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Exploring the Volunteer Landscape in Taiwan

Fresh back to the U.S. from a fantastic speaking and learning opportunity in Australia, I eagerly prepared for my next experience, this time in Taiwan. I traveled there at the invitation of Dr. Shin-shin Chen, from the Department of Social Work at Chaoyang University of Technology in Taichung City, Taiwan to present a series of lectures and workshops on United Way and Volunteer Engagement practices.

I have known Dr. Chen for many years. In 2009 she assisted in the creation of the Volunteer Center Development Guide, based on input from colleagues around the world for United Nations Volunteers. It was wonderful to see her again, meet her colleagues and students, and learn about the incredible work at the University and beyond in developing and deepening volunteer engagement and management practices. Dr. Chen has a long and distinguished career in researching and teaching best practices in non-profit management and volunteer engagement both for the University and for the executive branch of the Taiwan government.

I spoke to about 100 government leaders, NGOs, students, graduate students and faculty from the school, all who came with a basic understanding of volunteer engagement and dozens of thought-provoking questions. The topics we covered on the first day were an overview of volunteer engagement in the U.S. and rising trends; key steps in planning and delivering strategic volunteer engagement; trends in employee volunteer programs; and an example of a successful collective impact approach to homelessness in Sydney, Australia.

On the second day, I helped lead intensive, interactive workshops of about 50 people where we explored the notion of viewing volunteer engagement as a landscape, complete with mountains, valleys and room to move to the left and the right. One of the driving principles of volunteer engagement at United Way is that we offer volunteers different points of entry to our work. For example, a volunteer could help organize a book drive at their workplace, or come to a United Way event where the books are stuffed into backpacks and delivered to afterschool programs. This might spark an interest in joining a United Way program to read with or tutor children who are at risk of falling behind, or joining a team to raise awareness and funds for programs like these. With a continuum of volunteer engagement, we try to make it easy for volunteers to contribute in different ways.

People attending the workshops really liked the idea of rethinking volunteering in these terms, and defining whether their volunteer engagement tended toward the transactional and episodic end of the spectrum and whether they could broaden their volunteer engagement landscape with ongoing opportunities, skills-based volunteering or other means to deepen their relationship with volunteers.

While volunteering with United Way is growing, my recent and upcoming travel to learn and share approaches to volunteering makes me feel the world is getting smaller, as we connect to and learn from one another about how to advance the common good. Check back soon for more news about volunteering around the world.