Reimagining Service

Guest post by Ronna Brown, Philanthropy New York

Reimagining Service is a self-organized community of individuals from nonprofits, for-profits, and public agencies.  It includes funders, nonprofit direct service providers, governmental representatives, and volunteer managers.  The group formed in April of 2009.  Members were inspired by the country’s renewed focus on volunteerism and service, but also felt that the full potential to leverage volunteers to tackle some of the country’s most pressing problems was not being met.  The goal is to convert good intentions into great impact.

To better understand the role that volunteerism and service play in the nonprofit sector, The TCC Group used their Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT) dataset to conduct an analysis of 650 nonprofit organizations.  A summary of the research is available here (PDF).  One of the top findings of this research is that a  nonprofit’s organizational capacity (e.g., the organization’s effectiveness in these four areas: leadership, adaptability, management, and technical capacity) were all stronger when the organization engaged 50 or more volunteers, and when the organization employed strong volunteer management practices.   These organizations consistently outperformed their peers and did more with the same cash resources than similar organizations.   Pretty impressive except that only 11% of the nonprofits in the CCAT dataset met this description.

Another key learning that we all know well:  nonprofits need financial support to maximize the impact provided by volunteers.  Without paid staff to train, do goal-setting, supervise, and follow-up with volunteers, these opportunities are often lost.  Funders often say, “We don’t fund volunteerism, we fund education/healthcare/housing,” or another cause, but as we’ve learned volunteer management can be a highly effective and high-return strategic investment.

Reimagining Service has found multiple studies that demonstrate that grants for volunteer management have a three to six times return in value to the nonprofit to which they were made. Please see the Reimagining Service Resource Guide on Volunteer Management Funding, which provides additional data on grantmaking for volunteer infrastructure and capacity.

Reimagining Service is interested in sharing this information with funders across the country.

If you are interested, or have members who might be, you might want to share information about this project, hold a briefing, etc.  Philanthropy New York has held several briefings on service-related issues, archiving resources related to service and past agendas and summaries.

Please consider the following:

1) Include the website as a resource for your members on your own website.

2) Consider holding a program—we can share our agenda’s with you and make suggestions about speakers, etc.

3) We hope to conduct a national webinar sometime this fall, but if you have additional suggestions, please contact Ronna Brown at Philanthropy New York.


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