Susan J. Ellis

headshot of Susan

Susan J. Ellis was widely recognized for her knowledge, her indefatigable spirit and her relentless promotion of volunteerism. Her career began in 1971 when she was tasked by the Philadelphia Family Court to develop a volunteer program. The idea of involving volunteers in family and juvenile courts was innovative at the time, and there was very little how-to information on Volunteer Management. But Ellis was never afraid of wading into new waters! She quickly succeeded in launching and growing a successful program to help probation officers find and connect with resources needed by their young clients. This experience led to her becoming an early leader of the professionalization of the Volunteer Management field. 

In 1977, Ellis founded Energize, a training, consulting and publishing firm that specialized in nearly every facet of volunteerism. The Energize website quickly became a "go-to" online resource for Volunteer Managers at all levels in all kinds of settings. She maintained an "A-Z library" with links to useful web resources on over 75 Volunteer Management topics. The Ellis Archive now includes many of these resources.  

A prolific writer, Ellis was the author or co-author of 14 books, including From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Successful Volunteer Involvement and By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers. Many of her books became standard reading for new leaders of volunteers and are available on this website. In addition, her company published books written by other leaders in the Volunteer Management field. From 1981 to 1987, she was editor-in-chief of The Journal of Volunteer Administration and was founder and editor-in-chief of e-Volunteerism (now Engage) from 2000 to 2019. She wrote more than 120 articles on Volunteer Management for dozens of publications, and wrote the national bi-monthly column, “On Volunteers,” for The NonProfit Times from 1990 to 2015.  

Ellis' reputation as a dynamic speaker and trainer grew quickly. She conducted hundreds of workshops and delivered many keynote speeches across North America, eventually expanding to Europe, Asia, Latin American, Israel and Australasia. She had a unique ability to mix humor, inspiration and very practical information – fueled by her strong passion and commitment to leading the volunteer community toward its maximum impact and recognition.

Ellis’ dedicated work earned her numerous awards, including the “Diamond Achievement Award” for distinguished alumni from Temple University, and the Association for Volunteer Administration's 1989 Harriet Naylor Distinguished Member Service Award.

What Others Say

“One of the reasons volunteer management is even on the radar is because of trailblazers like Susan.” -- Sheri Wilensky Burke, a Philadelphia-based Volunteer Management and Training consultant

“From the very beginning, Susan was my mentor. Although we collaborated often, she was usually a step or two ahead of me in her thinking and innovation. While working with Susan, I learned to embrace my own identity as a Volunteer Engagement professional. In the decades that followed, she continued to play this role with many, many others in our field – a powerful legacy indeed.” -- Katie Campbell, consultant and leader in Volunteer Engagement