The Difference Between Civically Engaged and Volunteer and How to Turn One Into the Other

civically engaged into volunteers

Is there a difference between civically engaged and a volunteer? How does an organization convert one to the other?

Let’s take a look at what the question means and how an organization can possibly turn people more dedicated to the cause.

What is Civically Engaged?

Basically, civil engagement means that one is aware of what is going on around them in the world and that they are some level of involved. This could mean a number of things but it generally falls in the landscape of five categories:

  1. Political action
  2. Intertwined in current events
  3. Socially connected
  4. Involved in the community
  5. Service
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It’s important to note that while ‘Service’ might mean volunteering to some, it actually means any number of things. Even with 90% of the general American population having desire to volunteer, only about 25% of people actually do.

So, it’s easy to see that there is a disconnectedness between what ‘service’ actually is. Thus, ‘civically engaged’ cannot be the same thing as ‘volunteer’.

Converting from Civically Engaged to a Volunteer

As you may have already thought, there seems to be great opportunity in these numbers. If 90% of the population wants to volunteer, it shouldn’t be hard to put the opportunity in front of them, right?

Well, not so fast. If it were that easy, we’d see higher volunteer rates. However, those who are civically engaged do tend to have a higher volunteer rate than those who don’t fall into one of the above five categories.

So, how do nonprofit organizations work this to their favor then?

That’s the million dollar question. We’ve compiled a list of ways we’ve found to be helpful when making the effort to show those people the opportunity to get more involve.

1. Reach Out to Them

We know that this isn’t always the easiest task for small-to-mid-size organizations. Hell, even large operations – nonprofits will never have enough resources for their cause.

However, there are alternative ways to reach your civically engaged other than breaking the bank on promotion and marketing. Hello!– we’re living in the 21st Century. It’s time to get creative!

The easiest way to reach your audience for cheap is online which we will discuss more later.

2. Make the Volunteer Opportunities Unique

Volunteers want to feel like their unique skills can make a difference. Understanding the skills and motivation that each person who is already civilly engaged is immensely important.

This isn’t always possible, but always try to cater to the potential volunteer and their voice. Let their ideas be heard, let them re-invent their own role in some cases.

Their outside perspective is a valuable insight to your organization, don’t forget that. Their fresh perspective is something every organization needs.

3. Target Your Demographic Appropriately

Traditionally, those who are between the ages of 15-25-years-old only volunteer in 10% of instances. This is woefully low – and hopefully that isn’t you target demographic.

Instead, you should be trying to connect with the older crowd by being helpful in whatever ways possible. People’s desire to be active tend to increase when they feel more attached and involved in their community on-goings.

With that being said, look for people who have planted roots in your community if it is a local cause.

4. Tell Stories of Impact

We are advocates for using storytelling as an engine to propel your nonprofit’s cause. Actually, that’s what our entire organization is based off of; telling stories.

Storytelling gives us the ability to engage an entirely new audience from the normal promotion because we are actively giving them something while we educate them on our cause; that is a good story!

Everybody likes stories of impact and feeling the emotions of the cause. Everyone wants to feel connected and a story is the life of all connections.

5. Be More Active Online

As we mentioned earlier, there are easier (cheaper) ways to get your word out about the cause in today’s world. How? The worldwide web.

It’s filled with those so-called ‘civically engaged’ persons who are one-step away from being turned into a volunteer. So, be active online. Send a message from your platform. Let people know you are turning the wheel every day for your cause and anyone can help.

You’ll be surprised at who answers the bell.

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Making the Switch to Activism

Hopefully this has been of good use to you and your organization. Remember, you’re fighting to win-over people who already care enough to engage with your cause before ever coming in contact with them. This is the fact of the matter.

As a nonprofit organization, it is your job now to see it through all the way until they are a volunteer of your organization.

If you’re interested in becoming a partner with CreativeVolunteer so we can tell great stories for you, please feel free to shoot us a greeting at

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