Time – raising, banking, dollars

I’ve been thinking about the concept and value of time, in relation to volunteer and community development initiatives. How does our feeling of a ‘lack of time’ impact on our decision to volunteer or not volunteer? Volunteering, in definition, is the act of donating ones time (and self – skills, personality, ideas etc) to a cause. While there are usually implicit and explicit benefits to volunteering (for example. networking opportunities, change to improve a skill, job reference etc), volunteering in definition is about giving ones time freely and without pay or compensation.
I’ve been thinking about this in relation to some other models of citizen engagement, where time is seen more of a valued ‘commodity’. Two examples to ponder. 1 – Framework Foundation has the Timeraiser event – I am a huge supporter of this organization and initiative, which is one of the most innovative initiatives that I have witnessed around volunteering. The Timeraiser is an awesome event – part volunteer fair, part art auction, where participants meet and match with non-profit agencies where they could potentially volunteer. The clincher is that participants bid for art, but not with money but with time. If they win the art auction, they can only receive their art piece when they have completed the time that they committed to.
2. The other example is the project of ‘timebanking’ which exists in USA and Europe, but I don’t believe in Canada. I don’t know a lot about this yet, but I want to read more. It’s interesting to note that I’ve been working in the field of volunteer management for over ten years and have read widely on volunteer practices, but haven’t come across this project of timebanking. I believe that is because it is seen as almost diametrically opposed to volunteering, where time is donated freely. Timebanking is a grassroots bartering system, where time (and skills) is a valued commodity and a medium of exchange between individuals in a community. Timebanking is really built on community development concepts, that every individuals has assets, that assets are far more than just money, and that sharing assets is the key to community building. I need to read more on this to understand.
Is traditional volunteering, the idea that we give freely of our time without the expectation of anything in return, coming to an end? And is this necessarily a bad thing? Has this traditional concept of volunteering led to exploitation, a hierarchical system of paid employees versus unpaid employees within the non-profit sector that works against goals of social justice? Perhaps its time that we look at other models of citizen engagement, one where time is truly valued.

Volunteers – as agents of innovation…

I just read the book “The Power of Why” by Amanda Lang, which was a very accessible read about innovation. I have been interested in the topic of innovation for awhile now, especially as it relates to the non-profit sector. Of course, in this book, all of the examples of innovation was within the for-profit sector, where companies are investing time and resources into improving their business to make more money. The examples are fascinating and it is an excellent read.
Lang investigates the question: what are the factors that make someone innovative? One of the key factors, that Lang points out to in her book and I have read in other books, is having an ‘outsiders perspective’. The advantage of the ‘outsider’ is that they see with ‘fresh eyes’, and they are not afraid to ask new questions or try out new ideas. The ‘outsider’ is more likely to be a risk-taker and therefore an innovator, because they aren’t personally invested in keeping the status quo. They aren’t afraid of change.
When I think about this in the non-profit context, volunteers are the perfect ‘outsiders’ and potential innovators. They are often more outsiders to an organization than the paid staff, and they aren’t as invested in keeping the status quo. Volunteers come to volunteering from different backgrounds and experiences, and volunteering is usually a small (but critical) part of their life, integrated with their other elements of life. The fact that volunteers aren’t on payroll is critical and an opportunity for innovation – they are not afraid of change in the way that paid staff may be. Paid staff rely on their jobs for their livelihood, and therefore, there is good reason to be afraid of change.
My questions that I am grappling with are: what role can volunteers play in non-profit organizations, as agents of innovation? What practices do non-profit organizations need to adopt in order to allow for innovation to happen? What examples of innovation exist in the non-profit sector (I’m especially interested in Toronto, Canada, because I understand the structural context that non-profits are in here) and what are the conditions that made this innovation possible?
I would love to find and document an example (or even examples) of a volunteer who was critical in innovative change within the non-profit sector. Innovation doesn’t need to be a major overhaul, but often the most innovative change is a small but critical change, that makes a major impact.