people away, or ration portions, to stretch supplies,” says Deborah Leff, the president of America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest network of soup kitchens. And while charitable giving is up sharply, the growth has not kept pace with reductions in government aid to the poor. ”People have replaced some of it with volunteering, some of it with cash, but not all of it,” says Richard Steinberg, a professor of economics at the joint campus of Indiana and Purdue Universities in Indianapolis…

end of excerpt

September 14, 2017 update: wow, someone must have been inspired by my blog:
Bill Gates: Don’t expect charities to pick up the bill for Trump’s sweeping aid cuts.

Also see:

USAID / VISP invitation for concept papers on volunteer engagement

Via a tweet from a USAID office, I found out about an invitation for concept papers from non-governmental and voluntary service organizations for assistance awards “that achieve development impact in USAID focus areas through the inclusion of volunteers.”

The official announcement via grants.gov regarding this invitation is really hard to understand, even if English is your first language. For a better understanding, go to the grant announcement site and click on the “related documents” tab, and download either the zip file or each of the four files (two PDFs, a Microsoft Excel document and a Microsoft Word document) separately. The PDF file VISP APS 2017.pdf, the annual program statement (APS) for this invitation for concept papers, is MUCH more understandable, and I’ve used that paper to write this summary. And I’ve written this summary because I really, really want some of the great NGOs I know working to support volunteer engagement in a variety of countries all over the world to consider submitting a concept paper.

In summary:

This Annual Program Statement (APS), entitled Volunteers for International Security and Prosperity (VISP), is “a mechanism through which USAID will maximize development impact and efficient resource use by mobilizing the creative capacity of volunteers globally.” Under the APS, USAID intends to support a variety of creative approaches towards the design and implementation of activities addressing USAID Operating Units’ (OU) development objectives. This APS is meant to offer USAID OUs (Mission, Bureau, or Independent Office) “an easy-to-use mechanism to facilitate access to volunteers across any sector,” while also upholding U.S. foreign policy objectives of promoting national security, advancing American values, and supporting global prosperity and self- reliance. If I’m reading the paper correctly, the paper means both local, in-country volunteers and highly-skilled U.S. volunteers that are deployed under VISP, which is also sometimes called the Volunteers for Prosperity program.

Concept papers should support a process through which organizations can work with USAID to achieve economic, human, environmental and/or humanitarian development impact via:

  1. Increasing the number of volunteer-sponsoring organizations collaborating with the Agency;
  2. Increasing the number of development sectors using volunteers;
  3. Increasing the quality of services provided by volunteers supporting Agency objectives; and,
  4. Increasing the understanding within the Agency of the positive role volunteers play in supporting Agency objectives.

Buried in the ASP is a note that says the proposed approach outlined in the concept paper should show how the activities will integrate issues of gender equality and female empowerment.

Note: This is NOT a Request for Applications or a Request for Proposals. “Based on those Concept Papers, USAID OUs will determine whether to co-create an activity or set of activities with any applicant and then request a full application.” In fact, if you are thinking of submitting a concept paper, you should FIRST research the priorities, objectives, and strategies of the OU from which you would like support for your concept – and the OU can be a USAID mission, a regional bureau, or an independent office – and then you should reach out to that OU and get their approval prior to submitting a concept paper.

“USAID welcomes concept papers from any type of organization that has the capability to carry out international development programs utilizing volunteers. While not an exhaustive list and provided for illustrative purposes only, the following types of organizations are encouraged to participate: U.S. and non-U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations, foundations, cooperatives, international organizations, U.S. and non-U.S. colleges and universities, civic groups, regional organizations, U.S. and non-U.S. private businesses, and business/trade associations. USAID encourages applications from potential new partners. All applicants must be legally recognized organizational entities under applicable law. An individual cannot apply.”

Please note that I am not a representative of USAID and I know no more about this initiative than what I’ve read in the support materials and I may very well have interpreted this entire thing incorrectly.

That said, here is my opinion on this:

  • If you are an NGO that serves as a volunteer center in a country with a USAID OU, and that volunteer center not only helps recruit volunteers and match them to NGOs and community groups, but also involves volunteers themselves in the delivery of their services, you should consider submitting a concept paper.
  • If you are an international nonprofit or NGO that recruits and involves a significant number of volunteers in the delivery of whatever services your agency provides, you should consider submitting a concept paper.
  • You should not invent an activity at your organization or initiative only for this concept paper invitation. Build on something you have already talked about or are already doing, something you would want to do even if this invitation for concept papers had not been announced.

Please do NOT take the blog you are reading now as your only guidance for submitting a concept paper; please read all of the materials at the official announcement via grants.gov carefully, and after that, write up a very rough draft of what you might like to do. Then, as noted above, research the priorities, objectives, and strategies of the OU from which you would like support for your concept, and then reach out to that OU and meet with them, talk to them, and get their approval FIRST, prior to submitting a concept paper.

And don’t rush. Concept papers are being accepted until 29 August, 2018 – a year from now. That means you have plenty of time to do the reading and research you need to do, and have the conversations you need to do, to prepare a great concept paper.

Good luck – and let me know if you submit a concept paper, just because I’m curious and would like to know.