Dimensions of Volunteering and Service

What is the definition of “volunteer”?

There are many opinions on this!  To learn more about how Energize defines volunteer for this Web site – and what is called “volunteer” but is not what we include, read our definitions.

Don't use the word "volunteer"?
Wonder if you fit into the larger volunteer world?
Can this site help you?

If you are dependent on the voluntary involvement of participants, this site can help. All the activities and terms below have one need in common:  leaders who understand the principles and practices of being successful with participants who are not paid a salary

Below is a map of the volunteer world.  See where you fit in.  Click on the terms below that apply to you to see how and why they are part of volunteerism.  Then follow the links to resources on this site that are "Especially for You."   Just don’t stop there!  We hope that starting with your vocabulary will lead you to discovering your connections to all the resources on this site – including those in other countries.

Formal

Community-Based

Special

Infrastructure

Community Service

Agency-related Volunteer Programs

Boards of Directors or Trustees,  & Advisory Councils

Corporate Social Responsibility & Employee Volunteer Programs

Pro Bono Publico Work/ Donated Professional Services

Trade and Professional Associations, Labor Unions

Community Service

Auxiliaries, Friends & Alumni Groups

All-volunteer Membership Associations

Civic Engagement & Civil Society

Social Entrepreneurship

Grassroots Activism & Neighborhood Organizing

Co-operatives

Service-learning/Internships

Faith-based Service, Lay Ministry

National Service and Full-time Stipended Service

Mandated (but Unpaid) Service

Self-help Groups

Volunteer Centers, National Resource Organizations, State/Provinical Offices, and other volunteer-referring organizations or sites

Professional Associations of Volunteer Program Managers

Consultants and Trainers in Volunteerism

Academics and Researchers

Community Service

This is a term that is popular in the United States right now as an alternative to the word “volunteering.”  It is a vague term for service to and in the community, often used when such service is not completely voluntary, as with students (see Service-Learning below) or court-ordered  programs (see Mandated below).  From the perspective of this site, “community service” and ‘volunteering” are interchangeable.

Agency-related Volunteer Programs

  • Formal volunteer engagement by an organization, usually with some or many paid staff, in which volunteers work side-by-side with employees.
  • This is where leaders of volunteers work under titles such as  “Volunteer Program Manager,” “Director of Volunteer Services,” “Coordinator of Volunteers,” etc.
  • Can be in nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and for-profit services.         
 

Especially for You
The entire site is supportive of agency-based volunteer programs. As a starting point, see:

Boards of Directors or Trustees, and Advisory Councils

  • Are absolutely volunteers, but are often separated in the literature and in practice because of their legal and fiduciary responsibilities.   
  • Are legally required in most countries for governance of not-for-profit or non-governmental organizations.
  Especially for You

Corporate Social Responsibility, Employee Volunteer Programs

  • For-profit companies taking action to better their communities or be “good neighbors.”  Includes financial philanthropy, ethical business practices, ecologically-sound operations.  Also includes encouraging employees to volunteer.  Related terms:
  • In-kind services
  • Work-release or flex-time service opportunities
  • Loaned executives, seconded employees (UK term)
  • Employee volunteer programs can also be found in larger nonprofit organizations and government agencies, which is why this is also referred to as workplace volunteering.
  Especially for You

Pro Bono Publico Work/ Donated Professional Services

  • Refers specifically to donating one’s professional skills, generally at no cost to the recipient but can also include reduced fees.  (However, if a lawyer chooses to be a  volunteer Little League coach rather than donate legal services, it is no longer pro bono work and becomes simply Agency-related.)
  Especially for You

Trade and Professional Associations, Labor Unions

  • Trade and professional associations function through active membership.  While joining such an association may be voluntary (or not), when a member engages in more intentional participation, accepts a leadership role, runs for office, or chairs or serves on a committee service, it becomes volunteering.   So the paid staff of such associations are, in essence, coordinators of volunteers.
  • Labor unions, as well, rely on unpaid shop stewards, committee members, and other local voluntary participation.  They also do community service projects.  In the volunteer world, however, labor unions are often seen as negative about volunteer involvement (as “job replacement”).
  Especially for You

Auxiliaries, Friends and Alumni Groups

  • All-volunteer associations organized to support a specific, designated institution, often to fundraise.
  • Particularly active in relation to hospitals, arts institutions, and schools/universities.
  Especially for You

All-volunteer Membership Associations

  • Wide variety of membership groups, from civic and service clubs to fraternal orders to social/hobby groups.
  • The term “member” has more resonance than “volunteer.”  For example, leaders are focused on membership development, rather than volunteer recruitment. However, once someone has joined, the need to get members active and remain engaged is very much volunteer recruitment and retention.
  • Can have small core of paid staff, but are run by officers elected from the membership.
  • This is a huge segment of the volunteer world, although leaders from agency-based volunteer programs and all-volunteer associations do not connect as often as might be expected or needed.
  Especially for You

Civic Engagement & Civil Society

  • Broader than volunteering, these terms cover a wide spectrum of citizenship activities, from voting to ethical government.   But the common denominator is participation – voluntary engagement in community life.
  Especially for You

Social Entrepreneurship

  • Mavericks, visionaries, individuals who burn on a cause and motivate others to join in or who seek new ways to address old problems.
  • Also refers to businesses who do good while doing well – giving part of their profits to social causes  On this site, however, we deal only with the first definition.
  Especially for You

Grassroots Activism & Neighborhood Organizing

  • Tenant and neighborhood associations
  • Protests, marches on City Hall, lobbying
  • Political campaign organizing on the local level
  Especially for You

Cooperatives

  • A special form of community collaboration in which members share work (and sometimes money and goods) to benefit everyone with the product achieved.
  • Diverse foci:  food coops, babysitting coops, community gardens
  Especially for You

Service-learning, Internships

  • Curriculum-based service projects tied to an educational institution in which students do work outside the classroom to apply in practice what they have learned in theory.
  • Can includes a required number of hours of community service to qualify for graduation (requirement can be governmental or private)
  • Programs exist at all levels:  Kindergarten to graduate school
  • Can be found in public, private, and parochial institutions
  • Internships can be intensive (student teachers, social work training) and even salaried (as in medical interns).  But the word intern is increasingly the term of choice for young people seeking career exploration and is very often unpaid.
  • Other vocabulary includes: experiential learning, learning-by-doing, affective education
  • For non-curriculum-related service by students, or service by adults to help in the schools, see Agency-related volunteer programs.
  Especially for You

Faith-based Service, Lay Ministry

  • Individuals may do volunteering motivated by religious faith and each religion has different terms for such efforts.  A few are:
    • Lay ministry
    • Charity
    • Social concerns
    • Tzedakah
    • Sadaqah
  • The term “faith-based service” generally refers to institutional programs and can mean service:
    • to or in the faith community itself , or
    • a congregation/house of workshop organizing projects to serve the community at large. 
  •   Missionaries are another category of faith-based service.
  Especially for You

National Service and Full-time Stipended Service

  • Service requiring a 24/7 commitment of a longer period of time, for which the participant receives “enabling” funds meant to cover costs, not to be a salary.  
  • “National service” refers to the desire to give young adults options for giving back to their country beyond military service, particularly when a military draft is in effect.
  • There are many government-sponsored international programs around the world, including the Peace Corps, United Nations Volunteers, and similar opportunities for citizens of a developed country to provide services to developing countries.
  •   There are also government-sponsored domestic service programs, including AmeriCorps and VISTA in the United States, Community Service Volunteers in the UK, and others.  Again these are full-time service but participants either travel within their own country or work locally.
  • There are also private and religious full-time service corps, such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps
  Especially for You

Mandated (but Unpaid) Service

  • There are a number of situations in which individuals are required to fulfill a certain number of hours of service for reasons ranging from restitution, punishment, repaying a debt, or demonstrating civic value.  Mandated service, often referred to as “community service” includes:
    • Student graduation requirements.  (See Service-Learning above.)
    • Court-ordered, alternative sentencing.
    • Welfare-to-work programs.
    • Service determined by an employer while a worker is on disability leave or is receiving other monetary benefits from the company.
    Considered by many to be “voluntolds,” not volunteers, these workers still provide a talent pool to organizations without having to go on the payroll.  Also, many remain in uncoerced service long after their required hours are up.
  Especially for You

Self-help Groups

  • Mutual aid provided by people who band together because they have a need, illness, or concern in common.
  • The term “self-help group” is most often used when the need is medical or therapeutic.
  • Often informal and anti-“professional” services.
  • Range from Alcoholics Anonymous to Town Watch.
  Especially for You

Volunteer Centers, National Resource Organizations, State/Provincial Offices, and Other Volunteer-Referring Organizations or Sites

  • The volunteer world is served by a variety of organizations and agencies that recognize the diversity of vocabulary above.   These provide coordination, funding, training, research, and other infrastructure for the field – and similar organizations exist in every country around the world.
  • Energize is itself part of this infrastructure.
  • Many of these entities are government agencies, working with public funds. 
  • Many services these days are provided online, especially registries of volunteer opportunities (again, a growing number of countries have online “find the volunteer work you’d like best” sites)
  Especially for You

Professional Associations of Volunteer Program Managers

  • Those who self-identify for volunteer management as a profession also seek out mutual exchange.  There are local networks, often called “DOVIAs” – Directors of Volunteers in Agencies – groups.  There are state and provincial, national and  international associations.
  • Some of the associations are for practitioners in any type of setting, while others are field-specific affinity groups.
  Especially for You

Consultants and Trainers in Volunteerism

  • The field is served by people who consult, train, and write about best practices in volunteerism. 
  • Some consultants/trainers are on the staff of the resource organizations mentioned above.
  • Most consultants and trainers are independent contractors or small business, such as Energize, Inc.
  Especially for You

Academics and Researchers

  • A growing number of colleges and universities are focusing on issues of philanthropy, fundraising, nonprofit management, and volunteering.  It takes tenacity to keep reminding everyone that volunteers are part of both government agencies and for-profit companies, as well.
  • Many of the courses and workshops offered on volunteer management are non-credit and several are offered online.
  • Research on volunteering is done by academics and also by national resource organizations and government.
  Especially for You