New Book by Prof. Nora Silver Highlights Ethnic Volunteers

A new book by Adjunct Professor Nora Silver explores an often overlooked, but increasingly important issue facing nonprofits: understanding, attracting, and engaging ethnic volunteers.

Telling the Whole Story: Voices of Ethnic Volunteers in America (Community Initiatives, December 2011) shares the untold stories of voluntary engagement, which Silver gathered from focus groups in seven communities: African American; American Indian; Central American; Chinese American; Japanese American; Korean American; and Mexican American. Participants varied in age, gender, language proficiency, and level of volunteer experience.

The book is a new addition to research on diversity and volunteerism. According to Silver, director of Haas' Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership, previous research on the subject has not gone beyond numerical data. 

“I wanted to understand not just what people did but why they did it,” she says. “I’ve consulted with hundreds of organizations, and they said, 'We can’t get enough ethnic volunteers.' I wanted to give the volunteers a platform to speak directly to organizations.”

Half of all adults volunteer each year, and the fastest growing group is in communities of color. "There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S., and each board has eight to 10 members. These boards need to reflect the people they are trying to serve in order to be effective," Silver says.

Silver found that each group brought its own findings and themes to the surface, which she reflects in the titles for each focus group report. The titles include "You Get What You Give" for the Central American group; "Extending the Family" for the Chinese American group; and "Giving Generously" for the Japanese American group. 

She also highlights four common themes that threaded through the different focus groups, including a commitment to helping the next generation and spiritual and religious traditions as prime motivators for helping others.

The book is geared toward people who work at the board or staff level in those organizations, as well as at public institutions and foundations. It will be available on the websites of its sponsors — The San Francisco Foundation, Shinnyo-en Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund — and can be downloaded from the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership website. A paperback copy can be purchased at