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~ April 2007 ~ Topics

Volunteer Involvement Enhances Social Capital in a Community - A Research Study
Volunteer Auxiliaries and Guilds - One Answer to the Fading Membership
Rapid Response Teams

Volunteer Involvement Enhances Social Capital in a Community - A Research Study

The term "social capital" is bandied about in the volunteer sector. What does it refer to and how is it related to the tasks of those who manage volunteers? Let’s start with some definitions.

Social capital is a core concept in business, economics, organizational behavior, political science, and sociology. It is defined as the advantage created by a person's location in a structure of relationships. It explains how some people gain more success in a particular setting through their connections to other people. Some political scientists use the term as identical with the idea of civil society and trust.

One writer defines it as "the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition." (Pierre Bourdieu 1986)

In real world terms it has come to mean the types of social connections, often made through membership groups, that create a network or fabric of interconnectedness between people in a community. For example, a woman belongs to a bowling league with others from businesses in the community. The connections to her, and from her to others, leads to community cohesiveness. Perhaps someone on the team is active in a political campaign, she might invite others to events for candidates, ask for donations, verbally spar with those supporting a different candidate or party.

According to Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone" and the concept's leading proponent, social capital "refers to the collective value of all 'social networks' and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other." According to Putnam and his followers, social capital is a key component to building and maintaining democracy. Putnam says that social capital is declining in the United States. This is seen in lower levels of trust in government and lower levels of civic participation. Putnam also says that television and urban sprawl have had a significant role in making America far less connected.

Social capital often comes through voluntary membership organizations, many of which have a somewhat "iffy" future. So where will social capital come from in the future?

"The Effects of Volunteering for Nonprofit Organizations on Social Capital Formation: Evidence from a Statewide Survey," is an article that seems to show that the current forms of volunteering may be replacing the historic membership organization as generators of social capital.

The study focuses on the state of Vermont and its nonprofit community, and needs to be read not as a comprehensive survey, but an interesting sample, with implications for managers of volunteers. Although, the research does agree with research done by others.

The authors express concern about the continuing decline of social capital, but chime a positive note by saying that the research shows "that volunteering for nonprofit organizations may . . .be a partial substitute for the decline of traditional membership groups." This is especially true when the organizations are religious or social service groups.

The authors conclude by saying, "It seems clear that volunteering increases the probability of feeling socially connected and achieving one's civic capacity."

What does this mean for the manager of the volunteer corps?

  • Does your organization know what social capital is and what contribution it is making?
  • Does the volunteer program measure social capital the way it measures hours X a dollar amount of contributed service?
  • Do the volunteers know about social capital and the contributions they are making?
  • Does the annual report from the volunteer program reflect that social capital is one way to measure the contribution of volunteers to the organization and the larger community in which the organization operates?

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Volunteer Auxiliaries and Guilds - One Answer to the Fading Membership

The Hendricks Regional Health Guild was organized in 1963 for the purpose of promoting the welfare of Hendricks Regional Health through service to patients and staff, through fund raising projects and to provide scholarship assistance. The Guild provided the first volunteers for Hendricks Regional Health and many members were instrumental in developing service areas.

Although organized in 1963, the Guild incorporated in 1982. With the hiring of the first Director of Volunteer Services in the 1980's, the path was set for two separate entities – the Guild and the Volunteer Services department of the facility. At the Guild's heyday – there were over 350 Guild members. But as time went by and the membership aged, membership declined with 52 active members and 59 associate members at last count in 2005.

In October 2005, a strategic planning session was held with 25 active Guild members in attendance to specifically address the future of the Guild. There was also some eye-opening discussion indicating that a majority of the Guild members did not realize that volunteering at the hospital was separate from joining the Guild. And it was with this thought in mind, that the concept of merging the two became a real possibility.

The concept was first discussed with hospital administration that encouraged the idea. There was also discussion with an attorney, who initially drew up the incorporation papers in 1982 to determine if this was a feasible solution. It was with the attorney's guidance that the concept of merging the two was presented to the Guild board. The Guild board overwhelming embraced the concept of merging the two, thus providing a viable future for the Guild with 276 members.

The Volunteer Services Department is a department of the hospital organized for the coordination of volunteer Guild efforts provided in the hospital and in hospital based programs. With an advisory board comprised of paid associates and volunteers, it is under the supervision of the Director responsible to administration.

The practical matter is that the merger of the two entities into one concept doesn't really change anything. With diminished efforts of the few remaining Guild members, the Volunteer Services office took care of the Guild duties associated with fundraising anyway. Social events had dwindled in participation and the Volunteer Services office took care of contacting the vendors, reserving space within the facility and setting up for the events.

The big changes can be summed up as follows:

  • All active volunteers will automatically be Guild members so as long as there are volunteers at Hendricks Regional Health, there will be a Guild. An associate membership category with a small dues fee is still available for those who can no longer remain active volunteers but wish to be involved with the Guild.
  • An Advisory board comprised of 11 members representing all age groups, six volunteers and five paid staff will replace the elected board with quarterly meetings. This allows for healthy communication between the paid and non-paid entities.
  • The chair of the Advisory board will always be a volunteer and that person will represent our facility at the state auxiliary association.

The entire process has been seamless to the members with little, if any, grumbling along the way. And the good news is this merger allows the facility to honor and recognize the past Guild efforts while setting the course for the future. As long as there are volunteers at Hendricks Regional Health, there will be a Hendricks Regional Health Guild.

Part three – One year later – let's check in.

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Rapid Response Teams

The radio awakens you where you hear that an issue or event has happened with potentially harmful impacts on your organization. You and the corps of volunteers need to move fast. Learn more about Rapid Response Teams (volunteers) on the Volunteer Today Training page.

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Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: Episodic Volunteering: Organizing and Managing the Short-Term Volunteer Program, (now available in downloadable PDF format) 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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