Should we re-think the structure of service?

I am exploring some ideas with colleagues about the form service takes, and how that might link to more or less community involvement. If organizations want to promote and encourage volunteerism, especially across generations, then offering up a wide variety of options seems like a good idea.

I think there are two linked issues here: location and the nature of the task.

My friend Gordon describes three pictures that come to mind when we think of ‘volunteering’: stuffing envelopes and helping with phone calls (office work), cleaning up a park and painting an office (maintenance work), or mentoring/tutoring/one-on-one relationships. We see these images on the cover of the annual report of so many non-profits—the volunteer goes somewhere and does one of these three actions and then goes home. These tasks require no particular skill set but does presume transportation, gas money and cleared roads. And for us in rural Maine, this idea of going from home to someplace else to volunteer can be a problem.

Yet there are some tasks that really benefit from a team approach, an all-hands-on-deck sort of vibe. If there are no special skills needed, then everyone can pitch in and enjoy the event, building a sense of community. These sorts of opportunities have value, and should not be discounted, but organizations need to offer up more options.
Are there tasks that could be done from home? Are they general work or have a specific skill set? What if organizations had skill-based needs; a bookkeeper, someone to design and maintain a website, or a person to do research? These could be done remotely or in person, as a one-time event or on-going. Can using technology be a better way to volunteer? What would that look like?

Would technology isolate volunteers too much? Many people engage in service to meet others, connect with friends or to integrate into a new community. Can technology also help us with the ‘connectedness’ factor? And what would that look like?

So, what do you see in your organization? What kind of service are you doing? What apps and websites address these issues?
Inquiring minds want to know!

Barbara Bixby, AmeriCorps VISTA/RPCV

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