Summer Volunteering: Can Coaching Soccer be a Transformative Event?

We are officially in the dog days of summer – much of North America (even Canada!) is stuck in an endless heatwave. Rain is now one of those things you talk about as if it only happened in the old days. Here at RW HQ, summer always presents a common and modern challenge: how do you juggle the heat, vacations, weddings (you may have noticed one of our own had a name change), summer concerts, activities for kids, and so on with our day-to-day work efforts?


By Corey Diamond

The summer reminds me of how hard it is to fit volunteering into our daily lives. Let’s face it – for most of us, volunteering is on a long list of things we want to do, competing for our attention with a myriad of other priorities. BBQs, patios (it’s a Toronto thing), and reading in a hammock always seem to win out.

But does it really need to be one or the other?

I was at my daughter’s soccer game last night. Before the game, the kids were “warming up” (i.e., doing somersaults), and the coach brought them together in a semi-circle to talk about the upcoming game. The kids took a knee and listened. Positions were doled out, the rules were declared for the 100th time and then everyone got close together for the classic “hands in” cheer. It was a reminder to the kids, assistant coaches, and parents about the importance of their task at hand: above all else, HAVE FUN.

During the game, the coach worked with her assistants to direct traffic, cheer on the kids, and position them according to their skills. Each coach had a specific role: defence, forwards/midfielders, and goalie.

Can coaching soccer be a transformative experience for volunteer coaches? In the process of guiding the players in skill development, confidence, and other life skills, were the coaches themselves changed by the experience?

After the game, another semi-circle was formed and the team reviewed the game together. A lovely tradition of giving out the game ball highlighted the special work of two players in particular. Then, before the teams shook hands, the coach asked the kids a few questions, and they all answered in unison:

“Did you guys have fun today?”


“Did the other team play well tonight?”


“Do you all want a snack?”


I also noticed the coach interact with her assistants after the game, thanking them for sharing the duties that night. They talked about the progress they’re seeing in some of the kids and planned the next practice.

Without even realizing it, my daughter’s coach was demonstrating some of the keystone behaviours found in the transformative model of volunteering, where the primary focus is the change that occurs in the volunteers themselves.

Can coaching soccer be a transformative experience for volunteer coaches? In the process of guiding the players in skill development, confidence, and other life skills, were the coaches themselves changed by the experience?

To be fair, the keystone behaviours RW trains Volunteer Champions to carry out at corporate volunteer events are nuanced, while my daughter’s soccer game does not provide an exact one-to-one comparison. Still, there are some helpful similarities.

Let’s explore a few ways my daughter’s coach made the game meaningful to everyone involved:

  1. The pre-game meeting set the stage and reminded everyone why we were all there.

    This was meant to focus the players on the game, but it also doubled as a way to brief the assistant coaches and parents. In the practice of transformative volunteering, we call this “Framing the Experience”.

  2. During the game, the coach worked with her assistants to bring the best out of the kids.

    By placing the assistants in the right roles, she made it easy for each of them to enjoy the experience and motivate the kids to the best of their abilities. This makes it meaningful for the assistant coaches, and in turn a more fun experience for the kids.

  3. The post-game meeting posed some questions to the kids, and also to the assistant coaches.

    This type of critical reflection is important to make sense of the experience and think about how to apply it to future games, and ultimately to the rest of our lives.

By incorporating these elements, the coach was making it easier for all of us to have a fun and meaningful experience.

The whole (and perfect) evening reminded me that in the midst of a busy, hot summer, we can still find the spaces for transformation to occur. In fact, these spaces may be right in front of us, on a Monday night on a hot soccer field in the middle of the city, or, in fact, anywhere.

And in case you were wondering, the game ended in a tie. Everyone got a juice box.

Could the same happen for your volunteering program? Do you have volunteers in your company that can act like my daughter’s soccer coach and lead their colleagues to spaces where transformation can occur? Are you struggling to motivate your volunteer leaders in the summer? We’d love to hear from you. Reach out to us through Facebook and Twitter, or email us via

Corey Diamond
Chief Operating Officer
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4 Reasons to Adopt the Transformative Volunteering Method

In the traditional model of volunteering, the purpose is to freely provide a service to respond to a crisis or solve a problem. In the transformative model of volunteering, the purpose is to develop and strengthen empathy through experience.


By Chris Jarvis

What is Transformative Volunteering?

Transformative volunteering creates space for participants to reach beyond the immediate context and circumstances of themselves and their communities. Instead of simply exchanging time or resources for the reward of making a difference, volunteers are guided to consider their potential to become increasingly pro-social human beings with a greater capacity for empathy.

The primary focus of transformative volunteering is the change that occurs in the volunteers themselves. Volunteering programs and activities are designed to invite all participants to “engage in critical reflection on their experiences, which in turn leads to a perspective transformation.” This transformation in an individual’s perspective is necessary to achieve change at the psychological, convictional, and behavioral level.

Read the research: Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

What is Transactional Volunteering?

Transactional volunteering is the voluntary giving of one’s time, knowledge, social network, expertise, skills, abilities, experience, knowledge, training, or insight for the benefit of another without any expectation of direct of commensurate compensation. The “reward” is typically the knowledge that one was able to “make a difference” by helping solve a problem or advance a cause.

4 Reasons to Adopt the Transformative Model

1. Increased levels of affective commitment

Employees who are enabled to act pro-socially (give, volunteer, and otherwise “do good” for their colleagues or communities) are likely to respond with increased affective commitment to their organization.

Read the research: Grant, A. M., Dutton, J. E., & Rosso, B. D. (2008). Giving commitment: Employee support programs and the prosocial sensemaking process. The Academy of Management Journal, 51, 898-918.

2. Improved job performance

Research indicates that “volunteering was associated with both volunteer and job meaningfulness, and that the pull of meaningful volunteer work was even stronger when employees had less meaning in their jobs. The results further revealed benefits of volunteering for employers. Volunteering was related to job absorption but not job interference, and it was therefore associated with better job performance.”

Read the research: Rodell, Jessica (2013). Finding Meaning through Volunteering: Why Do Employees Volunteer and What Does It Mean for Their Jobs? The Academy of Management Journal 56(5):1274-1294

3. Competitive hiring position

“For recruitment practice, our results suggest that the net effect of leveraging CSR practices in employee recruitment is clearly a positive one from the perspective of a hiring organization. The majority of our participants — about two-thirds of them — reported they were more attracted to the employer as a result of its community investment or environmental strategies.”

However, the research contains a very distinct and important warning: if the company’s CSR program is seen to be inauthentic or too small, prospective employees will take a negative position towards the company. In those cases where a company may not be willing to substantially invest in CSR, it may be better to not use citizenship programs in recruiting efforts. Additionally, community investment programs must be experienced as meaningful and relational.

Read the research: Jones David A., Willness Chelsea R., Heller Kristin (2016). Illuminating the signals job seekers receive from an employer’s community involvement and environmental sustainability practices: Insights into why most job seekers are attracted, others are indifferent, and a few are repelled. Frontiers in Psychology Volume 7 (00426).

4. Improved organizational resilience

By developing leaders through and experiential process of learning that involves intentional moments of critical reflection and sensemaking, employees in leadership positions acquire the critical skills necessary to contribute to organization’s overall resiliency. Transformative volunteering approaches develop leadership through the cognitive process of learning, modeling a practice of sensemaking and the creation of significance or meaning.

Equipped with this experiential knowledge, individuals possess the necessary skills and experience to contribute to the “organization’s capacity to anticipate, respond, and adapt”.

Read the research: (2014) Guidance on organizational resilience. BSI Standards Publication

Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs. Call us to discuss opportunities for your company, or email us via You can also reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Chris Jarvis
Realized Worth Co-Founder & CEO
Connect with Chris on LinkedIn
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Lone Employee Volunteers: Connecting to the Company’s Program

The nature of volunteering carries within it the implication that everyone can make a difference, no matter what the size, value, or duration of the contribution. For companies, the benefits of volunteering go beyond making a difference. Studies show benefits ranging from employee retention to skills building to team building and more. But what about those rogue employees who prefer to volunteer alone? Is it possible for individuals to be transformed by the experience of volunteering and bring those benefits back to their companies? From Realized Worth’s perspective, the answer is a resounding yes! Individual volunteering has the potential to be as transformative as group events (assuming specific elements are included). The following outlines the theory behind those elements and recommendations for applying them.

corey blog i feel

By Angela Parker

Transformative Learning Theory states that when people experience change in a life-altering way, it takes place in three areas: their sense of self, their beliefs, and their behaviors. If corporate volunteers are going to become more engaged employees who experience the benefits of the volunteer program in their everyday lives, the elements of a potentially transformative experience must be included as much as possible in every volunteer opportunity.

RW Transformative Graphic

At volunteer events, Champions apply these elements by performing keystone behaviors including a brief that explains why the event is important and who it benefits; a debrief that facilitates critical reflection; and the opportunity to progress over time in stages of involvement or leadership appropriate to each volunteer’s desired level of commitment.

Each of the above elements are easily applied to group volunteering events, but may require more preparation or follow-up for individual volunteering. The following list provides a few practical ideas for making transformation more readily available to individual volunteers:

  • Proactive learning

    Encourage each individual volunteer to coordinate with the non-profit to understand the beneficiary on increasingly detailed levels. This will continually encourage cognitive dissidence as the volunteer more accurately understands “the why and the who.”

  • Monthly debriefs

    In order to keep individual volunteers from feeling isolated, empower one who embodies the competencies of a volunteer champion to gather other individuals together for a monthly or quarterly “happy hour” or debrief meeting. Note: this is better organized by a volunteer than by a member of the corporate citizenship team as peers are more willing to share openly with each other and reflect honestly than with someone they perceive as a superior.

  • Virtual debriefs

    Encourage Volunteer Champions to hold virtual sharing sessions with the individual volunteers in their area. Volunteer Champions can be provided a guiding agenda to help facilitate this conversation. Depending on the organization, it may be useful to invite a nonprofit representative to participate in these sessions.

  • Info sessions

    Provide opportunities for individual volunteers to educate their colleagues on the opportunities available. This will act as recognition and critical reflection as well as an avenue for recruitment.

  • Personal check-ins/interviews

    Equip Champions or corporate citizenship staff to speak regularly with individual volunteers and informally interview them about the way this activity is affecting their work and their perception of the company. This will effectively facilitate the critical reflection process and enable volunteers to connect the positive results back to the company that gave them the opportunity in the first place.

Other Considerations to Enhance Individual Volunteer Experience and Promote Leadership

  • Invitations to leadership

    Most individual volunteers are intrinsically motivated to get involved and will function at a higher level of contribution. To enable them to apply their understanding and progress in their knowledge, an invitation to become a Champion should be extended at regular intervals.

  • Sharing at champion check-in calls

    Regularly invite individual volunteers to champion calls to share about their experience. They do not have to be a champion to share their story; this is simply a form of recognition, idea sharing, and a way to connect the individual to the broader program. It also ushers the volunteer into deliberate critical reflection.

These ideas are a good starting point; more will arise naturally as individual volunteers, Champions, and other volunteer leaders are invited into the process. As long as individual volunteers are able to connect with “the why and the who”, have a chance to share their experience and connect it back to the company, and can apply their learning and grow in their understanding, their experience has the potential to be transformative, reaping myriad benefits associated with corporate volunteer programs.

Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs for companies around the world. Want to discuss your program with us? We’ll be happy to hear from you! Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
Follow Angela on Twitter
Connect with Angela on LinkedIn


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A Conversation re: The Voluntourist’s Dilemma

Writer Jacob Kushner presents a dilemma regarding “voluntourism.” We talked about it.


The Dilemma with The Voluntourist’s Dilemma

In his article for The New York Times Magazine, Jacob Kushner wonders if our good intentions are woefully misplaced when it comes to volunteering abroad. Here are a few quotes that stood out to us:

Several years ago, when I was working as a reporter based in Haiti, I came upon a group of older Christian missionaries in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, struggling with heavy shovels to stir a pile of cement and sand. They were there to build a school alongside a Methodist church. They were “voluntourists”. They would come for a week or two for a “project” — a temporary medical clinic, an orphanage visit or a school construction …

 And yet, watching those missionaries make concrete blocks that day in Port-au-Prince, I couldn’t help wondering if their good intentions were misplaced. These people knew nothing about how to construct a building …

… Perhaps we are fooling ourselves. Unsatisfying as it may be, we ought to acknowledge the truth that we, as amateurs, often don’t have much to offer. Perhaps we ought to abandon the assumption that we, simply by being privileged enough to travel the world, are somehow qualified to help ease the world’s ills …

… I’ve come to believe that the first step toward making the world a better place is to simply experience that place. Unless you’re willing to devote your career to studying international affairs and public policy, researching the mistakes that foreign charities have made while acting upon good intentions, and identifying approaches to development that have data and hard evidence behind them — perhaps volunteering abroad is not for you.

As we often do, one of us sent the article to the rest of the team and we discussed our thoughts and impressions.

Corey Diamond, COO: This is a really interesting piece. What does everyone think?

Ben Bisbee, Senior Strategy Advisor: This speaks to what RW has been saying for years: volunteerism is often more for the individual than it is for the benefactor. Often there are “better” people for the job, but that’s not always the point of volunteerism, or even the point of the task. It’s about leveraging free labor while introducing experiences and the mission of the organization.

Christine Johnston, Director of Project Management and Global Initiatives: I think the distinction for me (whether I’m for or against it) has to do with the NGO and activity in question. I once personally had an especially terrible experience in a developing country with “voluntourism” that made me never ever want to engage in that way again. We were taking jobs away from locals and effectively ensuring that the children there stayed illiterate. It was awful. I realized I wasn’t helping at all – I was part of the problem.

Sabrina Viva, Director of Account Management & Latin America Initiatives: I had a similar experience to Christine’s when I was in Costa Rica for a “voluntourism” trip. Being an avid local volunteer all my life and then experiencing a volunteer activity that was heavily transactional left me disappointed and failing to see how I was “changing the world.” But then I had an epiphany when I met those 33 children at the orphanage. Although I couldn’t change their circumstances, I could contribute in my personal way. The relationship with those children continues to this day, over 10 years later. Although my experience started off transactional, many years later, I am confident saying it was truly transformative.

CD: In January, when we were volunteering together in the Dominican Republic, the leader of local NGO said something that will always stick with me: he called us “useless”. We were there to paint some homes and clean up a neighbourhood that has experienced decades of neglect. The NGO leader explained that the paint we bought could’ve easily been used by the local families. They didn’t need our physical help at all. Despite this, our role in “helping” was so utterly important to changing these people’s lives because of the seed that was going to be planted in all of us. The experience itself was the product, not the painting. I think it’s far too didactic to suggest international volunteerism is “bad”; instead we need to be exploring how to frame the experience for everyone so that the seed is planted and we change as individuals because of it.

BB: I’ve said this for years, but NGOs need to do better at constructing a universe within their opportunities that speak to real skills (or lack thereof) and then figure out the by-products associated with volunteer opportunities. In the case this article presents, do the volunteers need to understand construction? I’m unsure. But if they do, it should be taught or demanded. And if not, then what is the value to the volunteer for doing this without education or insight to formal construction? Those elements need to be more thoughtfully developed, frankly.

CJ: The international development professional inside of me was sometimes screaming during parts of this article. When it referenced long term plans beyond volunteerism or supporting a project with money over time, whatever it is, it needs to contribute and be sustainable rather than a detraction from progress. This is why I think organizations and programs such as WUSC, CECI, and Moving Worlds do such a good job. They are so focused on the continuum of social impact surrounding one volunteer’s experience, so that volunteers can go for a short amount of time and know in good conscience that they are contributing to sustainable development. This allows them to have their mind freed up to have that transformative experience we are all trying to give them.

SV: In the fast-paced, multifaceted world that we live in today, I think there is a place for everyone. To tell individuals they cannot and should not volunteer because their volunteer activity is not sustainable and has no effect on the benefactor would limit almost every Stage 1 person. There is a space and a need for this type of volunteering. However, I do agree that organizations (like the ones mentioned by Christine) and those highly enthusiastic Stage 3 volunteers need to continue their important work on the ground. These efforts should create jobs for locals and focus on sustainable solutions. In partnership with voluntourism, it will perhaps move towards more skills-based opportunities, and will be crucial to the future success of these communities.

BB: I agree. I also really dislike this behind-the-two-way-mirror assessment of volunteerism. that one single act “won’t save the village”. Why demand so much from so little? Again, I would argue that it’s not the point. It’s like saying a soup kitchen is essentially worthless unless they serve three full meals a day every day to everyone who is hungry. You can’t apply one distinct outcome from one distinct contribution. It really does takes a village, even if parts of that village are just tourists.

CD: True. When a volunteer is told they are not making a difference, the opportunity for that volunteer’s transformation won’t happen. I would also say that when a volunteer sees that their contribution is actually inhibiting the intended social impact, the opportunity for that volunteer’s transformation will not happen and may even lead to that individual being disengaged with volunteerism altogether. That’s not what any of us in this space want!

So does voluntourism present an unsolvable dilemma, or does it have its merits? Tweet us @realizedworth and let us know what you think.

Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs for companies around the world. Want to discuss your program with us? We’ll be happy to hear from you! Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


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