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Choices in Volunteerism: “Social Glue or Individual Toy”*

Nancy Macduff
Macduff/Bunt Associates
Washington State University
821 Lincoln St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362

509-529-0244
FAX 509-529-8865
mba@bmi.net

Mary V. Merrill

marymerrill@merrillassociates.net
www.merrillassociates.net

Abstract
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There is little doubt that systemic social changes are altering volunteerism,

from the direct service volunteer to the boardroom, nothing seems the same as a

decade ago. Volunteers are providing shorter service to organizations through

episodic service (Macduff 2004, Hustinx & Lammertyn 2003, Weber 2002, Dietz

1999). Ample evidence, both academic and from practitioner literature, says

episodic volunteers are here to stay and will likely grow in number over the next

few years. (Macduff 2004, Hustinx & Lammertyn 2003, Weber 2002, Hustinx

2000, Dietz 1999)

The shorter service given by volunteers is not the only change sending

tremors through the nonprofit and voluntary sector. Churches, fraternal

organizations (Elks), museums, disaster preparedness efforts, and homeless

shelters are feeling the wind of change. Volunteers are striking out on their own

to design positions, sometimes without the benefit of a sponsoring or parent

group or organization. 1000 volunteers patrol the borders in Arizona and

Washington State and Japan has more than 500,000 volunteers doing police

patrols, doctors pick up and go to disaster areas and just start treating people,

mega churches are eroding the volunteer base of more traditional

denominations, and the for profit sector is finding a rich source of volunteer help

to carry out its money making mandates. (Walker 2004) In view of the

outpouring of volunteer response to Hurricane’s Katrina and the tsunami of

Southeast Asia, it is as if Red Cross and the Salvation Army did not exist.

Individuals flew helicopters to pluck people off roof tops, they packed medical

equipment and set up shop in Sri Lankan villages, or created Web based
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services to help those on the ground solve problems governments and NGOs

were not. This behavior on the part of volunteers appears to be the

“disappearance of a sense of history” for the third sector. Organizations are

losing touch with their traditions due to the demands of the volunteer

marketplace. (Irvine, 1998) Volunteers are no longer willing to play by the top-

down model of volunteering, or wait to be trained to provide a needed service.

There seems to be ample theoretical and empirical evidence to suggest

that the changes in volunteerism are but a reflection of the changes in all of

society. (Hustinix 2003, Beck 1994, Giddens 1994) This “sliding” revolution is

driven by changes in such things as the changes in gender roles accumulation of

wealth, job security as a ancient history, and technology as a permanent part of

everyday life. There is a demise of social institutions –church, fraternal and civic

clubs--, and a difference in the nature of problems faced by individuals. (Giddens

1994, Hustinx & Lammertyn 2003)

A growing group of social historians, theologians, sociologists assert that

the postmodern era rolled into town and the fabric of society underwent quiet, but

nonetheless dramatic changes. Some people believe we are in a “post modern

turn” moving inexorably between the modern era and the post modern. (Best and

Kellner 2005; About Postmodernism 2005), while others believe that the modern

era is gone with post modernism in its place, creating a crisis in ideology (Irvine

1998). It does seem clear that these social shifts have altered how people

volunteer.

Why are the “new” ways of volunteering drawing attention by managers of


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volunteer programs and the media. It is likely the definition of volunteers created

in the last half of the 20th century has dramatically altered. The language

associated with volunteer service reflects virtues as selflessness, altruism,

service to others, compassion, purpose, and virtue, which perpetuates a

collective (modern era) vision of volunteers as warm, kind, compassionate

people, and is often associated with a Judeo-Christian belief of faith based

service to “widows and orphans.” Many religious congregations – protestant,

Catholic, Jewish or Muslin – promote traditional approaches to helping those in

need through direct service. It is the model of the Sermon on the Mount. Mega-

churches provide elaborate, professional services, such as day care centers,

counseling and housing services, or retirement and community centers, and

religious services are an “event.” Others provide simple, basic services such as

food pantries and clothing drives.

In a study of the activities of nonprofit organizations in 32 countries, sixty

percent of the paid and volunteer workforce engaged in service functions, with

education and social services the dominant service functions. Six percent of the

workforce was engaged in civic, advocacy or environmental activities. Seventy-

nine percent of the paid employees and volunteers in the nonprofit sector (civil

society workforce) in the United States engaged in service activities (Salamon,

Sokolowski, List, 2003).

Perhaps there is something personally comforting in acknowledging the

work of individuals or groups who alleviate human pain, and perform personal

acts of compassion. Citizens can identify on a personal level and find it affirming
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that helping a fellow citizen is something each individual can do. But, the social

environment for volunteers does not resemble the social environment of the

1950s when so many tasks carried out by volunteers were created.

Post Modernism and Volunteerism—

The term post modernism appears in some literature as early as the 1920s,

in relation to art (Dada movement) and literature (existentialism). Hispanic/Latino

poetry of the 1930s was referred to as postmodern. (Wikipedia 2005, Newall

2005). Post modernism emerged as an academic discipline in the 1980s.

(Colorado). Several authors agree that trying to define the term post modernism

is challenging as it appears in many disciplines; art, architecture, music, film,

literature, sociology, communication, fashion, and technology. (Klages 2003)

Perhaps the easiest way to define it is by comparison to the modern era.

The post modern era rejects the “old order” of the modern era throwing out the

rules and boundaries set in the Victorian age. Instead of regimentation and

social order there is ambiguity, fragmentation, and self-consciousness (Klages

2003)

Hustinx and Lammertyn (2003) developed a chart to help distinguish the

differences between classic (traditional or modern) volunteerism and the new

(reflexive or postmodern forms of volunteering. (See Appendix 1.)

The postmodern era rejects “overarching explanations” (meta-narratives)

(Preston 2000, Postmodernism: a definition. 2005 ) There are different ways of

“knowing” things. Marxism, socialism, capitalism are no longer seen as the only

narratives. The narratives of the postmodern era are characterized by


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contradictions and instabilities. (Klages 2003). Society is seen as an aggregate

of pieces. There are no universalities, everything is provisional, temporary,

situational. There are no claims to stability, truth, or reason. (Klages 2003).

This view of the world would seem to explain why people want episodic volunteer

experiences. For example, people who used to depend on family, now depend

on those with whom they have no blood relations. (Klages 2003, Hustinx and

Lammertyn 2003, Beck, 1994, Giddens, 1994)

Most authors writing about the shifts in the social order, arts, religion,

politics, concur that a deep monumental change, with far reaching consequences

is happening and there is no turning back, it is irreversible. (About

Postmodermism 2005; Hustinix 2003)If you compare current volunteer patterns

with the traditional volunteer experience in a continuous service, usually lifelong

form, present day volunteers are sporadic, temporary and non-committal.

(Hustinx 2003) Life in the 21st Century is characterized by a time of “incessant

choosing.” (Irvine 1998)

But, the amount of time given is not the only place where volunteerism is

changing. How people are volunteering is shifting into new and uncharted

territory. People are leaving behind the security of familiar, habitual, and

established ways of serving. (Best & Kellner 2005). Local, religious, and ethnic

connections drive the care for community (Hustinx 2003). People are engaging

in new forms of identity: political and cultural. (Best & Kellner 2005) The

postmodern era is one where experiences and forms of living are at contest with

previously accepted modes of thought and behavior. There are new ways of
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living and seeing. (Best & Kellner 2005)

The instability of the postmodern era means that volunteers want activities

to be spectacular and entertaining, and that is just to keep them involved.

(Hustinx 2003). The individual is making up experiences that are situational,

provisional, and short lived. (Klages 2003)

The new forms of volunteering are driven by activities that satisfy individual

preferences and needs. No area of action is excluded in the possibility of ways

to volunteer. (Hustinx 2003) The volunteer sees him/herself as autonomous,

picking and choosing not based on directives of the organization, but rather,

personal choice and motives. (Hustinx 2003)

These new forms of volunteering are examples of the core values of

postmodern volunteerism. ( Klages 2003, About Postmodernism 2005)

Core Values of Post Modernism


• Focus on activities that are local, limited, and partial—but very

effective

• Sensitivity to context

• A subjective, values laden experience

• An alternative to the global and grand

• Skepticism of certainty

• Acknowledgement that togetherness is rare and elusive

Volunteer Activities

A review of news stories, Internet resources, and the reports of managers

of volunteer programs seems to suggest that there are three relatively new forms
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of volunteering: vigilante, serendipitous, and entrepreneurial. Their existence

creates challenges for nonprofit organizations and volunteer programs. In many

case activities are done outside the framework of existing nonprofit and voluntary

organizations. And those who try to design their own volunteer positions within

organizations can be discouraged or thwarted.

The definitions and examples deal with volunteer actions across a broad

range of activities, and are related more closely to motivating forces and

ideologies rather than types of activities.

Vigilante Volunteers: The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a vigilante as a

self-appointed doer of justice.

The history of settling the frontier in the United States is filled with stories

of vigilantism. where the lack of existing courts or government structure led

citizens to fill the vacuum.

Vigilantes considered themselves public spirited – even when their actions


became extreme. . . Americans felt there were certain functions in
preserving public order that the legal authorities would not, could not, or
should not be expected to perform. These functions the people
themselves assumed as vigilantes. (Ellis & Noyes, 1990, p. 55)

The mining camps of the west developed elaborate systems of self-

government through a vigilante approach.

The early Vigilantes were the best and most intelligent men in the mining
regions. They saw and felt that, in the absence of all law, they must
become a "law unto themselves," or submit to the bloody code of the
banditti by which they were surrounded, and which were increasing in
numbers more rapidly than themselves…. The brave and faithful conduct
of the Vigilantes furnishes an example of American character… and
showed in every act a love for law, order, and for the moral and social
virtues in which they had been educated, and a regard for our free
institutions. (Langsford, 1890)
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Vigilantism was not limited to the Wild West. The Abington Horse

Association was formed in 1847 in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to patrol

neighbor’s pastures from horse thieves. They pursued rustlers, posted rewards

and provided monetary compensation for member’s horses that were not

recovered. This group and many like it served as a vigilante group and a mutual

insurance society. (Ellis & Noyes, 1990)

Justice as a community affair continues to exist today in the form of

vigilante volunteers who regard themselves as self-appointed doers of good.

They act outside of the boundaries of organized or formalized volunteer

programs, often outside of or on the fringe of the law, with an intense personal

desire to do justice, their way, through right actions.

The Internet, a new frontier, has given rise to a variety of vigilante


volunteer efforts. ‘Internet vigilantes have launched a 48-hour bandwidth
attack against spammers who allegedly defraud people online’(Llett,
2005).
Based in a belief that existing forms of justice cannot adequate protect
against the spamming, hacking and internet fraud, self organized groups
of vigilante volunteers have take it upon themselves to seek out offenders
and impose justice. ‘We have the right to self-help - and yes, it's
vigilantism’ (Schwarau, 1999).

The growth of online chat rooms and Internet pornography sites has lead

to the growth of a new type of online vigilante.

‘We call them vigilante sites,’ said Sgt. Dave Jones of the San Diego
Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Jones
said there are ‘tons’ of sites like Perverted Justice, where staff enter chat
rooms posing as young girls or boys and engage adult men who may be
looking for sex with minors (McKay, 2004).

A danger with all vigilante volunteers is that their methods for dealing with
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justice can become problems as they work outside of legitimate law enforcement

systems.

‘Our mission at Perverted-Justice.com (PJ) is very clear,’ says PJ's


ultimate authority figure. ‘We go after online predators. One of the largest
things we demand is civility and carrying yourself in a professional manner
when it comes to 'the law. If a contributor is doing something I believe
breaks the law, I remove the contributor.’ Although Perverted-Justice has
managed to snare several of what appear to be genuine, honest-to-God
pedophiles, what most of its victims are guilty of is sleazy conversation, of
entertaining a fantasy about having sex with a young girl (a.k.a. the ‘Lolita
complex’). This has grown into something quite dangerous. They are
using vigilante tactics and anonymity to destroy people's lives. . .
.Referring to the fact that PJ hides its own members' identities with a
vengeance and broadcasts the identities of its victims with that same zeal
(Buchanan, 2004).

Perhaps the most public example of the modern day doers of justice is the

Minutemen Project that was organized in April 2005 by a retired California

Certified Public Accountant, Jim Gilchrist, to provide a civilian volunteer boarder

patrol for the Arizona-Mexico boarder, thus drawing national attention to the

inability of the US government to secure the boarder and stem the flow of illegal

immigrants. By June the Minutemen boasted 15,000 members who were

expanding their border patrol efforts to other states.

The Minutemen are a group of volunteer vigilantes who have been


patrolling the US-Mexican border in an attempt to prevent migrants from
crossing. . . Now the Minutemen have plans to move up to the US-
Canadian border, but migrant-rights groups are getting ready to confront
them. (CKUT Radio, 2005)
The idea spawned a similar group in Washington State, where the

problem is not illegal immigration, but guns, drugs, and organized crime. (Walla

Walla Union Bulletin 2005). Described as vigilantes, racists, and dangerous, this

volunteer movement that calls itself a “giant neighborhood watch” (Carroll, 2005)

has grown to at least 40 anti-immigration groups throughout the country


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(Mansfield, 2005).

It is important to note that this type of zealous volunteering is not limited to

the United States. Japan has 520,000 volunteer patrols in 8000 organizations

across the country. Some patrols ride around with blue lights on their vehicles to

publicize their presence. With no training and no authority, it appears the

volunteer patrols are making a dent in crime, with neighborhoods safer.

Volunteers are often the first to respond to current events and social

problems. In the history of volunteer movements, what begins as an all-volunteer

effort often becomes an institutionalized program. Vigilante volunteers may be

viewed as on the cutting edge of challenges that are facing society.

The commissioner of the United States Customs and Border Protection is


considering the option of using auxiliary patrol along the U.S. borders.
Commissioner Robert C. Bonner says, “It is actually as a result of seeing
that there is the possibility in local boarder communities, and maybe even
beyond, of having citizens that would be willing to volunteer to help the
Boarder Patrol. We value having eyes and ears of citizens, and I think
would be one of the things we are looking at is how you better organize a
citizen effort.” (Maher, 2005)

Serendipitous Volunteers: Serendipity is associated with a spontaneous,

impulsive action that often leads to an unexpected benefit. The Merriam Webster

Dictionary defines serendipity as the phenomena of finding valuable or agreeable

things not sought for.

Serendipity is a term coined by Horace Walpole, in his fairy-tale The

Three Princes of Serendip, where the heroes were always making discoveries

by accident. (Oxford English Dictionary).

--- you don't reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out
in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings ... serendipitously.
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( Barth, 1999)

Serendipitous Volunteers, like the heroes of the Persian Fairy Tale, The

Three Princes of Senendip, enjoy – actually value – the happy and unexpected

discoveries they receive though spontaneous adventures (showing up, helping

and assisting). They are motivated by the personal reward that occurs

accidentally through unplanned activities.

Political campaigns have always attracted large number of volunteers. Most

are passionate about the political process, the candidate or the issues. In 2002

followers, mostly young people, began to coalesce around a candidate, Howard

Dean, who engaged the Internet to change the way political campaigns had been

run in the past. Volunteers began to “show up” at the campaign headquarters or

became self-appointed directors of one of the more that 900 local Dean groups.

. . . The point is to give people something to believe in, and to connect those
people to one another. . . Dean supporters do not drive 200 miles through 10
inches of snow to see a political candidate or a representative of his staff.
They drive that far to see each other. . . The brilliance of the campaign is that
it is leaving behind a community. (Shapio, 2004, p. 59)
Buzz Marketing is an advertising strategy that relies on word of mouth

campaigns, rather than television or billboard ads, to promote and sell products.

In the last few years marketing firms have recruited thousands of volunteers to

sell products through informal conversations. A sausage campaign organized by

a small company in Boston engaged 2000 volunteers over three months and

boosted sales by 100 percent in some stores. This Boston marketing firm “has

more than 60,000 volunteer agents in its network (Walker, 2004).

Karen Bollaert was among the firm’s earliest agents, and became on of its
most effective. . . Bollaert puts in between 5 and 10 hours week talking up
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products and writing reports about her activities. . . What made her bother to
volunteer with BzzAgent? First, she gets the chance to sample new products
shortly before they hit the stores, so she get to feel a bit like an insider.
Second, she has always liked to give people her opinion about what she’s
reading or what products she’s using, and BzzAgents givers her more to talk
about. Third, if she does like something, then telling other people is helpful to
them. So, participating is both a chance to weigh in and be heard, and also
something close to an act of altruism. (Walker, 2004)
The New York Times stories about the Dean campaign volunteers and the

buzz marketing volunteers exemplify the type of spontaneous, impulsive

volunteerism that leads to unexpected benefits that ultimately encourage

individuals to continue a pattern of serendipitous volunteering.

Numerous examples of serendipitous, spontaneous volunteerism have

occurred in 2005 in response to natural catastrophes. Immediately following the

Asian Tsunami disaster there was an outpouring of individual efforts to provide

comfort and relief. Rebecca O’Connor, a pediatric nurse from New York, felt

immediately compelled to help. She contacted the Red Cross and other

international relief agencies to learn that only trained, experience volunteers were

eligible. Undaunted, she persisted in her desire to assist. Working with the Sri

Lankan Consulate, local television stations and a major airline, she became part

of an nine member medical team on a two-week medical relief trip to Sri Lanka.

In her personal account of the experience, she writes:

It seemed that the most valuable therapy we were providing had nothing to
do with antibiotics or wound care. By listening to story after heartbreaking
story, admiring pictures of families once happy and healthy, and playing
soccer with children who lost everything, we were able to say, ‘We care about
you and we share in your grief,’ without speaking a word. (O’Connor, 2005, p.
18)
This type of spontaneous volunteerism occurred thousands of times following

hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Posting began to occur on Craigtlist.org the day
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Katrina reached land, offering housing and assistance and a forum was formed

to help find missing people. Churches, companies and individuals loaded

supplies into trucks and cars and headed for Mississippi and New Orleans.

Others went onto the Internet and created services such as PeopleFinder..

This group of technology volunteers brought together dozens of separate lists of

missing people in the southeastern US following the hurricane, into a seamless

whole for search purposes. Before buses arrived to move hurricane victims to the

Astrodome in Houston volunteers with digital cameras were gathering in Houston

to take photos of individuals in the shelter to post on the web to help families

reconnect. The effort was a joint project of individuals who moved Internet and

Web based businesses to cooperate and make it possible. No one told them

what to do, or how to do it. (REDHerring: The Business of Technology, Web

News, September 7, 2005)

In the days immediately following the earthquake in Afghanistan,

TechSoup.org began online discussions of how to use the same type of

programming that was used in Houston to build systems to reconnect families in

Afghanistan. These serendipitous volunteers jump into action in totally

unconventional ways, and receive benefits that are highly personal and

unexpected.

A similar endeavor was undertaken to provide Internet and personal

services via the Internet to managers of volunteer programs. The people

involved undertook the effort when it became clear that the professional

association for managers of volunteers chose not to do more than put links on
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their Web site. The “spontaneous” effort included links, but also created a

secured chat area (carefully monitoring who had access) for anyone managing

volunteers who wanted to “talk” about the experience or get professional advice

from some of North America’s preeminent trainers in the management of

volunteers. The group of practitioners, scholars, and trainers also organized a

Respite Service, recruiting managers of volunteers willing to go to the disaster

area to give overworked colleagues a break to tend to their own homes and

families. No one approved the activities, dictated tasks, or controlled this group

of spontaneous volunteers (Macduff, 2005)

As the incidences of serendipitous or spontaneous volunteering increases,

it is interesting to note that the tracking of this informal form of volunteering is

decreasing. The Independent Sector stopped counting those engaged in informal

volunteering in 1999. The U.S. Department of Labor’s annual survey of

volunteerism only considers those individuals who are engaged in formalized

volunteering activities.

Entrepreneurial Volunteers: Entrepreneurs organize, manage and assume the

risks of a business or undertaking. They create new businesses, develop/invent

new products or processes, or bring new products to market.

Public entrepreneurs are rare men and women who possess the
same exceptional levels of vision, creativity and determination that
allow top business entrepreneurs to create new industries.
However they devote these qualities to introducing new solutions to
social problems’ -- social problems such as poverty, protection of
human rights, public education and health services, regenerating
the environment, and constructing economies that serve people,
rather than the other way around. (Meadows, 1997)
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The PeopleFinder software system was created by volunteers and is an

excellent example of spontaneous and entrepreneurial volunteerism. The

Internet and World Wide Web allow people to solve problems, create processes,

and address issues and no nonprofit or volunteer program need to be involved.

Social entrepreneurs find what's not working, spread the solution, change the

system from within, and persuade whole societies to change for the better.

(Institute for Humane Studies, 2005)

Entrepreneurial Volunteers are self-motivated to innovate, change, create

– construct new systems and solutions to existing problems. Like a tinkerer they

have a desire to adjust and experiment with new approaches, products and

services. Their internal drive thrives on the challenge of making something new

work.

Dr. Jack McConnell founded Volunteers in Medline following his


retirement to Hilton Head Island, North Carolina. He quickly discovered
the lack of adequate primary health care in neighboring counties. He
enlisted other retired doctors and nurses to donate a few hours per week,
he worked with the state legislature to develop a special license for
volunteer doctors and he negotiated low cost malpractice insurance. By
1994 Volunteers in Medicine was a full service clinic staffed by retired
physicians, nurses, dentists and chiropractors, as well as nearly 150 lay
volunteers. The clinic treated 16,000 patients in 2000 and there are now
15 similar clinics operating around the county (McConnell, 201)

The Human Service Alliance began as a experiment by a small group of


people in Winston Salem, North Carolina who believed that everyone can
and will make a difference if given the opportunity and place to make it
happen. They began an all-volunteer organizations to care for the
terminally ill and to provide respite care for children with developmental
disabilities. What began as a small group of 15 volunteers had grown to
more than 300 volunteers by 1995. They were operating a Care for the
Terminally Ill Project, the Respite Care Project, the Health and Wellness
Project and in the process of building a hospice center. They were
featured on the Public television (PBS) series Visionaries, were
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recognized as a daily Point of Light by President George Bush, and have


been replicated in other states and countries. (Kilpatrick & Danziger,
1996)

Drew Curtis turned a personal Website designed to share curry recipes

with friends into a Website that posts hundreds of news headlines per day by

designing an automated system for posting 10-12 headlines at intervals through

the day. Fark.com is one of the most popular websites on the Internet, recording

over 400 million page viewers in 2004. Drew’s entire income comes from the

advertisers eager to put their products and services before the millions of viewers

interested in the weird, quirky stories highlighted on his site. (Merrill, 2005)

In 2000 Ethan Zuckerman founded the Geekcorps, described as a


nonprofit moving at the speed of the Internet, to place technical volunteers
in developing country to assist with small start up companies. Zuckerman
recognized that some volunteers were not interested in long-term
volunteer assignments like the Peace Corp and thus created a new
program to fit the short term, project based work style of a younger
generations. (Merrill, 2005)

Free Geek was founded in 2000 by a group of technology volunteers who

were interested in environmentally safe recycling of used computer. This original

concept has grown into a 501(c)(3) organizations to recycle computer technology

and provide low and no-cost computing to individuals and not-for-profit and social

change organizations in the community. In four years Free Geek recycled over

360 tons of electron scrap and refurbished over 3,000 computer systems that are

now in use by individuals and organizations in the community (Free Geek, 2005).

Their community technology center engages paid staff and volunteers to recycle

donations, test parts and rebuild new computers. Ohio and Michigan are

currently developing Free Geek organizations.


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Many of the social institutions in the United States, including hospitals,

colleges, libraries, town government, service agencies and advocacy groups are

the results of entrepreneurial volunteers.

First an individual or small group becomes involved in a cause. Some


other volunteers are brought in, and strategies are developed to take
specific actions. Once the activity gains momentum, the group seeks
funding, to support both the cost of materials and other expenses.
Employees become necessary as the group evolves into an organizations
or agency . . . not because volunteers could not do the job, but because
the magnitude of the work grows beyond what part-time volunteers can
handle. (Ellis & Noyes, 1990)

Conclusion

The evidence of systemic changes in the nature of volunteerism is no

longer theory, ample evidence exists that volunteering is moving into forms not

traditionally associated with the commonly held views of volunteerism in the last

100 years: episodic service, spontaneity, meeting personal needs first, and

disdaining the rules and order of the past. Ignoring these winds of change

portend the demise of organizations and programs. Much as the fraternal

associations (Elks, Foresters, etc.) have seen dramatic drops in membership, the

same might be true of existing nonprofits, if they are unwilling to restructure to

accommodate the newer forms of volunteering. (Macduff, Hanson Anderson,

Pirtle, 2000)

Over the past 100 years organizations and institutions have formalized

volunteering. Funding requirements, legal concerns and risk management

issues have increasing led to more formal structures and systems that often

confine the work of volunteers within limited parameters. While vigilante

volunteers, serendipitous volunteers and entrepreneurial volunteers may not be


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entirely new phenomenon, the increase and the widespread variations in these

forms of engagement reflects an increasing interest by volunteers to work outside

of the formalized systems and have more personalized, individualized

experiences.

Recent volunteering trends, from the development of the Move On political

action organization, to the Dean political campaign, to the multitude of volunteer

efforts that have responded to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, indicate a citizenry

that is waiting to be engaged in meaningful, challenging work. They use

technology to self organize, recruit, and engage other volunteers. They are not

shying away from hard work or difficult situations.

Reorganization can mean revitalization for volunteer organizations and

programs that are currently struggling to find the same type of volunteers they

have been recruiting for decades. And this process needs to be done while

maintaining the traditional programs for existing volunteers. Lesley Hustinx says,

“. . .the choice appears to be between social glue and individual toy.” (Hustinx

2003)

The academic community can help in this endeavor by studying the new

types of volunteering. Much of the current research on motivation, participation,

and recognition are taken from groups of traditional volunteers in traditional

programs. Researchers need to analyze data by type of volunteer. No one

would think of applying research done on full time workers to those who

telecommute. The same thing is true of volunteers. There are as many

incarnations of volunteering as there are of ways in which people can do paid


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work. And managers of volunteers and organizational leaders need to

understand the needs and motivations of the post modern volunteer, as much as

they do the traditional one.

Perhaps the most significant research that can be undertaken by joint

efforts of practitioners and academics is that of the impact of reflexive volunteer

activity on community. Much has been written bemoaning the loss of civil society

due to the waning interest in traditional volunteer involvement in civic clubs and

organizations. Perhaps it is time to examine communities with widespread

postmodern forms of volunteering and analyze involvement. And the measuring

sticks need to reflect the other changes in society. Why measure civic

engagement against a 1950’s yardstick, when other institutions (political,

economic, educational, etc.) of the community are different, too.

Is it too early to suggest that the “civil” society of the 21st century might not

look like that of the 20th century? Do the new forms of volunteering build a sense

of community in a horizontal plane, where more people know more about

everything? Assuming that episodic, vigilante, spontaneous, and entrepreneurial

volunteers are bad for society is making a decision before the data is collected.

Could it be that it is nonprofits and volunteer programs that are stifling the way in

which people volunteer and that is what is killing civil society?


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Appendix 1

Classic Volunteerism New Volunteerism


Culture o Identifies with o Individualization
traditional cultural norms
Choice of Organization o Based on: o Personal Interest
 Traditional cultural o Weak ties
identifies o Decentralized
 Great loyalty structure
 Delegated leadership o Loose networks
 Solid structure
Choice of field of action o Based on: o Perception of new
 Traditional cultural biographical similarities
identities o Taste for topical
 Inclusion and issues
exclusion o Dialogue between
global and local
Choice of activity o Based on: o Balance between
 Traditional cultural personal preference and
identities organization’s needs
 Needs of the o Cost/benefit
organization analysis
 Idealism o Pragmatic
Length and intensity of o Long term (unlimited o Short term (clearly
commitment in time limited in time)
o Regular o Irregular or erratic
o Unconditional o Conditional
Relationship with the o Unilateral, o Reciprocal
beneficiary ‘altruistic’, ‘selfless’
Used by permission of Voluntary Action
22

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