The Nonprofiteer wasn’t all that psyched to participate in the Day-of-Service project scheduled for yesterday by the local Obama group–she already has a regular Monday volunteer gig and making sandwiches doesn’t float her boat. But her closest colleague from the Obama campaign organized the project, and he asked her to attend, and she didn’t want to disappoint Mauricio—whereupon, snap! It became clear why it might be valuable to society at large for the Obama volunteer network to find reasons to stay together. The desire to serve society may be a vague and transient emotion, but the determination not to let down your friends is a concrete and lasting one. (To borrow a lesson from another sector: people go into combat because they’re ordered to, but they perform well under fire because they want to be true to their buddies.)

And that in turn means it may be a good idea for a preexisting group to form itself into a new nonprofit, rather than break into its constituent parts and join up with existing groups. In theory there are too many nonprofits, and in theory the power of volunteerism in that preexisting group can be harnessed by someone else, but in practice people go the extra mile with and for others to whom they already feel a sense of loyalty.

A new group may not be the most efficient way to provide social services (or education, or the arts), but neither is volunteerism in general.  As long as we’re going to rely on volunteers to provide essential services, let’s recognize that a key component of their (our) compensation is getting to provide those services in the company of their self-identified comrades.

As for the new Era of Service being inaugurated today: the Nonprofiteer is PLENTY psyched for that!

imageKelly Kleiman, who blogs as The Nonprofiteer, is a lawyer and freelance journalist whose reportage and essays about the arts, philanthropy and women’s issues have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and other dailies; in magazines including In These Times and Chicago Philanthropy; and on websites including and