June 9, 2013
Yes, in a week’s time New Zealand will have its turn at turning a spotlight on Volunteering. It is a time for national celebration of the work of volunteers, their organisations – and for the people responsible for managing volunteers. So what’s with the promotional banner adopted for this year? Volunteering NZ’s briefing explains.
“Hutia te rito o te harakeke Kei whaea te kōmako e kō? Kī mai ki ahau; He aha te mea nui o te Ao? Māku e kī atu He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.”
If the heart of harakeke was removed, Where would the bellbird sing? If I was asked What is the most important thing in the world? I would say: It is people, it is people, it is people.
Harakeke is one of New Zealand’s oldest plant species. We call it flax, but really it is a lily.
Harakeke supports a community of birds, animals and insects.
Harakeke is a fibre plant sourced by Maori to use in all parts of domestic life and community living.
Harakeke is surely the symbol to represent volunteering, to signal the weaving between all peoples and their connections with community and the land.
[Read more about the history and uses of Harakeke here.]
Look closely – see the interlacing weaving, see the linked arms of community, of people, creating a badge of honour. Volunteering is by People, for People, and about People.
In the run-up to National Volunteer Week volunteers are going to great lengths to parade the world of their work.
Go Volunteers! And please, take notice of what their managers are doing every day, in every way, to create the best possible experience for volunteers.
June 2, 2013
Recognition and appreciation of volunteer work throughout community organisations is something managers do every day in lots of different ways. This month Volunteering New Zealand is heading into National Volunteer Week (June 16-22), a brief time to celebrate the contribution of volunteers to all parts of New Zealand’s social and cultural life.
There are other annual opportunities for public acknowledgement, from national honours to local civic awards and community-sponsored medals. Two standout nation-wide programmes come via TrustPower and Kiwi Bank (as principal sponsor of New Zealander of the Year Awards). Both programmes are competitive, involving nomination and judging at both local and national levels in a range of categories.
TrustPower Community Awards are run in 24 regions, and they cover five categories: Heritage and Environment, Health and Wellbeing, Arts and Culture, Sport and Leisure, and Education and Child/Youth Development. Supreme winners in each region then vie for the title of National Awards Supreme Winner. For 2012 the winner was Kaibosh, a Wellington-based organisation dedicated to daily redistribution of left-over food.
The catalogue of winners at regional level is an eye-opener on the range of community organisations and their achievements. The Men’s Shed scored in Tauranga; in Dunedin the winner was the Neurological Foundation Southern Chair of Neurosurgery; a theatre group from the small town of Katikati took out honours in Western Bay of Plenty; and the ecological restoration project at Maungatautari was the winner for the Waipa District. Runners-up and commendations are recorded too.
TrustPower’s award for Youth Community Spirit recognises secondary school students’ service to school and the community. From the achievements noted in the citations these young people are the emerging leaders for a new generation.
New Zealander of the Year Awards focus more on individuals than organisations. There is a top award for New Zealander of the Year, and others for a Young New Zealander and a Senior New Zealander. Then there are the Local Hero awards identifying everyday people doing extraordinary things in their local communities. All of these engender significant local and national publicity, and recognition for individual and collective achievements.
In addition, the Community of the Year award provides groups with an opportunity to be recognised for their holistic contribution, rather than a focus on a particular sector. The small town of Paeroa is the winner for 2012, for its determination to retain an active events calendar and to enhance heritage attractions.
The heart of this community really lies with the large number of volunteers whose can-do attitude has seen the town develop to be a safe and vibrant community. The contribution and energy of a large number of groups is in contrast to the small population. It is this strong sense of community that is the key to the towns continuing growth and proves what can be achieved when residents share a common goal and work together harmoniously.
That’s a real illustration of what the spirit of community volunteering can achieve.
A study of winners and finalists for Community of the Year could reveal significant data on success factors – like leadership, collaboration and cooperation, strategic planning and implementation – because the achievements of Paeroa and other communities do not happen without effective leadership and management of a volunteer programme.
There’s no huge prize money offered from these award programmes, but the publicity and kudos will generate increased awareness to be translated into donor and funder interest and volunteer applications.
And when you scroll through the list of present and previous award winners it is very evident there are more things in community services and community development than NGOs filling the breaches in government health and welfare services. So when we join the functions lined up for National Volunteer Week let’s give a nod to the way leaders and managers of volunteers make all things possible for volunteers.
February 17, 2013
I have been collecting a litany of words commonly used as descriptors of volunteering. There’s quite a selection, and they cover various meanings, from conferring respect and value to some not-so-flattering terms.
Volunteers make the world go round Backbone of society
Local heroes Salt of the earth Good sorts People power
Glue / Fabric of the community Community Builders
Community collective Spirit of Community Community Champions
Not-for-Profit Institution Non-Government Organisation
Freebies Do-gooder Lady Bountiful
No doubt there are a few more to add (please do!) The one that is grabbing my attention at present is Unsung Heroes, a television programme on TVNZ. Yes, really! Volunteers are featuring on prime time TV, an extended series show-casing the range and variety of volunteer work in New Zealand.
Most of the major NFP organisations in our communities are represented, and there are some nice pieces on less widely-known charities. Even the Christchurch Student Army gets a look-in.
What a relief from other reality-TV programmes which too often display the sad, the bad and the downright silliness of human behaviour. Unsung Heroes hits all the right notes, covering the real activities undertaken by volunteers and including off-the-cuff comments on their motivation. Mostly the latter is about the feel-good benefits for the volunteer, or the doing-good-in-the-community effect, and once or twice because the volunteer had experienced help from the organisation they have joined.
And yet…. It’s all very well showing off the worthiness of volunteer work, and the achievements of volunteers – but if you haven’t got the background of the organisation, and what it takes to getting a volunteer on the job then you are getting less than half the story. There’s no show yet of a manager of volunteers, nor the extensive training undertaken by emergency service volunteers and telephone counsellors. Training has not had a mention in any context. Or even an induction and orientation. The series, thus far, has excluded that vast array of informal volunteering that goes under the radar and which really does make the world go round. It would be nice to see something of Mahi Aroha, and the volunteer effort generated by migrant and refugee communities for supporting their own and for sustaining their cultures.
OK – we can’t have everything, and we should be congratulating NZ On Air for commissioning the programme. But still I think – why not go a bit further?
What about creating a series based on the drama that is ever present in the life of a manager of volunteers? Synopsis: follow a valiant manager who herds a bunch of aspiring volunteers through the process of recruitment, training and placement, and what happens to them on the job. Now there’s a scenario to put management of volunteers on the map! Because they are our real Unsung Heroes.
June 24, 2012
Whew! The excitement and hype of Volunteer Awareness Week has come to an end – though I hope the messages of appreciation have gone far and wide, and will linger in the ears of volunteers for a while to come.
This year the Week generated more participation and enthusiasm than I have seen in years. Press releases continued to be issued throughout the week, from such diverse organisations as Department of Conservation, Age Concern, and Coast Guards. On Facebook there were dozens of daily entries inviting you to check the ‘like’ box, because they were highlighting an event or acknowledging the extent of volunteer service. Newspapers ran articles on volunteering and management of volunteers, and occasional stories of volunteer experience. There were also advertisements of appreciation, from a wide range of organisations, alongside invitations to volunteer.
There was little public proclamation from volunteers themselves. You had to be at one of those functions where awards were handed out and where the stories were told.
“It’s very nice to be appreciated,” said recipient Brenda Segar, 71, of Parklands. That was on the front page of The Press, about Volunteer Canterbury’s award ceremony. Another item reported on the 82 year old woman who was too busy volunteering to accept an award for her work. “I don’t do it for reward”. She likes doing things for others. “This is most enjoyable. I get home on a bit of a high afterwards.”
I wish we heard more from all those younger generations of volunteers who are filling the ranks in increasing numbers. Volunteering is not just for the olds!
The story of matching organisation need with corporate interest and volunteer support was recounted at a Wellington function to celebrate the Nikau Foundation Corporate Challenge 2012. There could not have been a more literal example of building communities than the alliance between Habitat for Humanity, and the volunteer engineers from Beca.
In all the hoop-la and speechifying I could still hear the platitudes and clichés about volunteers and volunteering. There were some new buzzwords too. I wish we could find the slogans that offer genuine meanings of volunteering.
However, my media-scanning over the past week has gleaned some thoughtful and honest representations of volunteering and the relationship between volunteers and the organisations they serve.
Volunteers make the world go round, which is another way of saying Volunteering is Fun; it’s going and doing. Volunteering is not the last word saving the world or being indispensible: it is being human, and being involved in community.
Volunteers demonstrate commitment and dedication and passion and skill, and they choose to show us how. (Plunket Society)
Volunteering and volunteer organisations are an important part of the fabric of New Zealand (Citizens Advice Bureau). Yes! A fabric is made up of warp and weft, and colour and design, length and breadth – all the multiple dimensions we can find in our communities.
Connection is the heart of volunteering There is resonance here: Connection speaks of interaction, and a linking with other parts of societal structures – the political, economic and cultural. This, from the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector who concludes:
“As a short-cut for describing the outcomes achieved by the volunteering sector, we often use descriptions like ‘improving social cohesion’ and ‘strengthening communities’. What that really means at a personal level is that volunteers are creating relationships and enriching people’s lives, including their own, as they contribute their time and effort to making New Zealand a better place.”
There we have it then, a simple equation:
Volunteers + the organisation (good leadership and management) = Building Communities
June 17, 2012
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.
March 25, 2012
It’s that time of the year again. The annual awards and accolades for volunteer service are being handed out and hitting the headlines.
A few weeks ago New Zealanders of the Year were announced, and the Kiwibank Local Heroes awards are percolating around the country right now. In Christchurch 140 groups and individuals have been recognised as Earthquake Heroes. Volunteers who helped with the clean-up from the Rena oil-spill in the Bay of Plenty recently enjoyed a beach party. This weekend it is the turn to learn the winners of Trustpower National Community Awards.
I have not counted how many people are standing tall and proud. I am observing instead how volunteer service is valued and appreciated all around New Zealand, in small and large communities, urban and rural. Indeed both Kiwibank and Trustpower sponsor awards for a whole community or community group, and citations illustrate just how much collective volunteering can achieve.
The categories for these awards are not restrictive; it seems volunteers in all population groups, sector interests, and social issues can have equal chances of nomination and selection. There are few nominees in paid positions, and even fewer mentions of the major non-profit organisations. Mostly the awards go to individuals associated with informal groups, community-based and community-led, or to the collective efforts of a community organisation that would otherwise not make national headlines.
There are no Managers or Coordinators of volunteers in the line-up, but there is a great deal of leadership evident in the citations of achievements. Words like ‘passion’, ‘commitment’ and ‘inspiring’ appear quite frequently. I suspect managers of volunteers could find something to learn from these community leaders.
The best volunteering story of the year has to be that of Sam Johnson, leader of the Student Volunteer Army (SVA) which took on the muddy job of cleaning up liquefaction following the Christchurchearthquake of September 2010, and again in February 2011. I am sure he did not set out to demonstrate the art of managing spontaneous volunteering and the effectiveness of the SVA, nor to seek the crown of Young New Zealander of the Year. The achievements of Sam and his team are remarkable, and the international recognition that has followed is well-deserved. The full account of how SVA was established and what it did is available through the on-line journal e-volunteerism, here.
Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to the people who did the nominating. The awards do not and cannot account for all the volunteers who keep on keeping on giving their time, energy and skills to their communities. But the awards sure draw attention to what volunteers achieve, to the spirit of community, and to inspiring leadership.