If “Voluntarism” Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right

I have a confession to make:

I’m a stickler for proper grammar.

I lose my cool over last names being made possessive instead of plural on a holiday card. I secretly judge mix-ups of “their,” “there,” and “they’re.” Want to get me going on a rant? Bring up the Oxford comma.

Imagine my confusion and disappointment when I first joined this esteemed women’s organization and noticed a misspelling in our Mission Statement! How could I possibly pursue membership in the Junior League of San Antonio when this nonprofit couldn’t even properly spell “volunteerism”? My immediate instinct, of course, was to investigate this travesty. I was really hoping to leave my imprint on JLSA in the most important of ways – making a grammatical correction – and needed to have the proper evidence to back up my assertion.

I have another confession to make here:

I was wrong.

Yup. Turns out there IS such a thing as “voluntarism.” It also turns out that I was not the first person to question the Mission Statement. Anne Tishkoff, former Manager of League Relations for the Association of Junior Leagues International, our umbrella organization, explained the difference between “voluntarism” and “volunteerism” this way:

Voluntarism refers to the concept of a civic sector, distinct from the private or government sectors, that is supported by individuals and institutions who provide services in the form of leadership or labor without monetary compensation. Volunteerism, on the other hand, refers specifically to the act of giving this time or service without compensation. In choosing to use the word voluntarism instead of volunteerism in The Junior League Mission, The Junior Leagues were intending to convey their belief in a strong voluntary sector that encompasses volunteering but is much broader than that.  Junior Leagues believe there should be strong sector of nonprofit organizations delivering services and programs to those in need in communities.  The Junior Leagues expressly support volunteering as a key component of a strong voluntary sector.”

For me, this explanation led to a deeper belief in the extraordinary work our Members have done in the San Antonio community over the past 94 years. One of the things I love most about this organization is that we provide support for so many other nonprofits. We don’t see ourselves as competitors with them for volunteers, donations, or support; on the contrary, we’re all in this together. The best way to elevate the entire community is to encourage collaboration and coordination among all the groups and individuals who desire to see San Antonio live up to its full potential. Using “voluntarism” reaffirms our commitment to that ideal.

Since further clarifying the Mission Statement by adopting a more detailed position statement on voluntarism in 1978, JLSA has lived out that commitment in a number of ways. We have educated our Members on volunteer issues, monitored legislation and local public policy relating to voluntarism, and supported legislation deemed appropriate to promote the effectiveness of the volunteer sector. To quote our 1995-1996 Annual Report, “Reduced government spending, changes in tax laws affecting the nonprofit sector, issues involving the legal liability of volunteers, [and] the pressures of combining careers, family life, and volunteer endeavors are examples of the challenges which we must confront in order to insure the future of the volunteer in society.” More than 20 years later, we still face many of the same challenges, and JLSA continues to be at the forefront of advocating for the importance of the volunteer in our community.

I hope that, another 94 years from now, after thousands more women have come after those of us who currently serve, JLSA will still be living the legacy of promoting voluntarism – and that we never change that spelling. After all, it’s right.

Written by Joy McGaugh, 2017-2018 President Elect

November 28, 2017