It’s widely acknowledged that words have power. It’s also true that the language of volunteerism and volunteer engagement has struggled to define and differentiate itself. Just look at the number of job titles we hold – volunteer coordinator, volunteer administrator, volunteer manager, volunteer development manager, volunteer engagement manager, director of volunteers, head of volunteers – and that’s before we use the word volunteering instead of volunteers! All these titles get used at different levels and with different responsibilities, meaning no consistency of terminology to describe what any of us do and are responsible for. No wonder nobody understands us!
As a profession, we need to be very clear in communicating who we are and what we do, using language as an effective influencing tool. We diminish our perceived value if we are unable to articulate the skill, potential, and impact of what we amplify, steward and create when we successfully involve. Furthermore, when we define ourselves and our work, we clarify who and what we are not, as well as what we are. This two-fold illumination gives focus to the most powerful expressions of what volunteer engagement is capable of achieving.
To that end, this Points of View presents our thoughts on the words and phrases that no longer serve the volunteer engagement profession – and, in fact, may actually hurt us. We review and present new ways to communicate about our field. Beyond the simplistic and basic, we argue that a committed and consistent change in the language used by leaders of volunteers could be transformative for us all.
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