About the Archive

The Ellis Archive is a unique collection, illustrating how the leadership and management of volunteers evolved as a distinct discipline and profession during the 20th century. The subject matter covers a broad spectrum — from quirky and humorous “lost history” to “old” how-to guidance that is still amazingly relevant to today’s practitioners!

Starting Point

Funded by the Susan J. Ellis Foundation, the Ellis Archive primarily consists of digitized documents from Susan J. Ellis' personal resource library.  This library was digitized and archived between 2019 to 2020 by head archivist, Katherine H. Campbell.  As a result of Campbell's work, the Database and the Milestones Timeline are available on this website. Campbell shared an introduction to the Archive.

Book cover with photo of volunteersIn their book By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers, authors Ellis and (Noyes) Campbell included a chapter called:

   Volunteer Leadership as a Profession 

Especially notable in this chapter is a two-page timeline of national organizations with a mission to promote volunteerism and/or support volunteer program leaders. This Archive serves as a useful complement to that historical summary, documenting examples of many events and trends mentioned in that chapter of By the People.

The Database

The Database is the largest part of the Ellis Archive. Hundreds of items in a wide range of formats have been digitized: books, articles, sample program materials, booklets, how-to manuals, original writing, speeches, newspaper clippings, articles, research reports, data, and examples of trends related to volunteer management. While most documents are from the United States, there are several from Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries.

Items are organized into 32 keyword topics, with some cross-referencing. These topics also represent a broad range of mission-focused areas, such as the arts, criminal justice, social services, the environment, healthcare, government, education, etc. Most content originates  from 1970 through 2004. However, there are seminal works dated as early as 1947, and a few documents as recent as 2010. Also included are numerous items from the private libraries of two pioneer volunteer leaders – Harriet Naylor and Ivan Scheier. Both were prodigious writers and highly respected mentors to Susan. Much of Scheier’s work was originally digitized by Regis University, and now continues to be accessible as part of this Archive.

In addition, the Minnesota Office of Volunteer Services Resource Library gave a few of its publications to Susan when that office closed in 2002; these publications are now a part of this Archive. The Archive also includes historical items documenting some of the history of the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA). This organization was the U.S. national professional association for 40 years, playing a pivotal role in the evolution of the body of knowledge related to volunteer management and leadership.

The Ellis Archive is searchable by title, source, year, author, and keyword topic. Special tags also exist for Research, Non-US/International, and AVA history items.

Please note that many of the hard copy documents are photo copies of the original; many are  somewhat damaged by the ravages of time, thus compromising the digital quality. Every effort has been made to make them as readable as possible.

The Milestones Timeline

The Milestones Timeline of the Ellis Archive offers the ability to view the evolution of our field on a timeline. The timeline depicts a chronological progression of pivotal events and trends that influenced the work of volunteer engagement professionals during the 20th century, with links to specific documents in the Database. While it is by no means all-inclusive, the Milestones Timeline can be a used as a starting point for tracing the path of this profession – and as a teaser for the wealth of information contained in the Database.  Visit the Timeline


This section recognizes the influence and contributions of several "pioneers" in the evolution of volunteer management as a profession. They wrote many of the earliest books and articles that became foundational resources for practitioners. In the time when there was little or not formal education on how to lead and manage volunteers, these individuals conducted hundreds of workshops and classes at conferences across the U.S., Canada, and other countries. Their mentoring and advocacy helped many practitioners feel empowered to embrace the potential of their roles.

Each Trailblazer profile includes a summary of key contributions to the field, quotes from those who knew them, a photo, and links to a few of their most significant publications in the Archive. These individuals were active during the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century. (Additional Trailblazers will be considered as other key individuals in the field become permanently retired or deceased.)

Why is this piece of history important? Like other parts of the Ellis Archive, it helps future generations understand how this profession grew to what it is today. The Trailblazer profiles also humanize the Archive documents and make their impact more visible. Lastly, the links within each profile can help users quickly find some of the most groundbreaking Archive content in the Database.