Well the National Conference on Volunteering and Service seemed to have a lot of buzz. From Michele Obama’s keynote address to Jon Bon Jovi performing for the crowd, I may have found the answer to my question from the Council on Foundations conference asking where are all the rock stars?
The session I spoke at looked at how government, philanthropy and the private sector could collaborate and featured Sonal Shah of the White House Office of Social Innovation, who’s quite the rock star herself.
Sitting on the panel, I wasn’t able to take notes on what all the panelists had to say (who included myself, Shah, Michelle Nunn of Points of Light Institute and MacArthur Antigua of Public Allies). So I’ll focus on just my remarks below. But I do want to note that Shah pointed out that her office is made up of just four people and their job is to “leverage the available information.” Regular readers know that this is a concept close to my heart (see here and here), so it was nice to hear Shah address the issue.
I kicked off my remarks by quoting Tactical Philanthropy reader Greg Baldwin, the CEO of VolunteerMatch, who on Monday had responded to the series of questions I asked readers to address in relation to my panel.
I think to get underneath the questions you need a clear vision for how government and the nonprofit sector differ. What are their unique roles in society? With that you can begin a discussion of how can they work together.
I then suggested that all of the talk about the “blurring of the sectors” might be misguided. In fact, I think that when we talk about the sectors blurring, we are actually simply noticing that all of the sectors generate a blend of public and private benefit. But in order for the various sectors to work together, I think it is important that we pay more attention to understanding the distinction between sectors so that we can understand the roles and responsibilities of each group.
But at the same time I highlighted the fact that people are not sectors. People live simultaneously as private individuals and members of the public. Organizations in all sectors need to recognize that employees and stakeholders want to play a fulfilling role that speaks to their private needs and interest in public well being.
We also looked at the capacity needs if nonprofits are to effectively deploy the efforts of volunteers. In a remark that seemed to get traction on Twitter, I suggested that “capacity building” was overused as a phrase and that we need to focus on building robust organizations. During my comments I quoted Tactical Philanthropy reader Robert Egger of DC Central Kitchen, who responded to Monday’s post when he wrote:
There seems to be a big push for numbers (lots of volunteers) without two important discussions: “what do we want them to achieve (more painted shelter walls)?”, and “how will an already strapped nonprofit sector manage all these well intentioned volunteers?” Without capacity support, which seems to also be missing from this dialogue, it will be VERY difficult for any group to really focus all this energy.
This led to an almost heretical conversation for a volunteering conference when Ms. Shah said it was OK if not everyone who wanted to volunteer found a spot and I channeled Jacob Harold’s “Elephants in the Philanthropic Room” and suggested that “some volunteers are better than other volunteers.”
Overall it was great to see so much excitement and buzz at the conference.