Zero Is Not Equal to Free, Reframing Volunteering from Negative to Positive Return on Co-investment

We do not value volunteering.  We ask for it.  We badger for it.  We thank people for it.  But, we do not value it.  We do not put a value on volunteering.  We think it is free.

Volunteering is free, in that it is the free act of giving one’s will.  That meaning of “free” does not mean of no value.  By looking at volunteering, the free giving of one’s will, as of no value, we end  up quickly in “doing good” philanthropy, which does not scale.  The impact remains small, and the resilience of the impact remains low.

By not valuing volunteering, we are valuing the person’s co-investment at zero.  And with zero value in co-investment, we don’t value the return on that co-investment, so there is no return on the co-investment.  Since the volunteer actually assumed the opportunity costs of the volunteering, when they receive nothing back, the return on the co-investment is actually negative.  It costs me to play, with no return–a net-negative investment.

Yet, we volunteer, because it makes us feel good.  We see the impact of our efforts in cleanliness of the schoolyard after a family work day, the paying of the bills because of our work with the accounting group, people fed because we served in a soup kitchen.

If we value the will one gives, then we can honor the value of the co-investment.  Even with a basic assumption of the value of an hour, estimated by some as US$24/hour in the USA in 2017, we are asking the question of what is the co-investment the volunteer is making.  We can then ask, what is the return on the co-investment?  What did your co-investment lead to, what is the value of the “return” for your co-investment?  The reason we cannot usually answer this question is because we do not ask it.

Lots of people are innovating deeply in this space.  One such massive set of innovations is in complementary currencies.  Measuring the current of what is flowing, what is flowing through you in your interaction, your co-investment, and what flows in the community because of your co-investment of currency.  From valuing volunteer time and banking hours to valuing social and natural capital, there are many ways to value the will one puts forward freely.

What is free is the choice to give one’s will.  It has a value.  It is a co-investment.  When we ask the question of the value of the co-investment, we can also begin to ask the question of what is the return on the co-investment.  The value of a clean schoolyard, of bills paid, of mouths fed.  That provides a positive return on co-investment. A return that is possibly orders of magnitude greater when we ask these questions of co-investment of one’s will, of volunteering, than when we don’t ask these questions.  Now that could support its own scaling of impact resilience.

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iCo–The Power of Co-hosting

Colleagues in the global Vibrancy community have been working for many years on the concept of co-hosting.  We have found it to be a very powerful way of inviting and leading much greater impact resilience.

First of all, what do we mean by co-hosting?  We started with the analogy of a party.  Are we holding a party, like a meeting, where we are trying to lift the whole thing by ourselves?  It’s heavy, because in the holding gesture we are trying to manage the whole and each of the interactions of the part.  Surely you have been to a party or a committee meeting where you were micromanaged.  How was it?  We realized that we liked parties that were hosted more than parties that were held by someone.  The host tended to create an environment for a fun party, guide us periodically with food, music, or occasional introductions, generally leaving us to our own devices.  By looking for great hosting, we began to notice experiences that were even better than being hosted, where we were invited to be co-responsible for the experience and the outcomes.  We were invited to be co-hosts, hosting tougher, with all of us being responsible.  That is when we started to play with co-hosting.

When we look at co-hosting through the four lenses of the agreements evidence map–the economic, political, cultural, and social lenses–we begin to see a coherent set of practices that we have observed in very vibrant groups that achieve very high levels of impact resilience.

Co-investing.  Through the economic lens, we see co-investing.  What are the light, verb, noun resources we each bring to our interactions with each other?  When we bring all of who we are and all that we can see to the game, we bring potential, development, and outcomes.  We each bring something.  I do not contract you to bring only the capacities you already have, rather I invite you into investing with me, co-investing, everything you bring and everything I bring.  We have found the co-investing gesture to dramatically change our agreements with each other and with the organizations and communities we engage with in our work.  We have begun to measure the outcomes of co-investing by assessing the return on impact-resilience co-investment–the increased return on our investment, in terms of greater impact and resilience from lower costs of scarcity achieved through more powerful agreements.

Integrated conversations.  Through the political lens, we see integrated conversations.  Our colleagues at THORLO call them ICCs, for integrated collaborative conversations.  With decision making and enforcement based on all five primary relationships, who decides and enforces–the political lens–depends completely on the specific relationship-context.  Is it a decision for the self, for the other, for the group, for the creative, tangibilization process, or for the source of creativity?  They each co-exist within an integrated conversation, each with their own principles and responsibilities.  In highly vibrant integrated conversations, we find people contribute freely, interact freely and with mutual responsibility, with the responsibility to participate fully, respecting, witnessing, and learning in the creative process, looking for the sources of creativity everywhere.  Doing this turns out to be easy, very practical, and highly engaging.

Deeper shared purpose.  Through the cultural lens, we see that people are united by a deeper shared purpose.  This deeper shared purpose is what brings us all together, in any specific circumstance, whether we are aware of it or not.  Being clear on what that deeper shared purpose is turns out to be very powerful, as it taps into the deeper values that guide our interactions and invite our greater commitment and contributions.  We have found that by being explicit about the outcomes and experience we expect from our interactions, we are able to consciously choose agreements that align with these deeper value and the ethical principles that guide our interactions.

Collaboration.  Through the social lens, we see that people design their interactions for segregation, for flocking, or for collaboration.  In collaboration we are united, each necessary for our unique contributions to achieving the whole that we all want and need each other to achieve.   While many people say they are collaborating, we find they actually mean something very different.  We have found processes for inviting in and presencing collaboration, which we have synthesized with the O Process. In collaboration, we have found that people are able to continuously evolve their agreements by witnessing what is happening at every step of the creative tangibilization process, from seeing potential, and seeing pathways to manifest that potential, to seeing the outcomes from those pathways.  All an experiment in multiple levels of perceived reality, learning and evolving along the way, a process we now call tangibilization.

In looking at our experience of co-hosting, we now see through the 4 lenses that successful co-hosting requires a coherent set of practices that integrate co-investing, integrated conversations, deeper shared purpose, and collaboration, as four different ways of seeing one experience, that of co-hosting.  When the evidence in the agreements evidence map shows that one of these is at a lower level of agreements, then the co-hosting set is not coherent.  A high level of co-hosting requires coherence of all 4 at the same level of agreements.  While this seems complex at first, in practice it is not.  It is a matter of holding oneself to these principles, leading to a much more vibrant experience and much better outcomes.  Greater impact resilience.

A colleague told me the other day that she thought of herself as a “co” person, because she found herself constantly working in collaboration and co-investment as a co-host.  A very powerful way to invite each of us to be at our best, making our best contributions in our interactions.  Maybe that makes her an iCo.