Definitions of "Volunteer"

The word "volunteer" raises complex issues. Not everyone defines it the same way and many, many people who donate time and effort without financial reimbursement never apply the label of volunteer to themselves. In this section you will find a variety of resources discussing these issues from different perspectives. You may find it useful to see how we at Energize define what is -- and is not -- "volunteering" as well as the "Dimensions of Volunteering and Service."

Both Receiving and Giving, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2010
The Confusing Talk about "Service", Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2008
The Correlation between Time Donors and Money Donors, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2010
Government, Politicians, and the Use of the Word "Volunteer", Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2004
Identifying Who Is and Is Not a “Volunteer”, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2014
Keeping an Eye on Things in the Year Ahead, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2005
The Limits of the "V" Word, Sarah Jane Rehnborg, Energize Hot Topic, 1998
Microvolunteering Is Volunteering, Jayne Cravens, 2011

Jayne's response to the Sparked Blog post of Ben Rigby on Microvolunteering Is Not Volunteering

On Being a Dream-Catcher, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2000
The Perfect Volunteer Storm, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2012
Philanthropy, Civic Engagement, and the Lessons of Volunteering, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 1999
Redirecting Corporate Volunteering, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 1997
The Self-Directed Volunteer, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2010
That Pesky Word “Volunteer”, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2017
The Treasure Trove of Knowledge Philanthropists, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2013
Unskilled vs. Differently Skilled: Maximize Volunteer Differences, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2000
Volunteering We See but Don't Recognize, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2007
Watching, Helping and Learning from China, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2004
Who is Celebrating IYV? Connecting the "Streams of Service", Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2001
Why Microvolunteering Is Not Virtual Volunteering, Ben Rigby, 20110
and see the response: Microvolunteering Is Virtual Volunteering, blog post by Jayne Cravens
The Word "Volunteer" Can Reveal, Conceal, or Confuse, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2010
"You Get What You Pay For", Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2010
"Youth Involvement" in Our Field, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2001

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the United Nations-declared "International Year of Volunteers," United Nations Volunteers (UNV) conducted an extensive research project to produce this unique overview of volunteering in 80 countries around the world. Sub-titled "Universal Values for Global Well-being," the report examines the important contributions of volunteers in diverse fields such as sustainable livelihoods, social inclusion, social cohesion and disaster risk reduction. By suggesting how volunteerism can be taken forward, the SWVR also provides an alternative vision of a better society.

Download chapter by chapter or the entire document.

, 2011, pp. 148

By Natasha Menon, Amanda Moore and Michael Sherraden, published by Center for Social Development/Global Service Institute.

, 2002, pp. 15

By Joanna Machin of the  Institute for Volunteering Research (UK) for the Voluntary Action Media Unit to identify research and information which address issues related to the image of volunteering and volunteers by the public and the media -- specific reference made to the images held by different social groups. 

, 2005, pp. 47
Ashoka - Innovators for the Public

Network of social entrepreneurs worldwide. 

Giving and Volunteering in the Americas

From the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University, this complete online journal issue contains more than 30 articles by various authors on some aspect of philanthropy, volunteering, corporate social responsibility, and more in Central and South American countries (particularly Brazil, Peru, and Mexico).

Initiatives Opposed to Volunteering

Jayne Cravens has been collecting information for years on initiatives opposed to some or all volunteering (unpaid work), or ALL kinds of volunteering, including unpaid internships at nonprofit organizations/charities. It is also a list of online and print articles about or addressing controversies regarding volunteers replacing paid staff. Most of the links are to initiatives or actions in Europe or the USA. She keeps it updated, too.

This list has been compiled to help researchers regarding volunteerism, as well as for policy makers and volunteerism advocates who want to avoid these kinds of controversies at nonprofit organizations and government agencies. This list is also compiled to refute those who believe that there are no such controversies (believe it or not, those people DO exist).

Reality Check: Volunteering Abroad / Internationally

Jayne Cravens offers a cogent look at the various ways people can volunteer outside of their home countries, comparing the different types of programs (especially those in which the volunteer pays to serve and those that do not charge; short-term and extended stays) and linking to many resources.

Print and e-Books in Our Store

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Revised in 2005, this book remains the only presentation of the full scope and depth of volunteer activity throughout three centuries of American history.

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Understand the concept and practices of virtual volunteering and integrate online service successfully into your overall volunteer involvement strategy.

Don't use the word "volunteer"? Wonder if you fit into the larger volunteer world? If you are dependent on the voluntary involvement of participants, you are part of the volunteer world. "Dimensions of Volunteering and Service" is a map of the volunteer world.  See where you fit in.

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