A white paper from Porter Novelli notes that many more people say they’re interested in doing community service than actually do it. The paper doesn’t attempt to determine the source of this so-called “Service Gap,” but merely documents its existence. Here are a few of the Nonprofiteer’s speculations:
- Money talks and bullshit walks. Of course people say they’re interested in doing community service; it’s what they know they’re supposed to feel. Many of them–many of us–would really rather not. The number of people willing and able to handle the challenges of working with people with disabilities, or of abused children, or of going overseas to confront grinding poverty, is always going to be a minute fraction of the number who think somebody ought to do something about those things.
- Nothing must be permitted to interfere with the all-important family. American culture has invested years in painting women who work outside the home as neglectful mothers, notwithstanding the fact that mothers today spend a substantially greater amount of time with their children than did their own mothers 4o years ago. So naturally women are hesitant to spend time away from their children doing things in and for their communities–and naturally they’re determined to get a similar home-and-hearth commitment from their partners. When we stop thinking that “my l’il family” is more important than “my community,” we’ll have more service to the community.
- Lots of agencies aren’t equipped to use volunteers. This is a problem we can actually address from within the nonprofit sector, at least with some financial help. Everyone who’s ever tried it seriously knows that managing a volunteer corps is a full-time job, and that agencies can’t get the benefit of volunteer labor unless and until they devote paid labor to designing and implementing it. Maybe the next round of Federal stimulus–and there will be a next round, as soon as Al Franken’s seated in the Senate and the Democrats stop trying to placate the unplacatable Republicans–could include funding for a volunteer coordinator at every nonprofit agency able to describe a concrete use for volunteers. People will volunteer at places that value and use their time; they’ll walk away from places that waste it.