Terms of Engagement: “Religious” Is Now “Faith-Based” at VolunteerMatch

There’s an old joke in the Jewish world that says ‘show me two Jews and I’ll show you three opinions.’ As much as it’s a play on the, er, finely honed disputation skills of my culture, it’s also a reminder that there are many  different views on faith and religion.

If you’ve posted a listing recently, and you’ve got sharp eyes, you might have noticed that we replaced our “Religious” Interest Area with a new term, “Faith-Based.” You may have also seen this switch if you’ve recently visited our Advanced Search page or seen our SearchLite widget out in the wild on the Web somewhere. These are all instances of our system-wide switch in terminology related to volunteering in religious capacities.

We made the switch to keep up with changing trends in how nonprofits organize their activities. Today there is a ton of variability in how faith-based organizations refer to their work. There are nonprofits that operate in partnership with religious organizations, there are nonprofits that explicitly describe themselves as faith-based in their missions, and there are not-for-profit congregations of all faiths and kinds.

While some of these types would describe faith as the guiding principle in their work, others are focused on creating faith-based solutions to specific social or environmental issues. Yet they all identify their work as being an expression of faith. To outsiders, this hierarchy of identity can be confusing. But to folks who are working or volunteering at these agencies, such distinctions are unnecessary. They want to make a difference, whatever it’s called.

Our new term, Faith-Based, allows for the idea that while the volunteer activity might be inspired by faith, there may be some other goal beyond the strengthening of faith. To describe the work merely as “Religious” doesn’t quite capture that, or allow for the imagination of volunteers.

Where Does Your Organization Fit?

The Corporation for National and Community Service defines “faith-based” organizations as the following:

  • A religious congregation (church, mosque, synagogue, or temple);
  • An organization, program, or project sponsored/hosted by a religious congregation (may be incorporated or not incorporated);
  • A nonprofit organization founded by a religious congregation or religiously-motivated incorporators and board members that clearly states in its name, incorporation, or mission statement that it is a religiously motivated institution; and
  • A collaboration of organizations that clearly and explicitly includes organizations from the previously described categories.

If any of these descriptions sounds a lot like your organization or program, you just might be “Faith-Based.”