July 18, 2010
Every year during Volunteer Awareness Week, and around International Volunteers’ Day I hear this litany:
Thank you to ‘our’ volunteers – You do a wonderful job – We could not manage without you.
Or variations on these themes. And all through the year there will be rites of recognition for the work of volunteers, from certificates of service, to special functions, to letters and cards, and of course the regular utterance ‘thank you’.
Managers of Volunteers understand well the value of volunteers. But I think the message needs to be spread around.
‘Value’ is a word that carries a lot of baggage and several different meanings. When it comes to volunteers you can find meanings that relate to economic, political, social and cultural beliefs.
- The economics of Volunteering are reported by Statistics NZ: volunteering contributes 4.9% to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That is pretty significant, considering 4.9% is equal to the building industry and more than tourism (4.6%).
- Politically, volunteering is favoured by governments around the world as a way to provide social services in cash-strapped economies, under the rubrics of Civil Society, Community Development and all those nice sounding words. New Zealand’s Government is currently consulting on a ‘relationship agreement’ between government and the community sector.
- There are lots of social and cultural reasons to volunteer. Have a look at motivation research at www.sparc.govt.nz, or get a copy of Mahi Aroha: Maori Perspectives on Volunteering and Cultural Obligations to gain an understanding of a Maori perspective (available via www.ocvs.govt.nz.)
Here are some questions you could ask yourself:
Why do you engage volunteers in your organisation?
[You are absolutely not allowed to say “to save money”]
- What do volunteers bring?
- What do they give?
- What are the gains for your organisation?
You could go round other people in your organisation and ask the same questions. What sort of answers do you get?
If people cannot answer the questions, or if they are just wondering why you need to ask, that should signal a need to do some marketing of the volunteer programme and some solid advocacy on behalf of volunteers. Or get volunteers to talk to staff about why they volunteer.
The whole point of engaging volunteers is a heck of a lot bigger than saving money.