Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red | Main | citizenship: choice and duty

February 03, 2006

strengths and weaknesses of volunteer networks

As I write, I'm in my third consecutive meeting of a different volunteer network or coalition. These three networks (and others that I know) share the following features: One or more grants funds a staff, which ranges in size from less than one full-time person to a substantial secretariat. Individuals belong and devote substantial amounts of volunteer time. Organizations also belong, and some donate their employees' paid time for projects.

Although each network works differently, I think I've noticed some patterns about what volunteers will and will not do. (Here I include paid employees whose time is volunteered by their organizations):

1) Volunteers will plan and run meetings and conferences, even doing hard, detailed work on invitation lists, agendas, and menus. But they will not reliably write up the results of meetings for public distribution. After a meeting, writing feels like a chore, and there's usually no specific deadline. Therefore, many meetings leave no tangible public record.

2) Volunteers will write grant proposals, because proposals are plans that determine the work that will actually be done later on. However, they will not do the other work involved required to obtain grants, such as identifying potential funders. If they have their own contacts with foundations, most won't share them.

3) Volunteers will handle pleasant human interactions, but will avoid difficult relationships.

4) Volunteers may provide regular, written information under their own names and control, but few will contribute in a sustained way to collective writing projects. That problem can be overcome with scale but is serious in small networks.

5) Volunteers will generate wonderful ideas but are much less likely to implement them.

Posted by peterlevine at February 3, 2006 01:45 PM


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