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Enhancing Entirely Volunteer Organizations

Module 2
for the use of Participants in the VOLUNTAS Institute,
April 12-18, 1992,
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.
Sponsored by the Center for Creative Community
Material prepared by Ivan Scheier

A. The module begins by defining "entirely volunteer group," sometimes also called "all-volunteer group." The terms "membership group," "volunteer group," and voluntary group" usually mean approximately the same thing; but not always. Especially in the case of "voluntary group," there may actually be more involvement of paid staff than in our meaning of "all-volunteer group." To be sure, our definition permits some distant and peripheral contact with paid staff, provided they are not major factors in group functioning.

B. Many examples are given of entirely volunteer groups.

C. We present and discuss four or more main reasons for the importance of all-volunteer groups (in spite of their relative neglect by organized volunteerism/volunteer administration.) The handout relevant to Parts A, B and C above is: "The Effective Functioning Of The All-Volunteer (Non-Staffed) Group." That title is wishful, since, in spite of their crucial importance, we don’t really know how to make all-volunteer groups consistently effective. Perhaps we should pay more attention to their special features.

D. There are six or seven special emphases distinguishing all-volunteer groups from staffed volunteer programs in agencies:

1.The special need to cultivate a powerful, unifying vision, as the "glue" of the group. You must take ample time out from implementary detail, to talk about values, visions, and philosophy. You must raise the "why" questions, steep yourselves in the wholeness of mission, the reality of problems addressed and results achieved.

2. Wide, direct, and decisive participation of members/volunteers in setting goals to implement the group’s vision. Please try to get it understood and absorbed in your group; this is not a corporation. No matter how excellent your plans from the top down, ultimately you will only do what volunteers are willing and able to do. So why not give them a more direct share in setting goals in the first place. The Membership Input Process  was developed to do this.

3.Effective distribution of work among members/volunteers, especially vital because everybody’s part-time and everybody’s there on a voluntary basis – or reasonably close to it. Here we refer back to Module 1 "Building Work That Satisfies, Job Factoring to help prevent overload on group leaders, plus the section on Division of work, especially the work assignment grid.

4.Functional as distinct from merely rhetorical inclusion of people. This is more a matter of spirit than method, the taking of values seriously more than it is technique or tactics. At the same time, some of the strategies in Module 1 resonate well with the inclusive attitude. Note especially here, the glad acceptance of glad gifts, and the willingness really to build work around the caring talents of people, even if it somewhat surprises an a priori plan.

5.Stability Without Staff. Continuity on a Bare Bones Budget, and

6.Efficiency, Flexibility and the Importance of Not Pretending you’re rich.

Just because everybody is part-time and voluntary, and just because you’re poor (probably), doesn’t mean you have to be unstable. Resist the temptation to invest time and money you haven’t’ got for sophisticated things you don’t need (largely because they weren’t designed with you in mind in the first place.) See the handout "Continuity and the Bargain-Basement Organization" plus the forthcoming article in GRAPEVINE "How Not to Have a Board, and Why" by Jane Mallory park and Ivan Scheier.

7. Drawing Resources From Within the Group: Serious Networking. Networking is a nice popular thing for well-staffed organizations. But for all –volunteer groups, it is a necessity. This is because there is little or no money to purchase resources from outside the group. Therefore, they must come from inside, through networking. A number of module handouts and exercises illustrate this.


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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