Engagement vs Development – Semantics Matter

I just changed my tag line to “Reflections on volunteer and community development in the nonprofit landscape”. I wrestled with the word ‘development’ – should I say ‘reflections on volunteer and community development in the non-profit landscape’ or ‘reflections on volunteer and community engagement in the non-profit landscape’? Engagement vs development? Why did I choose development? In the ‘volunteer management’ world (and volunteer management is the most dominant term used) the word ‘engagement’ has become popular – thinking beyond ‘managing’ volunteers (the operational nuts and bolts of running and volunteer program – recruitment, screening, recognition, evaluation etc) to engaging volunteers where they have a rewarding and meaningful experience through volunteering. I am totally behind this concept, and I believe that volunteer management and engagement are not mutually exclusive but integrated, and that volunteer management is 101 while volunteer engagement is 2.0. Volunteers can’t have a meaningful experience if you don’t have the volunteer ‘management’ nuts and bolts in place – for example, if they show up to volunteer and don’t have a job to do or they don’t ever receive feedback.
However, as I say all this, ‘engagement’ to me is an act in the moment. I think about an ‘engaging movie’ or ‘engaging someone in a discussion’ – its instantaneous, it happens and then the engagement is over. What is left is a feeling. The term ‘development’ to me, is a longer-term ‘work in progress’ with a concrete end result in mind. Development is about improvement, not just an instantaneous experience. I googled development and the free dictionary defines it as “progression from a simpler or lower to a more advanced, mature, or complex form or stage: the development of an idea into reality; the evolution of a plant from a seed; attempts made to foster social progress.” I love this – work that is complex, behind the scenes, and could take awhile. But with patience, beauty is born. That is why I chose to use ‘development’ in my tagline.


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