May 20, 2012
In all the gloom and doom of national and international economics the volunteer industry keeps on keeping on. Numbers of volunteers continue to increase, now spread across a wider age range than in generations past, and across different sectors. The range of volunteer activities broadens as organisations raise their expectations and the standards of volunteer programmes, as the manager of volunteers becomes recognised as a leader holding a pivotal role in developing and maintaining volunteer services.
There could be quite a number of people wanting to tell me “it ain’t necessarily so”. Somebody is bound to point out how volunteer recruitment and retention is so often the most wanted topic on Volunteer Centre training schedules. There are lots of reasons for this: turnover in people working with volunteers, a lack of specific training on management of volunteers, getting behind the times in new ways to attract volunteers, and the different expectations of volunteers – you know, using social media, getting upbeat in advertising, creating new roles for volunteers.
There will always be room for improvement. And there are always people out there thinking about volunteering who need a bit of encouragement.
Like a conversation I had last week that went like this:
- I am asked: Are you working, or retired?
- I talk a bit about being involved in the Management of Volunteers Project, and why. Of course it’s a great opportunity to do a bit of a sell, on volunteering and on the importance of good management for volunteers.
- Oh, she says a little wistfully, I’ve thought about volunteering, and I could ‘cos I work part-time. I do like shopping, she adds, eyes lighting up at the thought of being a volunteer that got to browse the malls and shopping meccas.
- Well, I advise, it’s really important that you get a job that you like, and managers try to match your interests.
So then I went on about how to connect, how to find out what volunteer positions were available. Easy as, I said – you can do it all on the computer. Or you could go to Facebook – there are regular inserts on volunteer opportunities. Or go visit a Volunteer Centre. That’s where you can get registered and get referred to places that could meet your interests and expectations.
I don’t know if I have enabled one more person to join the ranks of volunteers, but at least I have taken the opportunity to offer some good leads and some encouragement to give it a go.
In just four weeks’ time New Zealand will be alive with exhibitions and events to promote and to celebrate volunteering. Volunteer Awareness Week will have something for everyone. This annual programme serves to illustrate the breadth and depth of volunteering and all the organisations that go to make our Civil Society.
Volunteers are everywhere. When I go to catch a bus I walk past the Community Centre which is always alive with people meeting for community purposes. Around the corner I can find the local Community Garden, and further on is the Citizens Advice Bureau staffed by warm and welcoming volunteers. When I go walking on one of the many trails around Wellington I see the work of volunteers who have been landscaping a desolate environment, restoring native plants and trees, recovering a waterway to re-introduce native fish. During the weekend I’ll be watching some kids run around a cold and muddy sports field, and I will be admiring the volunteers who are team coaches, managers and referees, and the ones who organise the rota for half-time oranges and the jersey washing. My weekly community newspapers tell me more, about op-shops run by volunteers, about food collections for Food Banks, or a meal delivery service for new mums. Volunteers knock at my door, doing their stuff as collectors for a fund-raising appeal. Email newsletters turn up in my in-box, crafted by volunteers.
That’s the way of my community, just a small part of it. This year’s slogan for Volunteer awareness week is Building Communities through Volunteering. That’s what we do, and you can read more here.