07/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

What the Service Movement Can Learn From Tehran

Today was the last day of the National Conference on Volunteerism and Service. Nearly 4,000 people attended the gathering in San Francisco, including First Lady Michelle Obama, Governor Schwarzenegger, and other notables.

At the same time, thousands of young people across the globe were taking to the streets, organized via Twitter, in the name of social change and democracy in Iran.

The comparison is telling.

When a bunch of young people climbed on the Berlin wall and tore it down, it wasn't a community service project. The young people who protested the Vietnam War weren't tallying their community service hours. Think about the actions of the Civil Rights workers who marched, lobbied, and sat at restricted lunch counters--and all the ACT UP and Queer Nation activists who held kiss-ins in the 90s or the equality activists who took to the streets in California recently. And the list goes on...

Change has always come as a result of young people taking action. People rocking change--because injustice stares them in the face and they just have to do something about it.

Call it a reaction. An action. A movement. A force. But is it "service"? There are lots of good things out there under the auspice of "service"--like the millions who serve our country as part of the military. And then there's the 180 days of required "service" handed down to Chris Brown this week.

I wonder, will traditional "community service" orgs have a long life cycle? In the age of Twitter and Facebook, do we need conferences to exchange best practices? Will we need organizations or will we simply have movements? I.e. Tehran.

One thing I know to be true: the not for profit sector needs to evolve. Quickly. For example, the conference did have two bright spots. One was a panel called "Service 3.0: Converting Online Interest to Offline Activism," with Volunteer Match, Do, and others. The second bright spot was Arianna Huffington announcing the launch of All For While this new platform isn't perfect it's a step in the right direction.

If you want to reach a tech savvy generation you need a new model of communication. I'm hoping that next year the entire conference just takes place by video on YouTube. Maybe then I'll attend.