Friday, October 1, 2010


As most of you are aware Wikipedia is a free web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Its 16 million articles (over 3.4 million in English) have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world
According to its own entry on Wikipedia – “Although the policies of Wikipedia strongly espouse verifiability and a neutral point of view, critics of Wikipedia accuse it of systemic bias and inconsistencies (including undue weight given to popular culture)”

I can’t help but like Wikipedia. I do question content sometimes but on the whole I believe a large proportion of it to be an honest and genuine contribution.

So given that this site is written collaboratively by volunteers around the world it intrigues me that there is not one article or entry on Volunteer Management.

My piece here in relation to Wikipedia goes to the invisibility of our sector outside the echo chambers I talk about. Well may we talk about progress in Volunteer Management but lacking an entry in wikipedia is indicative of a lack of awareness on our field.

Sure there are critics of Wikipedia. But Its content and methodology are not in question here.

Lets look at the cultural importance of Wikipedia (again from the site and their statements are referenced thoroughly)

“According to Alexa and comScore, Wikipedia is among the ten most visited websites worldwide.[ Of the top ten, Wikipedia is the only non-profit website. The growth of Wikipedia has been fueled by its dominant position in Google search results; about 50% of search engine traffic to Wikipedia comes from Google, a good portion of which is related to academic research. In April 2007 the Pew Internet and American Life project found that one third of US Internet users consulted Wikipedia. In October 2006, the site was estimated to have a hypothetical market value of $580 million if it ran advertisements.”

So why no entry on “Volunteer Management”?

While coming to the conclusion that no such entry existed I was intrigued by the entry’s on matters pertaining to volunteering

Let’s take a few examples and take samples see what they are saying:

Voluntary sector

“There are considerable problems with terminology, however. Although the voluntary, community and not-for-personal profit sectors are frequently taken to comprise the "Third Sector" each of these sectors or sub-sectors have quite different characteristics. The community sector is assumed to comprise volunteers (unpaid) whilst the voluntary sector are considered (confusingly) to employ staff working for a social or community purpose. In addition however, the not-for-personal-profit sector is also considered to include social firms”


Let me pick at random a comment from the discussion page:

“There is no standard internationally recognised and agreed definition of voluntary sector, voluntary organisation, community group, third sector, social enterprise, non profit organisation, NGO etc which provides neat boundaries between each one of these and the others. We could debate the boundaries between one and another ad infinitum.”

And this

in the 1960s, Ivan Illich offered an analysis of the role of American volunteers in Mexico in his speech entitled, "To Hell With Good Intentions". His concerns, along with critics such as Paulo Freire and Edward Said, revolve around the notion of altruism as an extension of Christian missionary ideology and the sense of responsibility/obligation driving the concept of noblesse oblige, first developed by the French aristocracy as a moral duty derived from their wealth. Simply stated, these both propose the extension of power and authority over indigenous cultures around the world.

Recent critiques of volunteering come from Westmier and Kahn (1996) and bell hooks (née Gloria Watkins) (2004).
The field of medical tourism (referring to volunteers traveling overseas to deliver care) has recently attracted negative criticism vis-a-vis the alternative notion of sustainable capacities (working in the context of long-term, locally-run but foreign-supported infrastructures). A preponderance of this criticism has appeared largely in the scientific and peer-reviewed literature. Recently, media outlets with more general readerships have published such criticisms, as well.

And in the discussion forum again

“The term "volunteer" is a hotly contested term, and the article should say so (with an appropriate citation). Go to any online discussion group of volunteer managers and you will see debates about who is and isn't a volunteer. Is someone a volunteer because of their motivation or because they aren't paid? There is no agreement on this question, and the article should say so.

To the entry on Virtual volunteering:

“Virtual volunteering has been adopted by at least a few thousand nonprofit thousand organizations and initiatives.[10] There is no organization currently tracking best practices in online volunteering in the USA or worldwide, how many people are engaged in online volunteering, or how many organizations are involving online volunteers, and studies regarding volunteering, such as reports on volunteering trends in the USA, rarely include information about online volunteering (for instance, a search of the term virtual volunteering on the Corporation for National Service's "Volunteering in America" yields no results”

All well and good but more interesting when you hit the discussion page:

“Wikipedia may be the largest instance of virtual volunteering, and Wikipedia pages frequently mention that their contributors are volunteers, yet no Wikipedia articles that mention their volunteers link to this article. Why? I'd love to create the links myself, but all Wikipedia-related pages are locked.” "

And this:

“I've posted to all the various online discussion groups for both volunteer managers and those who study volunteerism, encouraging them to edit this page and provide citations. I did this both in 2008 and 2009. Maybe I'll try again in 2010.” I wonder how that is going?

The point I make here is that there is some discussion on volunteering on sites such as Wikipedia.


1. Why no entry on volunteer management?
2. And why little contribution from the volunteer management sector on what is being posted on volunteering?

“well why don’t you post an entry yourself” I can hear one say!!

Perhaps I will. But it should be an aim of a professional association of volunteer management though don’t you think? It could be and should be a tangible outcome for them?

Such is our sector though that if anyone posts an entry under “Volunteer Manager” they will possibly be a big debate amongst ourselves again on semantics.

The author will get the whole

• How dare you call it volunteer management where the people are paid!
• The fights over definitions
• Etc.

Others may say that other management positions are not mentioned on Wikipedia


Here are some examples:
Human Resource Management
An interesting Wikipedia article that talks about
• 1 Features
• 2 Academic theory
• 3 Business practice
• 3.1 HRM strategy
• 4 Careers and education
• 5 Professional organizations
• 6 Functions
• 7 See also
• 8 References

Nursing Management:

Nursing management is performing leadership functions of governance and decision-making within organizations employing nurses. It includes processes common to all management like planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling. A good nurse manager should be open to anything in the environment and be sensitive to the needs of the staff under her/his management.
And there are others such as

Store manager
Marketing Manager
And other management groups that are valued and recognised

And here we are. Fighting the silly war of semantics.

And nobody is writing on volunteer management on Wikipedia!


  1. Well put DJ. Even before I got to the word semantics I was thinking along the same lines.

    From online debates within our sector we are perceived as being caught up in semantics of what constitutes a volunteer. Volunteering is only in the NFP sector etc. etc. So instead of volunteer managers being espoused as leaders and innovators of brilliant volunteer programs which meaningfully engages volunteers, utilizing each individuals unique talents and abilities in a productive manner, we are know as a group caught up in semantics.

    How very sad and such a waste of the incredible talent, experience and abilities that we as volunteer managers have to offer.

  2. Dammit DJ you have pinched my future intentions for a blog, not the same but in the same vein.

    Yes, Wikipedia is an oracle of many things, though missing the boat on management of volunteers. But just think about Google. Search 'volunteer, and you come up with 5,000,000,000 hits (is that five billion or trillion?); search volunteer management and you get a mere 4,270,000 hits. If I have used my calculator correctly that means volunteer management is worth just 0.085% of volunteering. I hope you are paid a bit more than that relative to the number of your volunteers.

    Yes there is a lot of argy-bargy re semantics. You say tom-ate-o (volunteer management) and I say tom-ah-toe (management of volunteers). You say this is meat for our professional association; I say, no need to wait, just get on with it, as so many of my fore-mothers did on women's issues. Community Development happens, with and without the likes of a Gandhi or a ML King.

    As our own dear Rachel Hunter keeps telling us on TV ads promoting hair care products: It won't happen overnight, but it will happen.

    Keep the faith, DJ - keep the faith....

  3. Hi Wendy

    thanks for your comments. It not need be so sad. Rather we can take our energy and passion for the sector and effect change. You put it brilliantly when you mention "volunteer managers being espoused as leaders and innovators of brilliant volunteer programs which meaningfully engages volunteers, utilizing each individuals unique talents and abilities in a productive manner"

    Words that could grace the web page of IVMD! I am positive. I use my blog to challenge and to instill a bit of passion into our sector! Keep your passion going!

  4. @shindig - thanks for the comments! I regret ruining your future blog!!! How about we collaborate on a wikipedia entry on volunteer management or management of volunteers?


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