volunteerism research

May 18, 2023

Episode #058: Innovative Models in Volunteerism Research with Lucas Meijs

In today’s episode, Tobi interviews Lucas Meijs about innovative models in volunteerism research. Lucas has been writing about and researching volunteerism for three decades. The discussion revolves around the idea that articles about volunteerism often miss some of the key things and build up a certain model of thinking about volunteers and volunteerism. The focus is usually on volunteers themselves, but sometimes it is the models and ways of connecting with the community that need to be upgraded, evolved, and changed. They also touches on the impact of the pandemic on volunteer engagement and the need to find new ways of doing things. 

Lucas C.P.M. Meijs (1963) is Professor “Strategic Philanthropy and volunteering” with the department of Business-Society Management, Rotterdam School of Management. He publishes regularly in the leading nonprofit journal Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Voluntas and Nonprofit Management and Leadership. He has been an appointed councilmember of the Council on Societal Development (RMO), one of the official advisory councils for the Dutch Government. Lucas also served as the first non-North American editor of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, the leading academic journal in the field of philanthropic studies.  

Lucas teaches on NGO management, Volunteer Management and corporate community involvement. Current research projects focus on the sustainably of the volunteer resource, volunteer management in general and (crossborder) diaspora philanthropy.  

Lucas serves at the board of Rotterdam Voor Goed (supporting social enterprise development in Rotterdam), Kasteeel van Rhoon (the local heritage castle) and ISA fort youth (sport for development in Africa). He has three sons and lives in Rhoon. 

Volunteerism Research – Difference of Volunteerism in US and Europe

According to Lucas Meijs, there are differences in the dominant models of volunteerism between the US and Europe. In the US, the dominant model  where people volunteer for them to help someone else. In Europe, particularly in Central Europe, the model is more about doing something together, such as sports. In Africa, the model is more about helping out in the extended family. The organizational form, emotion, and focus of volunteerism also differ between cultures and countries. However, the idea that one should volunteer because they are not alone and should act on their values is pretty global.

Volunteerism Research – New Volunteer Stewardship Framework

Lucas Meijs, along with Jeff Brudney published an article titled “Rethinking Volunteering as a Natural Resource: A Conceptual Typology”. The article argues for a more holistic and sustainable approach to managing volunteerism as a natural resource. Volunteers are a common pool resource for communities and can be depleted like any other natural resource. They suggest that the traditional model of volunteer management, which focuses on recruitment rather than retention, is problematic and exploitative.

They use the metaphor of a public grassland and cows to illustrate their point. Organizations are like cows that eat the grass, which represents the volunteer energy. If too many cows are put on the grassland, the grass will be depleted, and the same is true for volunteer energy. They proposes a conceptual typology for volunteerism that includes four types: renewable, depletable, non-renewable, and hybrid.

Volunteerism Research – Show Highlights

02:32.2 Tobi started the interview introducing Lucas’ and his biography

03:51.3 Lucas mentioned more about him and how and why he started

12:59.0 What has changed and what has not changed in volunteer management?

18:51.9 Similarities & differences between countries

20:05.6 Is there any impact of cultures within a country on volunteering?

21:50.4 Lucas discussed organization evolutions to better models and where he sees that happening most successfully

33:52.1 Switched gears to sustainability, what were you finding to be the most problematic about traditional models

52:10.6 Lucas mentioned how volunteer managers should be less control oriented

05:46.5 What is Lucas most excited about in the year ahead

Volunteerism Research – Quotes from the Episode

“Nobody asked what’s the motivation of paid work to find out why do they go to the job.”

“The most important thing why it matters is because it gives people the opportunity to give space to the passion.”

“Volunteering is this starts with the idea that you have to do it together with your friends, with your neighbors to organize something.”

“Volunteering starts the idea that you want to do something and you do it in a non-hierarchical way.”

“You’re maintaining social capital because if there’s not a lot of social capital, it’s very difficult to get people to volunteer.”

“One thing that really changed is that we now are really behind this idea of one size fits all in volunteer management.”

“The most important thing there is if you control the access to the profession, the entering the profession, you’re in business.”

“The idea to help someone who’s in need is pretty global, but where it starts to become organized, we have big differences.”

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