It’s a new calendar year for most of us.

A new start.

A busy time.

The holidays already seem like a distant memory and the demands of the job are piling up once more.

So, for this first blog article of 2020, I’m going easy on you.

It’s not a long read.

The core of it is a 116 word quote from the book I wrote five years ago with the late, great Susan J Ellis, “From The Top Down – UK Edition”.

It is a quote that I hope will encourage you to think about the volunteering vocabulary you use in 2020.

It suggests a simple but profound change we can all make that will better reflect the importance and value of what volunteers do.

Here we go:

”As the definition and use of the word volunteer changes, other vocabulary issues have surfaced. In this book, you’ll occasionally see ‘volunteer programme’ language to describe the organised integration of volunteers into an organisation’s service delivery, not least because it is language many who manage volunteers still use, but more often we have tried to avoid it. Why? We believe it is a valid observation that volunteers are not a programme. The word programme usually describes a subgroup of specific services within an organisation’s entire range of activities: the reading programme, the gardening programme, and so on. We do not speak of the ‘employee programme’, do we? That’s because employees provide programme services. So do volunteers.”

Think of it as a challenge to set a professional new year resolution – one you’ll keep beyond the end of the month!

Stop saying “volunteer programme”.

4 thoughts on “Why we need to stop talking about volunteer programmes

  1. I couldn’t agree more.
    In my world, I support 18 programs in my organization. If I called myself a program, I would be competing for funding and attention against those very programs I’m here to support. I was encouraged to view what I do as a “strategy” for mission fulfillment rather than a program, and I encourage other VC’s in my area to re-think the branding of their world. I renamed myself the Volunteer Resources Department instead of program.


  2. Hi Rob

    I understand what your saying and remember attending one of your presentations years ago when you spoke about this.

    I agree and use volunteer engagement or volunteer involvement and occasionally volunteer services when I can, however sometimes none of these sound quite right when talking about the collective engagement of volunteers across an organisation.

    What do you believe is the best term to use and why?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I tend to use volunteer engagement. It’s more in keeping with the evolution of our professional vocabulary and emphasises the importance of truly engaging with people in order to deliver a great volunteer experience that meaningfully impacts our mission.


  3. Agree Rob! Volunteer roles are programs-sorry, American spelling 🙂 so there are “front desk programs,” “marketing programs,” “client support programs,” etc all within the framework of the volunteer…..wait, what should we term volunteer services? Volunteer Initiative, meaning volunteers leading action to accomplish objectives? Or Volunteer Factor meaning volunteers contributing to a result? Volunteer Impact or Volunteer Talent or Volunteer Leadership?
    Thanks for getting us thinking and Happy New Decade!

    Liked by 1 person

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