guiding leaders of volunteers to feed the passion of those who choose to serve


volunteer engagement defined

What is engagement?  Why is it so important?

Around the beginning of the twenty-first century, organizations that employ paid professionals have steadily migrated from gauging employee satisfaction to measuring employee engagement.  Satisfaction, albeit important, did not always translate to business results.  Smart folks figured out that people can be happy doing what they do, and satisfied doing it for the organization that employs them, but their joy in these two areas alone may not equate to heightened performance and increased profits.       

So, what is engagement?  It’s a nebulous concept.  Talent strategy and organizational development professionals around the globe cannot agree on a singular definition for it.  Most definitions for engagement in the business realm do share common attributes, such as an emotional connection to the organization and/or an emotional connection to the work role.  Also, an individual’s willingness to apply discretionary effort appears in most descriptions of employee engagement.   

Even though one agreed-upon definition for engagement does not exist, there is agreement on one point—engagement is important to the sustained, successful performance of organizations.  Why?

It’s simple.  If people are the core of business, the business will naturally perform better when those people are willing to give their best effort. 

Got it.  But, how does that relate to volunteers?  The emotional connection part applies, but the discretionary effort element of the definition just does not fit.  Is volunteering not already a discretionary effort?  Volunteers serve because they want to, right?  By their discretion, they choose to offer their time and talents.       

True, there are some similarities between the way paid professionals and volunteers engage in their work.  A few notable differences from the criteria for employee engagement noted above also exist. 

The criteria below defines volunteer engagement: 

- An engaged volunteer is emotionally connected to the organization

- An engaged volunteer has an emotional connection to the work role

- An engaged volunteer shares an emotional connection with the cause and/or beneficiary

- An engaged volunteer offers a sustained level of impassioned performance

The emotional connection is still present.  The inspired feelings may come from a variety of places for engaged volunteers.  What sets the definition for volunteer engagement apart is continued, passion-driven service. 

Yes, volunteerism is an affair of the heart.