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~ June 2006 ~ Topics

New Forms of Volunteering - Entrepreneur and Occasional/Serendipity

New Forms of Volunteering - Entrepreneur and Occasional/Serendipity

The Multi-Paradigm Volunteer Management Model is based on the writings of Ellen Netting and Mary Katherine O'Connor in the book, "Organization Practice: A Social Worker's Guide to Understanding Human Services." The book visits the various theories of organizational management and behavior that have guided supervisors and managers for decades. The authors move beyond the past and into the demands of working with people who come to the work environment with different life experience and expectations for the organization. Working effectively with the post-modern worker is the aim of the book.

The applicability of this model to the world of volunteerism is apparent. For what is the person who works with volunteers but someone who leads and manages people to achieve a goal or mission, rather than working for pay. Working with Mary Merrill and Nancy Macduff the authors of "Organization Practice," developed a model that illustrates the many ways in which people are choosing to volunteer and it further suggests strategies to work effectively with those different types of volunteers.

In the first decades of the 21st century it is increasingly clear that the traditional type of volunteer is only one way in which people are choosing to serve, so the modern manager of volunteers needs to be versatile in carrying out their human resource tasks.

The literature on the management of volunteers for the last forty years has emphasized the importance of applying human resource management techniques to the organization and implementation of a volunteer work force. Having more people take non-traditional types of volunteer positions does not change the need to apply those same principles, it merely suggests that the actual management strategy will be different, depending on the type of volunteer.

Managers of volunteers still need to assess needs, design tasks or service expectations, gather background information on the volunteer, reach out to recruit the right people for the position, communicate with them, keep records, measure impact (quantitative and qualitative), evaluate, and recognize. But, implementation of those human resource strategies is different based on the motivation and needs of the type of volunteer.

Below is a grid that provides a model of the various types of volunteers. You might want to print it for reference as you read the rest of this article. It is important to note that there are no absolutes in terms of type. At the bottom of the top two and bottom two boxes there is a continuum line. People can be in the extreme of a type or more toward the middle. The grid is a means to visualize the different choices people are making in their volunteer life.

For those of you familiar with the Myers/Briggs Type Inventory the types are listed in the boxes where a significant number of people might be attracted to those types of positions who have a specific Myers/Briggs Type.

This month's Volunteer Today carries the second article on the new types of volunteers: the Occasional or Serendipity and Entrepreneur volunteer are discussed.

The Entrepreneur

The entrepreneur is a person who wants to implement change or impact a problem in a personal way, believing there are no absolutes and that knowledge is soft, subjective and there are probably a million ways to do things. A good example of an entrepreneur volunteer is the creator of the computer operating systems called Linux. It was founded by a volunteer who enlisted other volunteers to write code...all for no money. These volunteers stepped in to offer an alternative to the existing computer operating system monopolies, in part. But, likely the biggest motivator was the challenge. Commitment came from the opportunity to provide a lasting contribution to the world of computing...with no expectation of wealth or fame. I suspect you do not even know the name of the man who created the Linux operating system. (Linus Torvalds).

This computer programming volunteer did not ask permission to do what he did, he simply did it, but without fanfare or notoriety (something often part of the vigilante agenda—even if it is limited to creating waves inside the organization).

Advocacy volunteers are entrepreneurial as they tackle local or neighborhood problems working from the small and seemingly insignificant to solving real problems or creating something entirely new.

In faith organizations there is a move toward home churches, similar to the home schooling movement. Small groups (only enough people that can be accommodated in a private home) are in a faith group that is led by lay people. The goal is not to get big, but stay small and very personal, with members providing spiritual support to one another through worship and other activities. Some established churches have embraced this notion and actually prepare people to form and lead the groups. (The Southern Baptists, for example). These are volunteers inventing as they go with creativity and changing existing notions about "church."

This is a volunteer that is guided, but not dictated to or "lead." These are often leaders in their own right, who want to make a contribution and know the resources and support needed to make it happen. Their judgments are more subjective and views of life are more subjective, than vigilantes. They are not absolutists, but those who see many ways to do the same thing.

As with the vigilante, many organizations are nervous about this "loose cannon" approach to volunteerism, but the entrepreneur volunteer has contributions that could be invaluable to an organization. What follows are some tips on how to manage this type of volunteer.

Tips for Managing the Entrepreneur Volunteer:

  • This volunteer needs lots of freedom to create and create and create. Do not crowd them.
  • Develop a system to provide for "instant certification," so the individual can immediately go to work. During Hurricane Katrina and Rita in the US, computer folks went to work setting up computers in shelters so evacuees could check on Web sites for loved ones, and keep in touch with those in other locations. It was done quietly and quickly, and with little permission or approval from existing agencies. One wonders how much easier it would have been for all parties if the disaster relief organizations had pulled this effort under their collective umbrellas? Or maybe it would not have happened while volunteers waited for permission to proceed?
  • Keep rules and oversight to a minimum. The home church movement has few "have-to's," but loads of suggestions for ends—"have a feast, talk about God, enjoy others, opportunity to pray." The conventional position description and 45 page volunteer handbook is out. Flexibility is in!
  • Support for this type of volunteer might come in the form of a mentor. Someone familiar with the organization who has a long history and understanding of the group, but might have been an entrepreneur in the past.

Occasional or Serendipity Volunteer

The Occasional Volunteer believes in the subjective and natural. Rigidity and rules are not for them. They frequently create their own volunteer opportunities without benefit of organization, sanction from authority, and with an eye to what works for "people." There approach to volunteer work is qualitative. Harmony among people working on a project is the most important.

These are volunteers who work each year on an event or project—a auction, fun run, clean the beach, paint the fences, clear the underbrush in a park, etc. They come to see the same people or come with a group that has been doing the same task for years. And there approach is usually loose and casual. Sometimes this volunteer takes on a short-term project-but one with not much infrastructure. They often balk at chairing committees, choosing to organize loosely and work in a value and "people-centered" fashion. This leader is rarely into rules, but relies on faith in others to complete the project. There looseness can drive a manager of volunteers or executive director to babbling in hallways.

In faith institutions this type of volunteer forms groups that are within the institution but are an alternative to mainstream activities. Unlike the entrepreneur who creates an entirely new entity (home churches, for example), the occasional volunteer believes in the social orderliness of life and is content to stay within the framework of the faith institution, but with a bit less rigidity. The Episcopal Church, for example, has a new "Bono" communion service that utilizes the lyrics and music of the musician, Bono.

Tips for Managing the Occasional Volunteer:

  • If they express an interest in volunteering, do not whip out a position description. These folks are all about affect. Have a conversation with them about the tasks of interest to them, the types of things volunteers do, what the organization needs from its volunteers in the way of service.
  • Keep paper work and rules discussions to a minimum.
  • If possible, reduce the requirements for check-in or application. If it is necessary, be sure to explain, in person, why this is so important for the people or the cause being served.
  • The best tasks or service for the occasional volunteer are those where volunteers do the same tasks and can visit with one another while they work.
  • Be sure to say thanks as these volunteers do their work.


Types of Volunteer Activity
Turn Theory Into the Types of Tasks or Services Different People Find Attractive

  • There are no "absolute" ways to accomplish a mission.
  • These volunteers create their own opportunities.
  • Have the capacity to create, change and interpret needs and make dramatic shifts in the world.
  • Qualitative approaches to this volunteer often work.
  • Change and action are a motivator.
  • Realize that doing new things can be messy.


"Vigilante Volunteer"

  • Volunteers who identify needs and move to gather others through an organized effort to address the issue.
  • Advocacy volunteers who organize others in a structured program to address issues in a dynamic manner.
  • Faith volunteers who move outside the traditional institutions, establishing new institutional structures to reflect their beliefs.


Radical humanist
Radical structuralist
"Occasional or Serendipity"
  • There are no "absolute" ways to accomplish a mission.
  • These volunteers create their own opportunities.
  • Volunteers want to create and change the world.
  • Qualitative measures are more important than quantitative.
  • Consensus is important to the volunteer experience.
  • Service is provided in a loose and unstructured manner.


"The Traditional Volunteer Program"

  • Hospital volunteers who serve on regular schedules.
  • Volunteers who serve on boards and committees in an active capacity.
  • Temporary episodic volunteers who work through organizational structures to provide services.
  • Volunteers active in an organized and established faith community.



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Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: Episodic Volunteering: Organizing and Managing the Short-Term Volunteer Program, by Nancy Macduff and The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions, by Mary Kay Hood.

Details for Episodic Volunteering Book Details for One Miinue Answer Book


The Points of Light Foundation has forms available to nominate volunteers and volunteer organizations for the Daily Points of Light Award. It is designed recognize individuals and groups that demonstrate unique and innovative approaches to community volunteering and citizen action, with a strong emphasis on service focused on the goals for children and young people set by the Presidents Summit for American's Future. The award is given five days a week, excluding holidays. If you would like nomination forms, call 202-729-8000.


By calling 1-800-VOLUNTEER in the U.S., individuals can be connected to their local volunteer center. This is a national interactive call routing system designed to get volunteers connected to people who can help them volunteer.

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