3 reasons why I’m a National Volunteer Week skeptic

So this week coming to an end is National Volunteer Week.

My reaction? Meh.

This is why.

Volunteers need constant engagement

If organizations are drawing public (or private) attention to their volunteers and thanking them this week only, I bet they are having a hard time retaining volunteers. It’s like a romantic Valentines Day dinner when your partner is an ass the rest of the year. Doesn’t mean much.

Volunteerism doesn’t need awareness-raising

Volunteerism as a concept does not need promotion. Volunteering for specific organizations might. But drawing volunteers to an organization involves more than good promotion. It requires an organizational culture that is attuned to the changes in the expectations and interests of volunteers. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to outstanding people who are meaningfully engaging volunteers through their work – and they have few problems recruiting volunteers, and rarely need to promote.

Volunteer agencies are bad at PR

Yes, #NWV11 has had some traction on Twitter. But really, as someone who is fairly embedded within the nonprofit and volunteerism culture in Vancouver, BC and Canada, I am often surprised how rarely campaigns promoting a spirit of volunteerism reach me. I’m not saying it’s easy – I had the job of promoting engaged citizenship at SFU and it’s was a slow and tough slog. It’s hard when your target market is broad and diffuse. But these organizations are often preaching to the converted, and even then only a very small circle of the converted.


Instead, organizations tasked with the promotion of volunteerism should focus on those doing the volunteer engagement. How can you help them succeed in promoting a spirit of meaningful volunteerism within their organizations?

Let’s shift to a place where citizens are clamoring at our doors because we all are offering engaging opportunities that address the realities of the present. Volunteerism isn’t changing. It has already changed.