Thursday, April 29, 2010


Last week was National Volunteer Week, but as far as I'm concerned volunteerism is a year-long effort. With that in mind, I found that Shirley Sagawa's offers a compelling argument about the responsibilities that nonprofit and political leaders need to take in working with individual volunteers in changing the nation's most pressing social problems. Her approach offers a refreshing nonpartisan point of view.

"Our nation faces crises in nearly every important aspect of American life—struggling students, poor health, climate change, and limited economic opportunity to name a few. Many people look to government to solve these problems. But while government has an important role, none of these problems can be solved by government alone. In fact, none can be solved without the committed efforts of the American people, taking action on their own or in concert with others.

Service is the American way to change America. Unfortunately, service—by volunteers and national service participants—is often left out of the public problem solving tool box. It is time to get serious about solving the problems that are holding us back as a nation by making it possible for ordinary citizens to play a part."

~The American Way to Change- How National Service and Volunteers Are Transforming America~

Shirley Sagawa's book, us through the stages of "powering life" transitions and describes how, through service and political activism citizens can help transform the United States. Sagawa also addresses that nonprofit organizations do not often employ strategic measures to effectively engage volunteers for compelling "citizen engagement outcomes". Sagawa goes on to explain, "Lack of civic discourse leaves citizens vulnerable to negative campaigns, and partisan polarization leaves policy progress stalled."

Ordinary citizens must be encouraged to come forward and serve. Sagawa is correct in stating that philanthropists, nonprofit organizations and political leaders need to promote and encourage community service. It's not appropriate for citizens to constantly blame government, corporations and nonprofit organizations for the nation's inequities without stepping forward to be part of the solution. Armchair activism and charitable donations are fine, but they are not the be-all-end-all for a vibrant democracy.

But, Sagawa believes that nonprofit leaders should think of volunteers as "important partners in achieving their mission". They also need to recognize and address each person's strengths, interests and motivations for serving, and respect and support them in attaining their goals. Political and nonprofit leaders should truly empower ordinary citizens to take part in problem solving and change. By promoting volunteerism and providing an outlet for intelligent and skilled individuals to take part in the nation's societal solutions human capital and public dollars can be utilized effectively as well as furthering the real characteristics of a democratic society.

Listen to an interview with Shirley Sagawa