Any organization’s program and operational decisions should stem from the philosophy, beliefs and vision that are its reasons for being in the first place. These basic values, however, are often assumed, yet rarely articulated.
It is a worthwhile exercise to identify the values about volunteering in your organization. This helps executives, frontline employees and volunteers themselves think about why volunteers are involved at all. It also helps to create meaningful volunteer assignments, providing a framework for staff and volunteers to work together.
Discussing values about volunteering also puts civic engagement into a broader social context. It’s easy to get so caught up in the daily how-tos of managing a volunteer program that we lose sight of the fact that volunteering is bigger than our one setting, or even this one point in time.
1. Participation by citizens is vital to making democratic communities work
Participatory democracy is based on the value that it is a good thing for citizens to participate in running their communities and in making sure that things happen the way they want. This is the heart of volunteerism and is why, in a free society, volunteering is a right, not a privilege. (This is not to be confused with the parallel right of any agency or individual to refuse the services of a prospective volunteer.)
Volunteering generates a sense of ownership. People who get involved feel connected to others and affected by the outcome of their “sweat equity.” It’s the complete opposite of the attitude “that doesn’t concern me.”
2. Volunteers are more than free labor
First, volunteers are not “free.” There are costs to an agency for their support and tools, as well as out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the individuals donating time.
Most important, when placed in the right positions, volunteers bring a value-added component that actually changes or is lost when a paid employee does the same work. For example, legislators and funders are more receptive to the advocacy of someone not on the organization’s payroll — the perception of credibility that comes from lack of self-interest.
Similarly, some clients, such as children or probationers, may feel that paid workers see them as “just someone on their caseload,” while a volunteer is a “friend.”
The point is not that volunteers are better than employees. It’s that sometimes their status as volunteers can provide a useful difference. Therefore, volunteers can be vital to an organization and an asset even aside from the financial concerns of staffing.
3. Equal respect is due to work that is volunteered and work that is paid
Regardless of the perceptions just discussed, the value of work is determined by its intrinsic quality and impact. Work done by employees does not automatically have a higher value than that done by volunteers (and is also not of lesser value). The contributions of paid and volunteer workers are compatible, collaborative, and integrated.
Even more important, the skills and dedication of the person doing the work are not determined by the presence or absence of a paycheck. There are extraordinary volunteers and extraordinary employees. The potential for excellence always exists.
4. Volunteer involvement is a balance of three sets of rights: those of the client/recipient; those of the volunteer; and those of the agency
Despite wrangling over employee and volunteer points of view, each situation defines which perspective takes precedence. In most cases, the bottom line should be what is best for the recipient of service. But there are also agency and other long-term considerations. The key is not to presuppose that one perspective always outweighs the others.
5. Volunteers, as citizens of a free society, have the right to be mavericks
The way that genuine social change occurs is that a few pioneering volunteers are willing to be ostracized (even jailed) for their actions. While an agency has the right to refuse a placement to a volunteer, that individual has the right to continue to pursue the cause or issue as a private citizen. In fact, that’s exactly what leads to the founding of new organizations and institutions, changes in the law, and even changes in cultural mores (just consider how MADD transformed attitudes about drinking and driving).
This right to see things differently also raises an ethical consideration in how we develop assignments for volunteers within our agencies. Do we expect to keep volunteers always “under control?”
6. Volunteering is a neutral act — a strategy for getting things done
Volunteering is not inherently on the side of the angels, nor is it an end unto itself. It is a means to accomplishing a goal and is done by people on both sides of an issue. Volunteering is a method that allows people to stand up for their beliefs.
7. The best volunteering is an exchange in which the giver and the recipient both benefit
Volunteering should not be confused with charity or noblesse oblige — those who have so much, give to those who have so little. Because volunteering puts the time donor directly into the service delivered, the impact of the activity reverberates back to the volunteer in ways much more complex than writing a donation check. Further, when volunteers also benefit from their service, they have even more motivation to do a good job, which means better service to the recipient, and an upward spiral of reinforcement.
8. Volunteering empowers the people who do it
Volunteering empowers volunteers, both personally and politically. On the personal level, volunteering contributes to individual growth, self-esteem, sense of control, and ability to make a contribution to society. At the community level, the collective action of volunteers who share a commitment to a cause is extremely powerful — real clout for real change.
9. Volunteering is an equalizer
When people volunteer, it is often more important who they are as human beings than what they are on their resumes. In a volunteer role, people can rise to the level of their abilities regardless of their formal qualifications: teenagers can do adult-level work, those with life experience can contribute to client service without a master’s degree, etc. Similarly, when running in a fundraising marathon, the corporate CEO and the school custodian are indistinguishable, as are all members of a nonprofit board of directors who share the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of this position whether they are employed in professional capacities or represent grassroots perspectives.
10. Volunteering is inherently optimistic and future-oriented
No one gives time to a cause they feel will fail. In fact, the whole rationale for volunteering is to assure the success of a cause. So, while people may take a paying job that is relatively meaningless if the salary is enticing, the reward for volunteered service is accomplishment.
This also means that people volunteer with a vision of the future, often in hopes of a better future in which a problem or disease will be conquered, communities will be safe and inclusive, and the world will be in harmony. This may sound terribly mushy (which may be why such a value is not expressed every day), but it is ultimately true.
Susan J. Ellis is president of Energize, a training, publishing and consulting firm specializing in volunteerism. Her Web site is
Israel Real Estate Sales to Foreign Buyers on the Rise
Despite the vast influx of French immigrants and tourists who are buying up apartments in many parts of Israel, most notably in Netanya and Jerusalem, Americans are still in the forefront when it comes to big money properties.
There has been a tremendous growth in the foreign real estate market, according to Stuart Hershkowitz, deputy general manager and head of the international division of the Bank of Jerusalem.
“The main thrust of the Americans is on more expensive apartments,” Hershkowitz said.
Luxury market sales have shot up by 120 percent over the past 18 months, he said. “If we saw a $1 million deal once a month, we now see a $1 million deal once a week.”
Americans seeking to buy in Jerusalem prefer the neighborhoods of Talbiyeh, Rehavia, Katamon, Baka and Sha’arei Hessed, and are willing to pay up to $1million for apartments of less than 100 square meters, Hershkowitz said. Recently they have discovered Nahlaot, he added, and many people are now buying their holiday homes in this more colorful part of Jerusalem.
After the Americans, the most serious foreign buyers of real estate in Jerusalem are the British, followed by the French.
Some of the apartments are purchased as investments, Hershkowitz said, but 70 percent of buyers don’t rent out their apartments even if they come to Israel only once or twice a year. “They want their own place and they want it empty,” he said.
Hershkowitz recalled that four years ago, at the height of the intifada, few people were coming to Israel.
“Now the hotels are all full,” he said. In 2005, NIS 100 million was being spent in transactions by foreign investors per month, compared with NIS 200 million for the whole of 2000. “Whole communities are interested in buying property in Israel.”
Throughout the intifada, real estate prices either dropped or remained constant, said Hershkowitz, who envisaged that prices will now move into an upward spiral.
Former Israeli ambassador to Washington Zalman Shoval, who was one of the founders of the Bank of Jerusalem and is currently co-chairman of the First American Israel Real Estate Fund, had been to America a few days earlier in his capacity as a member of the international advisory board of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. Anyone who listens to American economists, Shoval said, might think that America is on the verge of bankruptcy. Certainly if one looked at the deficit in the U.S. balance of payments, there is room for worry, he remarked.
On the other hand, he said, there has been an impressive improvement in Israel’s economic situation. The deficit in the budget stands at NIS 2.9 billion compared to NIS 10.6 billion in the previous year; the gross domestic product per capita has expanded by 7.5 percent, and 180,000 new jobs have been made available.
In Shoval’s perception, this positive trend will continue, but could be hampered by the fact that Israel is in an election year. This could have a reverse effect on economic gains if the political leadership gives in to populist demands, he said.
Israeli Government Gets on With It
Links to Christian Zionists Pose Peril
People are judged by the friends they keep. And for the Jewish right, some friends are unsavory, indeed.
Take the Rev. Pat Robertson, who was back in the news last week for statements that were both buffoonish and chilling. For some on the Jewish right, the televangelist/politician/businessman is mishpachah, thanks to his vocal opposition to Israel’s recent Gaza withdrawal.
But that connection is also having an impact on the broader Jewish community, most of which regards the more extreme members of the religious right as a little wacky and a lot dangerous.
The perception of a Jewish alliance with some of the most polarizing forces in American society threatens the broad-based, bipartisan support that has always been the goal of the pro-Israel movement. It has also been one of many factors driving the current effort by mainline Protestant denominations to “divest” from Israel.
Recently, Robertson warmed the hearts of Jewish right-wingers when he expressed rage at Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and suggested God’s probable response: “‘I am going to judge the nations who have parted my land.’ He said ‘I am going to bring judgment against them.'”
Robertson is big on providential retribution. He once suggested America could face terrorists, tornadoes, earthquakes and “possibly a meteor” because of its tolerance of homosexuality. He also produced headlines when he seemed to agree with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, another big Israel supporter, that Sept. 11 was God’s way of chastising the nation for abortion, feminism and the ACLU.
That illustrates one of the biggest problems of linking pro-Israel efforts to the Christian Zionists: Robertson and his evangelical colleagues are among the nation’s most polarizing figures.
Robertson’s views resonate for millions of viewers of his “700 Club” broadcasts, but many others suspect he is just this side of a padded cell.
Although all evangelicals are not as colorful as the Christian Coalition founder, as a group, the ardent Christian Zionists tend to come from the most radical segments of American Christianity, with views on a range of subjects that are far outside the American mainstream and a self-righteous attitude that equates compromise with surrender.
That represents a direct threat to a pro-Israel movement that has always tried to bridge political and ideological gaps. There may be short-term benefits to allying pro-Israel activism to this rising force in American politics, but the long-term political costs could be enormous, as the nation’s bitter divisions widen.
The Christian Zionist connection is already affecting Jewish relations with other important groups. Mainline Protestant churches are waging economic warfare against Israel for a variety of reasons, but a contributing factor is rage over what is seen as a blanket Jewish endorsement of the Christian right, because of its support for Israel.
Only a small minority of Jews actively seek links to the religious right, but the reluctance of mainstream Jewish leaders to criticize their efforts reinforces the view that the community is cozying up to the pro-Israel evangelicals.
These new best friends of Israel also have a growing potential for influencing U.S. policy in destructive ways.
The theology of many Christian Zionists states there can be no peace for Israel until the longed-for “second coming” of Jesus, and that, in fact, the “end times” will include efforts to deceive the world with false promises of peace. That theology would be a matter of scant interest for most Jews, except for this concern: If the evangelicals’ new political power helps them prevent new peace efforts because they view all peacemaking in the here-and-now as literally satanic, the costs could be paid in Israeli blood.
In the Gaza debate, their Bible-based view that Israel shouldn’t give up an inch of land — some claim Israel’s holy birthright is “50 times” the size of the current Israel — encouraged the most radical elements in Israel, adding to the pressures that threaten to tear Israeli society apart.
Some Jewish leaders correctly point out that you don’t have to share a theology with groups to work with them on important public policy issues, and that with the Protestant mainline churches increasingly hostile, Israel needs all the friends it can get.
“We’ve agreed that when the Messiah comes, we’ll know who was right,” has become the mantra of Jewish defenders of the emerging relationship, when asked about the Christian prophecies. That misses the point that extreme theology and political power is a dangerous mix.
And mainstream Jewish leaders who keep quiet about the alliance miss the point that silence, in this case, is a form of approval.
Coffee Co-op Brews Mugs of Peace
The Same Boat
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros once gave a speech about the tremendous growth of the Latino population in the United States.
"I hear what you’re saying," a non-Latino woman in the audience said, her voice filled with anxiety. "But can’t anybody do anything about it?"
Cisneros, who in 1981 became the first Latino mayor of a major U.S. city (San Antonio), didn’t share her fear. The enormous growth of the Latino population in the United States — and especially in the Los Angeles region — presents many challenges, but it also offers many opportunities. Not least among the latter is the opportunity for coalitions with other groups, like, for instance, us.
Many people in the Jewish community, to their credit, get this. Yuval Rotem, Israel’s ambassador to the Western United States, initiated a series of formal and informal gatherings with Latino and Jewish activists and politicians, including Cisneros and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys). This year, as in 2002, these culminated in a twilight cruise aboard Fantasea Charter Yachts out of Marina del Rey.
"The Jewish community has always understood it doesn’t have the numbers, and it has to be in alliance with people who do," Cisneros said during his speech on the cruise. "There is a practical reason to make common cause."
Here are a few other reasons: one out of every three Californians is of Latino descent. One out of every two kindergarten students is of Latino descent. There are 35 million Latinos in the United States. By 2050 there will be 100 million. By 2010 more than half Los Angeles’ population will be Latino.
Some see this reality not as a common cause but as a common threat.
In his new book "Who Are We?" Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington argues that Latino immigrants threaten America’s values, identity and way of life. In the March/April issue of Foreign Policy, Huntington presented the heart of his argument: that the contiguity, scale, illegality, regional concentration, persistence and historical presence of Hispanics in America make this immigration an imminent threat. Latinos are slow to assimilate, he argued, and the end result will be "a country of two languages and two cultures."
Huntington’s conclusions are highly arguable, and, to my mind, ultimately unpersuasive (for the piquant back-and-forth, visit www.foreignpolicy.com). He acknowledges that by the second generation, the overwhelming majority of Latinos — 93 percent, to be exact — are primarily English speaking.
Beyond that, as New America Foundation’s Gregory Rodriguez has long pointed out, Latinos are not a monolithic ethnic group, and have never built "parallel ethnic institutions," as have Jews and other minorities, or supported a separatist movement. Rodriguez wrote that Huntington ignores "Mexicans’ history of racial and cultural blending and the reams of survey data that show Mexican Americans place great faith in U.S. institutions."
The problem is not the numbers, but our fear of these numbers, and our lack of preparedness.
"Jews in Los Angeles can pull away from public schools and put gates on their communities," Berman said on the cruise, "but little by little the demographic and political complexion of our community is changing. For us to turn to a strategy of insularity when the country is changing is very dangerous."
We can choose not to engage for now, but the price for that will be grave. How well we manage the growth and change depends on how quickly we can fix four broken systems in our region — healthcare, housing, transportation and education — and how carefully we manage a fifth: our environment. Whatever coalitions we form should plunge headlong into these issues. Immigrants don’t trek to Los Angeles to become better Mexicans or Guatemalans; they come to be Americans. Improving these systems makes that task easier and faster.
Reading Huntington’s article put me in the mood, as theoretical treatises usually do, for reality. So last Sunday I took my daughter to Fiesta Broadway, the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in America. The street was closed to traffic for several blocks, and filled with 500,000 people. As far as I could tell, two of them were Jewish — us — and not many more were non-Latino.
They crowded around hundreds of booths offering product samples of everything from Wishbone dressing to Lactaid. They ate hot dogs and tamales. I didn’t see Samuel Huntington there, but no doubt he would have had a different perception of this uninterrupted flow of humanity. He might have seen a "beachhead," as he put it, of a half-million potential separatists. I saw a half-million Americans, which is to say, eager consumers.
"American Jews have taught us how to be part of America and still maintain our culture," Cisneros said. "These things happen in the American Jewish community not accidentally but because of planning and resolution."
With planning and resolution, Latino-Jewish coalitions can be instrumental in proving Huntington’s worst fears wrong. Because just as we were on the evening of Rotem’s cruise, we are all on the same boat.
Happy Cinco de Mayo.
New Shot Fired in Media Bias War
The never-ending debate over the existence of left-wing bias in the media got a boost a few days ago with the revelation that the editor of one of America’s top daily newspapers had evidently joined the ranks of critics of the “liberal media.” A leaked memo from Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll discussed “the perception — and the occasional reality — that the Times is a liberal, ‘politically correct’ newspaper” and noted that “occasionally we prove our critics right.”
The specific target of his displeasure was a front-page story about a new Texas measure requiring women who seek abortions to receive counseling about abortion alternatives and abortion’s alleged risks. The article, Carroll complained, showed a clear slant in favor of the law’s pro-choice critics.
Conservatives generally responded to the story with a mix of, “What else is new?” and, “We told you so.” Meanwhile, some liberals voiced concern that the media were bending over backward to appease their right-wing critics.
These reactions are fairly typical. To most people on the right, the liberal slant in news coverage on television networks and in the major newspapers is a self-evident truth. To most people on the left, it’s a right-wing canard that much of the public believes, simply because it’s repeated often enough — for instance, in books such as last year’s best-seller, “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News,” by Bernard Goldberg, and “Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right,” by Ann Coulter.
The latest book to charge into the battle of the media, “What Liberal Media?: The Truth About ‘Bias’ and the News,” by Nation columnist Eric Alterman, attempts to give ammunition to the liberal side. According to Alterman, liberal bias in the major news media did exist once but withered away with the start of the Reagan years. He argues that in the past two decades, conservative complaints on the subject have been either deluded or manipulative — a way to intimidate the media into favoring the right for fear of being accused of favoritism toward the left.
Like many liberals, Alterman deplores the prevalence of conservative opinions on talk radio, in television punditry and even in print commentary. But in all these cases, the audience knows what it’s getting: political opinion, not straight-up news coverage. Goldberg and other critics argue that truly insidious bias comes wrapped in the cloak of neutrality, when reporters confuse their biases with facts. Thus, the Los Angeles Times story on the Texas abortion law referred to “so-called counseling.”
Actually, Alterman concedes a major part of the conservative critics’ case. He writes that most elite journalists are “pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-separation of church and state, pro-feminism, pro-affirmative action and supportive of gay rights,” and that coverage of these issues tends to reflect those views. On the other hand, he asserts that the media lean rightward on economic matters and tend to be tougher on Democrats than on Republicans in their political coverage.
Media criticism is a tricky business. It’s relatively easy, without resorting to outright distortion, to produce phony or dubious evidence of bias by focusing on particular articles or TV stories — or even portions of stories — while ignoring other things that do not fit one’s argument. To some extent, both sides in the media wars resort to such tactics.
What’s more, there’s some truth to the cliche that bias is in the eye of the beholder. Many of my liberal friends hold the media guilty of fawning on George W. Bush and demonizing Bill Clinton; my conservative friends believe the opposite.
In many ways, conservative and liberal critiques of media bias mirror each other. Both are skewed by the critics’ often extreme ideologies. To Coulter, journalists who have once worked for liberal politicians, such as New York Mayor John Lindsay, are members of the “far left,” comparable to the John Birch Society on the right. To Alterman, conservative pundits such as George Will and Bill O’Reilly are radical rightists, whose counterparts on the left would be unreconstructed Stalinist Alexander Cockburn and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Both sides are also given to using media bias as a convenient excuse for the political failures of their camp. In my view, the conservatives, for all the flaws and the hyperbole, make a stronger case. Nonetheless, complaints about the liberal media often smack of a right-wing version of the “victim culture,” which conservatives, themselves, have so heartily mocked.
The dispute over media bias is unlikely to be settled any time soon. For the readers and viewers, a strong dose of skepticism toward both sides might be the only healthy response.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at the Boston Globe.