Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Would Mandatory Service Breed Resentment or More Volunteers?

The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Give and Take blog recently discusses the proposal by Sen. Chris Dodd to require high-school students to participate in volunteer service. You can read about it here:

http://philanthropy.com/giveandtake/

From my perspective, I think that this is the flawed manifestation of what was probably a good motivation. Forcing kids to volunteer has the following downsides:

  • A flood of volunteers usually results in significant inefficiencies and wasted resources "creating work" for them to do.
  • This reinforces the idea that volunteering is negative, or at least "not good"; when these kids grow up, they will affiliate volunteering with a mandatory requirement of their teenage years... how likely are you to want to sit through another algebra class, for example?
  • This could create barriers to other volunteers. Adults might take themselves "off the hook" because they think that volunteer problems are being met. The reality is that there is a lot of volunteer work that is only suitable for adults; floods of teenage volunteers are good for cleaning up parks or building Habitat houses, but not running advisory committees or supporting intensive case management programs.

Although I would like to say "anything that gets more people to volunteer more often is a good thing," I think that we must strongly consider the ramifications of any action that seeks to mandate that which should be freely given. I believe that part of what makes volunteerism such a powerful force for good is NOT the actual actions that are done, as much as the commitment and passion that are displayed through those actions. I believe that this would be lost through a program that mandates unpaid service time.

What do you think?