|VAT: Mar/Apr||Volunteerism's Newsletter||Vintage: 1997|
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Volunteerism: Is There Life After Agencies
Dr. Ivan Scheier .
As the millennium approaches, I apologize less and less for never having graduated from Philosophy 101. After 50 years or so of Volunteer Administration, the practice of competence is not enough; we must look hard at the basic concepts these competencies intend to serve. When I do that, I am astonished at how much of Volunteer Administration is based on what we believe rather than what we can prove empirically, on faith more than facts.
Some of these underlying assumptions are benign, it seems to me, e.g., the assumption that work can be valuable even though you're not paid for it (although that principle has been subject to some recent erosion with "paid volunteers"). Other assumptions can be damaging. For me, one of those, I believe, was that volunteers (universally) relish public external recognition.
Other underlying assumptions in volunteer administration are even harder to lay out clearly in terms of pros and cons. One of these was the (very probably conscious) assumption some fifty years ago that we should hitch our wagon to the human service delivery system - to staffed agencies within it. This had some clear pluses at the time, and since as well. Include here prestige, access to clients, ability to organize work and workers, and a venue where paid careers were possible. And yet, this assumption - if that's what it was - brought with it enduring frustrations such as staff non-support, low salaries, and positioning in a hierarchy where understanding and appreciation of volunteerism was not topnotch.
I am suggesting now that we break out of the limits that assumption has imposed upon us, and reconsider volunteerism existing outside of agencies as a proper and promising field of enterprise for organized volunteerism. We've always known such volunteerism existed, of course, notably in entirely volunteer groups and in freelance individual volunteering (sometimes as a "social entrepreneur"). But we haven't really seen that there might be a career there, a profession, and an enormous potential for improving quality of life in a community. If we've thought about it at all, it's in terms of leaving it alone for fear of damaging its naturalness, purity or whatever.
I think not. Elsewhere, in a book published by Energize Associates, I've explored the enormous potential in entirely volunteer groups, an estimated six million of them in North America, and probably the place where most people do most of their volunteering, including a lot of the most creative kind. I also began to explore in that book a promising new career track as consultant and contract operator for such groups, perhaps twenty or thirty of them per individual professional. Paid part-time for each, on retainer or special contract, this professional would offer services such as occasional on-call troubleshooting, technical assistance in planning or other program functions, and actual operation of certain program pieces such as newsletter production, membership campaigns or educational events. Some people are "that close" to doing this already, especially if we add to the clientele mix pathetically under-staffed as non-staffed groups.
Who has precedent to contribute, partial or full? I'm welcome to questions and comments for next time, when we might look more into career possibilities with freelance volunteering.