Life Cycle of Volunteer Involvement
Excerpted from from Chapter 12, "The Past Is Prologue," from By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers, New Century Edition, by Susan J. Ellis and Katherine H. Campbell (Energize, 2005).
A cyclical pattern can be discerned in the influence of volunteers on the formation of institutions and professions. First an individual or small group becomes involved in a cause. Soon 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 organization, agency, or unit of government-not because volunteers could not do the job, but because the magnitude of the work grows beyond what part-time volunteers can handle. Employees provide continuity and coordination, and so, at some stage of growth, volunteers are displaced as primary service providers. This is also the stage at which professionalization occurs. In the most mature organizations, volunteers continue to be utilized mainly as fundraisers and policy makers (boards) and in limited support roles. Frequently, by this point, the founding volunteers have moved on to other causes, to initiate the process anew.
This cycle, traceable through history, can be interpreted in several ways. One interpretation is that the ultimate measure of the success of a volunteer effort is the creation of paid positions to institutionalize that response to a need. This contradicts the convenient belief that volunteers can be used as a substitute for adequate budgeting; history proves that the greater the number of volunteers who become involved in services, the greater the chance that stable financial resources will be developed.
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Excerpted from from Chapter 12, "The Past Is Prologue," from By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers, New Century Edition, by Susan J. Ellis and Katherine H. Campbell (Energize, 2005). Found in the Energize, Inc. Online Bookstore at http://www.energizeinc.com/store/1-215-E-1