Seriously Effective Volunteering

By Teri Johnson, Senior Vice President, Strategic Partnerships & Program Expansion at Points of Light

Even organizations that regularly engage volunteers can struggle with recruitment and retention – especially when trying to incorporate volunteers in their capacity building efforts. The Service Enterprise Initiative is a change management process that helps nonprofits of any size transform from one that just signs up volunteers to one that effectively engages them in meaningful capacity building work.

serv_enterprise_landing03aAs part of Service Enterprise expansion, Points of Light developed a partnership with United Jewish Federation of New York (UJA) in order to help them build capacity among their grantee organizations. Cathy Caples, one of the CaliforniaVolunteers founders of Service Enterprise and now a Service Enterprise Consultant, was assigned to train and coach 12 UJA Live with Purpose organizations. The tremendous growth of each participating organization is exciting.

One recently certified organization, Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center (SJCC) has some powerful early results. SE transformation played a role for the Nancy Marx Cancer Wellness Center, adding two capacity building volunteers to their staff of one. They recruited a volunteer with database development skills who quickly realized a need for expansion of the team to fully execute against the center’s most critical need: patient outreach. She also saw a role for a program development skills-based volunteer. With two Volunteer Leaders and one FTE in place they are now modeling Service Enterprise at the Center. SE enabled volunteerism to be integrated deeply into the organization, increasing human resources by the equivalent of two staff or approximately $300/hour in skilled service. Now services for this department are being expanded for the cancer patients the center serves.

CEO David Black stated that SEI created a major cultural shift for SJJCC. Prior to SEI, there was a perception within the organization that volunteers were members of the board’s fundraising program. As CEO, he knew there were other volunteers serving in different roles but they were invisible. After SEI, David said, “Volunteerism at SJJCC is now a part of how we define our organization – what enables us to flourish. It’s in our DNA. This is fundamentally what we should be doing if we are true to our mission. It conceptualizes connectivity.”

As with other organizations that undergo SEI, part of the culture shift at SJJCC is in how volunteers are viewed by staff – the culture has transitioned away from “them vs us” to a one of professional colleagues with shared goals and vision. Mr. Black sees the volunteers as the bridge to the community defined for each generation. His professional staff are committed to SEI and they have results with skilled volunteers to demonstrate the benefit.

Other program success being experience by SJJCC in response to SEI participation include several changes at the Specialized Senior Services Adult Day Program for the Memory Impaired:

  • A targeted volunteer recruitment plan
  • Engagement of a much needed Pharsi-speaking volunteer
  • Strategic training of existing volunteers to work with memory-impaired individuals

The success of SJJCC is just one example of the capacity building measures taking place in the more than 250 Service Enterprise Certified (SEC) organizations across the country. The average SEC organization experiences a 23% increase in volunteerism each year after it undergoes SEI. For more information on how your organization can benefit from seriously effective volunteers, look for a local Hub or connect with Points of Light at

The Service Enterprise Initiative is a national initiative led by Points of Light that started as a partnership between CaliforniaVolunteers and Reimagining Service. The Service Enterprise Initiative serves to strengthen the capacity of nonprofits to fundamentally leverage volunteers and their skills to address community needs. Through a comprehensive research-based assessment, training, consulting and certification model, selected nonprofits are equipped with the tools and technical assistance necessary to support nonprofit Service Enterprise transformations.


The Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. There are 17 state service commissions administering VGF grants to expand volunteer infrastructure by supporting volunteer management practices that increase volunteer recruitment and retention. Learn more


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