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

Adam J. Cheshier
4 min readAug 14, 2021

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

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 a 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.



Adam J. Cheshier

Documenting obscure pockets of the world across long-distance overland expeditions. Recently celebrated 7 years of nomadism.