Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Does the end justify the means?

Does the end justify the means?

In his monthly OzVPM Newsletter ( Andy Fryar posed the above question to the scenario below.

“Earlier this year in the United States, the Hands on Network (who are the
volunteer focused arm of the Points of Light Institute), partnered with the
Disney Corporation to promote their new “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day”
promotion. The premise is simple. Volunteer a day of time and get a one day free pass to a Disney park. Within weeks some 600,000 people had signed up.
But is this type of incentive ‘true volunteering’ I hear you ask?
It’s a similar question that gets bandied around when government’s insist on
the long term unemployed undertaking volunteer work in order to continue
receiving benefits, or others needing to participate in voluntary pursuits in
order to ‘return to work’ after an injury. This is an age old debate, and for the purpose of this brief commentary I simply wanted to pose the question — can 600,000 Americans be wrong? Does the fact that some (many) of these people are experiencing volunteering, maybe for the first time outweigh arguments over the ‘purity’ of the motivation? I’ll leave you with that thought!"

What do I think?. I say kudos to Disney. While it was a smart business move on their part I say that anything that has a positive flow on effect for volunteering has got to be good.

If people have issues with Disney’s scheme then I imagine they would also have issues with the following scheme

The New York Times

March 10, 2010,
Credit Card Rewards for Volunteers
"If you hold an American Express card, volunteering can do more for you than make you feel good about yourself. It can give you credit card reward points.
American Express announced this week that cardholders participating in the company’s membership rewards program could now earn 500 reward points for every hour of volunteer work they logged at a qualifying charity, up to 10,000 points, or 20 hours of volunteer work, a year."

Again I say good on American Express.
There are some US media outlets reporting increases in volunteering due to the Disney scheme. USA Today gives examples of some positive outcomes:
“What types of projects have been completed so far? Here's a short list to give you an idea:
Boston: Volunteers served meals to people in need, knitted and crocheted scarves and mittens for children afflicted with life-threatening illnesses and helped as caregivers at an animal adoption center.
California: San Francisco Bay-area volunteers helped with basic English lessons, painted park benches and planted flowers.
Jacksonville, Fla.: Volunteers painted murals and spruced up rooms at a home for women and children, while in Pittsburgh they took on construction tasks – tiling, sanding, staining and painting – to help create affordable housing.
Puerto Rico: 500 volunteers cleaned the beaches of Vaciatalega and La Perla located in the vicinity of Old San Juan. “
And goes on to report that the program was launched on Jan. 1 in partnership with the HandsOn Network

"The innovative nature of this program has exponentially increased our capacity to both invite and excite people about volunteerism," said Michelle Nunn, co-founder of HandsOn Network and CEO of Points of Lights Institute, in a news release. "The overwhelming participation of families – and youth especially – is a testament to a growing trend. Many of these volunteers are serving for the first time, and some will develop into service leaders who help change the face of our nation."

Andy in his newsletter piece goes on to talk about “ when government’s insist on
the long term unemployed undertaking volunteer work in order to continue receiving benefits”. Now I do have an issue with this – if government states that you will lose your benefit unless you volunteer – then this is coercion. Any such scheme is not truly volunteering. Call it mutual obligation community service or whatever but its not volunteering. Now I am not knocking mutual obligation but we get dangerously close to the other side of the spectrum when we talk of people suffering some kind of financial loss if they don’t volunteer! Now that would be scary!

Another interesting point to note is that there appears to be very little public debate about some of these “volunteering for reward” initiatives. Maybe there is no controversy here except to a few people within Volunteer Management!


  1. When is a volunteer not a volunteer? This question has been going round international traps recently in relation to who manages volunteers when they come by different routes from pure altruism.

    Just about the first lesson in the VM canon is understanding the different motivations that volunteers bring to an organisation. Looking for work experience, completing a study placement, working out a community sentence are just as valid as the person who says 'I want to help'.

    This is where I go back to basics. Volunteers 'add value' to our organisations, they 'enhance' our services, and they are also 'ambassadors' whose comments in the community can rack up street cred or ruin my organisation's reputation. So I would want to ensure that all volunteers get a good experience.

    Disney and American Express have tapped into a great marketing opportunity - and while it smacks of opportunism it is also opening opportunities for people to experience volunteering, and to learn something about the NFP sector. Let us not get precious about it - we are in a business market too. I am also mindful of the changing world of volunteerism where we need to be adaptable and flexible.

    I just hope that both Disney and American Express consulted with our sector to ensure sufficient management resources were available for the sudden influx of 600,000+ volunteers.

  2. Hi there! Jessica from HandsOn Network here. I can't speak for AmEx, but I can say that Disney worked very closely with us to set up this program.

    Also, I think they have brought many people to service who have never given their time before. Once the volunteers showed up, it was our responsibility to engage them, inspire them and keep them coming back.

  3. Great comments Shindig and thank you for your continuing comments on the issues! As you can see from Jessica’s comments there seems to have been some close collaboration going on. Thank you Jessica for your comments – It’s a story that has raised some interest down under on the volunteer management forums. Personally I believe it was a great initiative so well done HandsOn Network I say!


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