Friday, February 19, 2016

Profile of a Volunteer

Kieff (2009) talked about volunteerism as a form of advocacy, and although I have never really seen volunteers that way, I am developing a shift in my paradigm of a volunteer and an advocate. Louise Sparks-Derman (Laureate Education, 2010) defined an advocate as someone who speaks for the voiceless. So, even if you were a volunteer helping the unfortunate, you are advocating as well especially for the voiceless. It was interesting to me that I have volunteered through a wide variety of settings: short-term, long-term, team, family, and direct. I have not volunteered in a virtual way yet, but an opportunity might present itself some day soon.

Today, I am a volunteer advocate for both a service-oriented and advocacy-oriented nonprofits (Kieff, 2009). Through my involvement as a volunteer advocate in both organizations, I have learned from others more seasoned than me. Learning from the master advocates has helped me improve my advocacy skills. The following definition describes what the two volunteer masters that I try to emulate have done:

Volunteering is the voluntary giving of time and talents to deliver services or perform tasks with no direct financial compensation expected. Volunteering includes the participation of citizens in the direct delivery of service to others; citizen action groups; advocacy for causes, groups, or individuals; participation in the governance of both private and public agencies; self-help and mutual aid endeavors; and a broad range of informal helping activities (President’s Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives, 1982 as cited in Cnaan et al 1996).

Furthermore, the following definition more narrowly describes why they volunteer:

To volunteer is to choose to act in recognition of a need, with an attitude of social responsibility and without concern for monetary profit, going beyond one’s basic obligations (Ellis and Noyes, 1990 as cited in Cnaan et al 1996).

They always recognize a need and drum up support to address the need, usually about Deaf children and their families. They advocate for the individual family, for the community, and to leave the world a better place than they found it.

I feel lucky to know these two women, Sheri Farinha and Julie Rems Smario.


Cnaan, R.A., Handy, F., & Wadsworth, M. (September 1996). Defining who is a volunteer: Conceptual and empirical considerations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly vol. 25 no. 3 364-383. Retrieved from: doi: 10.1177/0899764096253006
Kieff, J. (2009). Informed advocacy in early childhood care and education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Laureate Education, Inc. (2010) The passion for early childhood. Baltimore: Author


  1. Marla,
    In my opinion, the only way we can become effective volunteers, and possess an adequate amount of knowledge in our service area, is to learn from more seasoned volunteers. Inevitably, a new volunteer will think they know more than they actually do.. and working with volunteers that came before them will help get them on the right track to being as effective as they can be.

  2. Marla,

    I enjoyed reading your post. You have chosen some good possible jobs. Especially in the field of working with Deaf Children and Organizations. I also like that you included some volunteer opportunities.

    Neketha Polley