Volunteering for what? Between formal and informal service, the quest for an impact

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If you are a volunteer with in Red Cross and Crescent Society providing first aid and emergency support, or if you give tuition classes to a child lagging behind at school, you are showing that volunteerism can make a difference. Still it is not easy to showcase and prove the impact of volunteering actions.

The quest to prove that volunteering actions are actually contributing in making society a better place depends on finding a convincing way to measure impacts.

Demonstrating that volunteerism can deliver will pave the way to a formal recognition and celebration of millions of volunteers that every single day, all around the world, strive to make a change.

The task is even more uphill given the fact that there is no one size fits all approach and it is not easy to capture the diversified and at the same time complex features of volunteerism.

We all know that there is not only one way. You can be a part- or full- time volunteer, you can serve on your own or in more formal ways through some volunteering mobilizing agencies. You can even also decide to serve in a foreign country.

This variety of approach cannot help but confirm that it is almost impossible reaching a consensus around a commonly agreed upon definition of volunteerism, inevitably complicatingfurther the big questions surrounding the impact of volunteering.

While all forms of volunteering are legitimate and all should be equally valuedwe need to recognize that dealing with many forms and dimensions of volunteering action implies the recognition that the quality of its impact varies and depends on the way it is carried out.

Consequently it is obvious that certain ways of service might ensure a higher impact than others.

Think about an informal after school support your sonmight decide to provide to the daughter of your neighbors. How do we ensure a return on what for the volunteer is a real investment in time? How could the impact of this action be fully captured?

If instead your son were engaged in a similar activity but through a specialized NGO, the conversation about impact of volunteering action would be entirely different; he would have access to training opportunities on effective coaching, he would be supported by the staff of the NGO, and he would be monitored and so on.

In both cases commitment is indispensible requisite for any volunteering action and it is often even stronger when you do it on your own simply driven by your selfless motivation.

But commitment and dedication are not enough to assess how much good volunteering is making.

Imagine a full time service experience in a school, where volunteers support teachers during the class versus a few hours a week in a volunteering coaching program.

The time availability and of course the quality of service are decisive in determining how powerful the volunteering experience is going to be.

Moreover we should not forget that right skills and competencies are always a prerequisite to any meaningful volunteering action.

Inevitably formal experiences of volunteering and then more specifically full time service opportunitiesthat often come with strong training components are more likely to achieve an impact, making them easier to monitor and evaluate.

Still it would be totally unfair recognizing and awarding these kinds of organized forms of service while neglecting those which are informal.

It is therefore imperative to highlight the special contributions of those that by choice or by default decide to volunteer without much clamor and recognition.

These services are not of “less” value than those offered by “professional” organizations mobilizing volunteers in specific areas.

Nevertheless the issue of measuring the impact of these informal, often part time service experiences remains open for discussion.

Here the big question is: is it possible to find simple and basic ways to fully recognize and acknowledge informal actions of service?

I am personally convinced that informal volunteerism must be taken fully into account and properly valued without stifling it and turning it into something that is not.

We can start by recognizing those friends, relatives who are actually doing something for others, on their own, unassumingly and without any visibility.

Celebrating volunteerism means being able to recognize the invaluable contributions of these “invisible” community builders. They are the real champions of a volunteering inspired society.



Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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