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Should Grassroots Leaders Be Considered Volunteers?

Posted By Jenn Jozwiak, Education Coordinator, July-21-16
Updated: July-19-16
Blog Post: Should Grassroots Leaders Be Considered Volunteers?


What makes a volunteer?

This seems like a straightforward question: a volunteer is someone who opts to donate time to tasks without monetary compensation. Volunteers do meaningful work, but they aren’t part of the paid workforce.

But the boundary between volunteerism and work blurs for some members of the volunteer community. In particular, members of grassroots organizations – organizations that operate solely through the efforts of what we generally think of as volunteers – trouble the seemingly clear definition of “voluntary.”

Members of grassroots groups are driven by passion. Groups often form to address a community need, fill a gap in neighbourhood services, or try and make the world a better place. But to many members of grassroots groups, the work isn’t optional in a traditional sense of the term. It’s work that is necessary in order to push society forward. In this way, grassroots involvement is obligatory, and those who engage in it are simply responding to an inner call to action.

At the same time, grassroots organizations are not paid for their work. The reward for the time and energy that members contribute often comes in the form of opportunities for new projects, an expanded repertoire of community services, and an increase in awareness of the work they do. Funding, if it’s acquired at all, is funneled back into the organization.

Although grassroots work is often considered volunteering, there may be other labels that feel like a better fit for those involved: organizer, community member, activist, enthusiast or advocate.  

So we asked leaders of grassroots groups if they consider themselves volunteers. Watch their answers here.



At the end of the day, no matter what grassroots work is called, what counts is that there’s someone out there who cares enough to do it. Though we think “heart project” is a pretty good way of describing it.

Read our Grassroots Growth report!

  Jenn Jozwiak is currently the Education Coordinator with the Grassroots Growth project at Volunteer Toronto, where she is developing training workshops, a series of handbooks, and online content for volunteer-run non-profits. She has worked with volunteers at Hot Docs and TIFF, and established and managed her own grassroots film festival in Winnipeg. Jenn spends her days off drinking tea, watching movies, and reading about writing.


Tags:  Community Leadership  Grassroots Leaders  How to start a Grassroots Group  Volunteer  What is a volunteer? 

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