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Ivan's Musings

The Self-Employed Volunteer

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Is there a big blind spot in volunteer management? Consider:

  • the elderly gentleman in the park, feeding pigeons or even squirrels
  • a woman regularly looking in on a sick neighbor
  • a teenager teaching other young people how to skateboard
  • the police officer (definitely not as part of his official job) finding time to stop for a friendly chat with a troubled young person
  • the helpful giver of directions to confused tourists

...and a whole host of other such “natural helpers” and doers of daily decencies, enriching virtually every neighborhood. To all these I would add the Dreamers who “go for it” to achieve their personal vision or goal. Often they are not paid for trying, just as often the goal itself is not defined primarily or at all in financial terms. So Dreamers, too, are often volunteers, though they rarely think of themselves in such terms. Moreover, my experience is that most of their goals have direct or indirect positive social implications. Even where the goals seem primarily to serve the Dreamer personally, I would argue that a happy society can be seen in many ways as the sum of fulfilled individuals.

People in the above examples could be thought of as "self-employed volunteers" in the sense that their helping behavior is not just unpaid, but is also primarily "on their own": freely chosen and accomplished, without benefit of bosses, managers, supervisors, rules or regulations, and typically without significant organizational support. There is always accountability, or should be. But for the self-employed volunteer, this accountability is virtually entirely to the client or goal served, not to any boss or agency.