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MCN Leadership Conference Reflections: Putting up speed bumps in the giving back drive-thru

Last week I had the honor—along with a group of former and current participants of Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN) Leadership Institute—of meeting Jan Masaoka, Editor-In-Chief of Blue Avocado and self-proclaimed “contrarian.” The discussion was lengthy around what Jan critiques as “drive-by volunteering” –the quick, one time opportunities that can result in a supervisorial nightmare, and in the end often don’t contribute the high-level skills the organization could really use.

The next day I attended the Redefining Philanthropy session at the MCN’s Leadership Conference, which featured various groups in town attempting to make giving of time, money, and expertise accessible to all.  (I admit that you’ll probably see me at their next “party with a purpose.”) But with my mind still on drive-by volunteering, I couldn’t help but wonder whether drive-by philanthropy is helping or harming the nonprofit sector?

We Gen Ys have grown-up on fast food drive-thrus. It was definitely the answer on my family and high school road trips. But is all that drive-thru, fast fix mentality manifesting itself in our approach towards community involvement? Are we getting obese on our own shallow, nutrient-weak approaches to giving back? Or is the explosion of quick, one-time volunteer and giving opportunities just what we need to get more people involved in the health and well-being of their communities?

Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the gray space between, but with new volunteer matchmaking sites and apps emerging, it seems to me these are the questions we should be asking. Right now the slow food movement is slowing down drive-thrus across America. Do we need a similar community involvement movement that reorients us toward deeper engagement?

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