The New Volunteerism Project

The Archival Collection of
Ivan Henry Scheier

A Reconsideration of Volunteerism

Some Exercises for the Creative Gadfly
@ -- permission for use-with-acknowledgment

.1999 Notes: The present section is largely a reprise of the above limited-circulation publication, with important pluses, namely more connective comments, some reflections on practical usage, and some other clarifications, in relation to the methods.

These mini think tanks offer encouragement and process in support of creative thinking about volunteerism. They cannot think for anyone or even make anyone want to think. We hope you want to, though, for several reasons.

First of all, the creative thinking process itself is renewing especially for the burnout-prone leadership we’re often in danger of losing. Include here the experienced, curiosity-prone volunteer coordinator mired overlong in maintenance of program or organization. For these, the pursuit of the possible can be pretty exhilarating.

We also need the products of creative thinking, because the basic assumptions and perspectives underlying modern volunteerism are overdue for creative reconsideration. We seem to be suffering from advanced hardening of the categories, complicated by addiction to skill-acquisition for its own sake, and idolatry of new equipment (computers, Fax, etc.). On the other hand, there is much that is right about modern volunteerism, much that the deeper thought we advocate can re-establish on an even firmer basis, because new we understand the "why" of it. In all, this iconoclasm-for-its-own-sake is no more desirable than knee-jerk orthodoxy.

Finally, creative thinking can have practical problem-solving benefits, especially, when more conventional problem-solving reaches a dead-end. Consider the Executive Director whose board is passive except in resisting the training she believes they most urgently need. On creative consideration of the type practiced here, the conclusion emerged that no amount of training could rehabilitate this board for the purposes of this organization. They were, instead, the wrong people for this board; therefore the issue was board selection or rotation rather than board training. The latter was something the Executive Director might be able to do something about eventually and, in that sense, thinking about the situation gave her a problem she could solve in place of one she probably couldn’t.

Rarely will you want to use all the exercises at any one session. Review them all, then try out the most promising on a pilot basis before deciding which to use – one or two may be all you need at any one session. At present, separately packaged exercises have the following titles: "Tower of Babel"; Upside Down and Inside Out"; "Question, Question, Who’s Got the Question?"; ’The Evolution of a Questions"; "The Power of Assumption"; "What If…"; "Anchors Away"; "The Freedom to Dream"; and "Getting Out of the Groove"; "Avoiding Creativity Traps in Pursuit of the Possible." (The last is also a summary of other exercises.) In many cases, the exercises are mainly different ways of dealing with the same basic material. Indeed, certain virtually identical examples are carried through several different exercises, to illustrate differences in handling the same or similar material.

Other modules in the "creative reconsideration" series, now in preparation, include one on futuring in volunteerism, and another on frontier projects to develop new dimensions in volunteerism. You’re invited to check with us on the progress of these modules.

These guideline materials are for the session navigator/facilitator, who will probably want to modify the material for handout use. In particular, you may not want to include in handouts the suggested responses to exercise questions. I say "responses" rather than "answers" because, strictly speaking, there are usually no absolutely correct or incorrect answers to the exercises; there is only the opportunity for participants to identify more clearly where they stand, or might stand, on important issues.

The exercises are an outgrowth of this Center’s CHALLENGE series of think tanks on volunteerism. Some three hundred people have participated in these events over the past three years. All were mentors in the continuous experiential refinement of these exercises, though there’s room to mention only a few here: Janice Allan, Eileen Brown, Nancy Cole, Rob Cole, Mary Louise Cox, Sandie Guthans, Carol Hutchings, Connie Hyatt, Jane Janey, Mary Mokler, Steven Mullen, Bill Turner, and Maxine Williamson.

"… we have always had the freedom to dream; let us begin to use it more. No one has more reason to do so for, historically, volunteers have always been the main way a free people made dreams come true."

Ivan Scheier


  • Almost all the methods are variations on the theme of discovering the hidden assumptions and doing something productive about them. The only exceptions are THE SUPPORT CIRCLE (networking), TOWER OF BABEL, and maybe to some extent, OPTION EXPANSION.


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Ivan Scheier
607 Marr
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, 87901
Tel (505) 894-1340

For comments and editing suggestions please contact Mary Lou McNatt