How to stop the goats from fainting

Lucas Meijs is Professor of Strategic Philanthropy and Volunteering. He trained originally to be an optician but decided to do a second study in Business Administration. “I was involved in many non-profit organisations, especially those that were politically active. My interest in the public domain led me to study non-profit management. It was either that or because I’ve always been quirky that I chose to study this aspect of business instead of the mainstream idea.”

The biggest question for Lucas in his research is how to avoid wasting the energy of volunteers, and how to maintain it.

What is it about your work that makes a positive change?
“There are plenty of instances when voluntary activities and time are wasted, and this is such a pity because being useful is what’s rewarding about being a volunteer. If we could avoid wasting their time, we could get so much more done and we could hold on to more of our active volunteers.”

Lucas Meijs has identified three different types of citizens related to volunteering; those that never volunteer, those that have volunteered previously, and current volunteers. The ‘fainting goat metaphor’ describes those who do not want to volunteer and are shocked when asked. “If you ask them to do something, they faint,” he explained. “One of the challenges is therefore how to stop these goats from fainting.”

In addition to research and teaching, Lucas sits on a national committee that is piloting a new youth community service programme in the Netherlands. The programme aims to contribute to a better society at the same time as developing youth talent. It is a collaboration between Dutch national government, municipalities, schools, social organizations, and businesses. In 2021, Lucas will be on the steering committee of the Dutch national year of volunteering.

How do you stay creative? Where do your research ideas come from?
“Meeting all these active volunteers and social entrepreneurs is inspiring. So, right now I’m looking into the different generations of volunteer management. The first generation predominantly had models based upon human resources management practices, whereas now the focus is to look at sustainable volunteering. In other words, how do we get the latent group to become active, how do we keep them active  ̶  and how do we prevent latency in volunteering later on? I currently investigate what makes people stop volunteering, and how we can encourage them to restart volunteering at other points during their life.

“At the end of my master studies, I wanted to go as far as possible intellectually to see what my limits were. I got into academia very abruptly and didn’t plan to stay here, but this is what’s happened. And I like it!”

 “You continuously ask yourself why something doesn’t work. One example is the geographical patchiness of volunteering. Consider this: in business we teach our managers to categorise. But when you apply this principle to volunteering, we tell volunteer managers to consider where they recruit because recruiting volunteers in some neighbourhoods is more effective than in others. Eventually this leads to fewer volunteers from certain areas because we’ve told recruiters not to go there. Aiming for an inclusive volunteer labour market may make volunteer management more complex, but it needs to happen.”

Why do you do it?
“I really like what I do. I get a lot of positive energy from really good students. It puts a smile on my face when I see one of my former students on TV talking about a good cause, when we volunteer at an organization run by an alumnus such as Jarige Job or if they email me 10 years after I’ve taught them to let me know how they’re doing, or that their work is related to my field.

 “I think volunteering is vital, and on top of that it’s fascinating. Some anecdotes I hear are hilarious. We’ve researched a hockey association because it’s the fastest growing sport in the Netherlands. Dutch parents usually know that when their children belong to sports associations, they are expected to do some voluntary work, but parents from ethnic minorities might not know this. There’s a nice story of a Pakistani father who was asked to volunteer by the director of the hockey association. The father agreed to help in the car pool on tournament day, but drove up in his two-seater Porsche – not ideal for helping to transport an entire hockey team. After some additional explanation, he came to the next match in a big SUV. Volunteer management is not always rocket science.”

What do you hope to achieve with your lectures?
“I want my students to be personally involved in what they do. I don’t mind what they’re passionate about, it could be something I disagree with or don’t understand. That doesn’t bother me, as long as they are passionate. I also hope they can understand the other side, or the other perspective, the other passion.”

If anything, Lucas will be known among students for his quick wit and multi-coloured bow ties.

Lucas has co-authored Handbook on Corporate Foundations with several professors, exploring the role companies play through their foundations in civil society and the philanthropic sector. The book offers insights from various disciplines including management, business, philanthropy, civil society, and sociology.