June 17, 2012
Let Us Now Praise Volunteers, and Those that Begat Volunteer Organisations*
We’ve been talking up Volunteer Awareness Week for weeks. Now let’s unfurl the banners, deliver the speeches, do the award presentations and the street parades, and read with pride the full-page spreads in our newspapers and the online affirmations about community organisations and the work done by volunteers. Let the party begin!
Let us also hear the voices of volunteers, recording the delight they find in their work, and the personal and professional gains they make through their volunteer experience.
Volunteers involved in New Zealand’s biggest exercise in event management, the Rugby World Cup have a few things to say, in a recently published report:
“My fellow volunteers – they were all wonderful people and extremely generous with their time and energy – this feeling spread amongst the team, so everyone stayed motivated and fed off the energy of others.”
“The whole experience, from the information road shows to the training and captain’s run, was amazing. So well organised, totally positive and supportive, I truly felt like an important person in a team for an important event. I was VERY proud to tell people I was a volunteer for RWC 2011!”
At Volunteer Centres around the country the work of recruitment and referral of volunteers is their core business. The quotes that follow are drawn from Volunteer Wellington publications.
“Volunteering has given me a chance to merge properly into the local community”
“Volunteering was a great stepping stone to help get from A to B, to make the big transition into paid employment.”
“Volunteering makes me a better person to be around.”
“It’s interesting, varied, challenging and rewarding too. I’d recommend volunteering to anyone.”
I am told more stories from a community organisation involving large numbers of volunteers in a wide range of roles:
“I got a job, and I’m studying at Polytech, all because the organisation gave me confidence to believe in myself and my abilities”
“I’m working as an ESL teacher now – all because I volunteered and the organisation acted as my referee”
Then there are the corporate volunteers, where businesses support employees to volunteer in the community. It might be for a fund-raising event, or a day-long conservation project working on improving a particular environment, or offering professional expertise to an organisation. Here is what the organiser of one company’s volunteer projects says:
“This is a community-minded company. The people here care about the community and volunteering. My bosses leave me to make it happen. It is very much their interest that drives our volunteering: it is their way of giving back to the community.”
I raise a flag too for the unsung volunteers in our communities, the huge population of informal volunteers whose voices are not often heard in public, nor their deeds loudly proclaimed. These are the people who look out for their neighbours, the clusters of small organisations who take the initiative to restore a waterway, to plant a hillside, those who run a sports team, develop a programme for young people, or the young people themselves who fundraise to help the cause of their choice.
If you ask them why you are likely to hear statements like these:
“It’s what you do – it’s part and parcel of living in this community”
“Giving is also receiving.”
“It’s easy to write a cheque, and it’s much more satisfying to give your time and skills to doing something money can’t buy.”
This week is also a time to acknowledge the organisations that give volunteers such opportunities. Here are a couple of testimonies from volunteers, drawn from Volunteer Wellington newsletter (Dec/Jan 2012).
“Volunteer work has to have purpose and be well managed, so that people know where they stand and how they are making a difference. Then they will be committed.”
“The people and managers at all the places I volunteered gave me a feeling of belonging. I always felt I was treated as one of the staff – properly equal.”
These are samples of the stories you will hear from volunteers. They come from different directions, representing different interests and different reasons for volunteering. They are also the stories about building communities, contributing to that interlocking honeycomb pattern that is our logo for this week.
So the joy of volunteering, the learning, the life path development, the social networks and the individual achievements illustrate the importance of (1) a switched-on manager of volunteers, and (2) an organisation that understands and fully appreciates the true value of volunteer contributions.
Volunteers + the organisation + good leadership and management = Building Communities
* Those who notice the adaptation of a biblical quote will also recognise that Volunteering has biblical dimensions.