Using “I wonder…” to develop high impact volunteer opportunities

The word “volunteer” usually conjures up an image of a person in a helping role – reading to children, serving at a soup kitchen, stuffing thank you letters. While these activities play important roles, they miss out on a segment of volunteers interested in using their minds more than their hands.


As a director of the Canadian Women Voters Congress, I am interested in knowing more about the context of our work helping women achieve success in politics and leadership. We have a visioning day coming up, and part of that will focus on the direction of our educational programming. However, the board will be in a much better position to decide on that direction if we know the breadth of programs offered in Canada that support women’s involvement in the political process. So we wondered: what are other organizations and initiatives doing in this area?

And from there a Research Associate role was created. We’ve interviewed and hired a talented pair of women from the Ottawa and Vancouver areas to lead the project and are still interviewing more for potential involvement. These high impact volunteers are essential to our growth as a strong organization.

The challenge

Vantage Point, a Canadian nonprofit capacity building organization, has been pushing high impact volunteering for years. But the uptake has been challenging. Many organizations are unwilling? unable? unaware? Sometimes reenvisioning the ways an organization has engaged volunteers from its inception is difficult.

Using “I Wonder”

I suggest having a note pad nearby your desk. An actual note pad. A Google Doc. Something to keep track of questions that unexpectedly or otherwise pop into your head. Things you wonder about.

  • I wonder if there’s an easier/better way to do _________.
    • eg use technology, public speak, process donations
  • I wonder what our stakeholders think about _________.
    • eg our brand, our events, our strategic priorities
  • I wonder how effective _________ is.
    • eg our advertising, our volunteer recognition, our mentorship program
  • I wonder what other organizations are doing in this area.
    • eg the breadth of programs offered in Canada that support women’s involvement in the political process

These are the questions that high impact volunteers can help you answer.

What questions could a high-impact volunteer help you answer? How have you engaged high-impact volunteers to answer them?