June 27, 2015
Volunteering is for anyone and everyone! That’s the celebrating we have been doing for this week. The theme for National Volunteer Week, as the banner says, is ‘There is a place for you to volunteer’, ‘He wahi mohou hei tuao’. And you just had to cast your eye over press releases and newspaper inserts and social media posts to notice how much volunteering is going on, and how widespread it is across our communities.
Volunteering is nothing less than diversity, in volunteer opportunities, the volunteers themselves, and in the impacts of volunteering.
There’s a young mum and her infant daughter who go visiting at a rest home; you can live a boyhood dream as an engine driver; there are countless opportunities to get outdoors into conservation projects; you can pay it forward in volunteering with emergency services or a health sector organisation; become a best buddy to people who want a bit more social contact; be the key support person to help a refugee family find a place in their community; try to make a dent in the effects of poverty or violence, or the abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Volunteers are found in schools and hospitals and all the big institutions. They keep sports clubs going, drive emergency services, environment and heritage conservation. They make national and local events and festivals the best ever. They just keep on keeping on, whatever and wherever. (You can read more about the importance of diversity in a volunteer programme here.)
Yes, you know all that.
Of course we are thanking volunteers every day, in all sorts of ways. But on this one week of the year, what are we thanking them for? The litany of platitudes still gets paraded:
Thanks to our wonderful volunteers
We couldn’t manage without you
We really need you
You help us make a difference (to what? I might ask)
Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organisation
Much better, and more enlightening, are the messages coming through that tell something of what volunteers do for the organisation:
Thank you to all the volunteers ….
…..who work hard to ensure safe, enjoyable experiences in New Zealand’s outdoors for us all.
…..for helping to give more than 4000 individuals and families a hand up during the past year.
…..for supporting skilled migrants in their search for meaningful work.
…..for giving someone a second chance at life.
…..for helping support a life without limits.
…..for skills in providing telephone advice and resources.
Yes, you know all that stuff too.
This year there is a lot more quoting of figures related to volunteer services. But oh dear, the wide variation makes me wonder what oracles were consulted for the information.
Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector says: “On average there are just over 400,000 kiwis volunteering every week for a charity, adding up to over 1.5 million hours contributed to our communities”.
Another report says nearly 500,000 people volunteer on a weekly basis; or 800,000 hours of work per week. This rate amounts to 15.5% of the population, per week. Per annum it is said 1.2 million people volunteer – about 25% of total population.
Different research methodology and different variables make for a confusing mix of information.
I have a bit more confidence in the Quarterly indicators from Department of Internal Affairs for September 2014 (the latest available):
- Nearly 35 per cent of all respondents volunteered at least one hour of their time. This is the highest volunteering rate of the five years measured.
- Of those who volunteered, 59 per cent were female and 41 per cent were male.
- People between the ages of 30-39 volunteered the most.
And now there is a brand new survey from Seek Volunteer New Zealand which sheds a poor light on Wellingtonians: under 19% of working Kiwis in the region currently volunteer, though 38% say they have volunteered previously. It’s the lack of time, say 69% of those surveyed. Volunteer Wellington issued a prompt response which tells a different story:
‘Of the approximately 3000 volunteer seekers who come through our matching processes every year, those in the ‘working’ (meaning in full-time employment and part-time) category, have increased over the past few years and is currently nearly a third of our total volunteer seeker cohort.’
‘Annually we work with between 800–1000 employee volunteers who are matched with any one of our 400+ community organisation members to be connected with projects of interest. Last year 87 such projects took place, ranging from physical work to skill based programmes and, with several of these employee volunteering teams, being involved on a weekly basis.’
So while we claim New Zealand has a culture that values and encourages volunteering we are not so good in getting our facts together, or at least determining a consistent base-line for data-gathering.
Small wonder that organisations are being pressed to deliver measurable outcomes for the services delivered through government contracts. At the beginning of June the Minister of Social Development announces a new Community Investment Strategy to “create a more results-focused and evidence-based approach for purchasing of social services for vulnerable people and communities, and will also be more transparent, targeted, flexible and efficient”. On the first day of National Volunteer Week a clear warning is issued that more funding cuts are on the horizon.
No question that community social service organisations are under threat. I’d like to think the prospect of significant change creates a real opportunity to put volunteering up where it belongs. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark understood the importance of volunteering when she said “without volunteers New Zealand would stop”. (She repeated the tenor of this comment on Twitter on International Volunteer Day in 2014, as head of UNDP).
Volunteering will not go away any time soon. The adaptations to changing conditions will continue, innovation and enterprise will keep on creating new ways of responding to diverse situations – as people have done for millennia.
Seek Volunteer NZ might have got its figures wrong, but they have produced excellent presentations of real volunteers and the reality of volunteering. And included is the best line of the whole week, said by a volunteer about her work, illustrating yet another dimension of volunteering – the personal value:
You can’t put a price on the feeling of what you can get out of it – you can’t.
April 22, 2015
A few weeks back I received notice of a piece of newly-published New Zealand research on digital proficiency in the NFP Sector. It came via my email inbox of course, and though I am no great shakes in computer literacy and technological competency I do know what a necessary asset these skills are for all things volunteering, and for volunteer organisations.
I have lamented for a long time about the often poor and inadequate use of technology. Goodness, it’s nearly five years since I wrote about making websites attractive for volunteers. And still I come across inadequate and out-of-date information, misleading links, and a sort of stone-walling that looks like the organisation has something to hide. I’ve preached about more effective use of social media too, and making space for volunteer on-line participation.
Anyway the analysis of digital proficiency in the research is pretty-much spot on. The report says the NFP Sector is under pressure to do more with less: Government wants to reduce spending; traditional sources of funding are shifting; and supporters want to see the impact of their investment. Organisations that are digitally proficient are better placed to respond in a challenging environment, and there are gains to be made across a range of NFP operations.
It is possible these findings could be extrapolated to a global sphere: “there is no significant difference between IT capability levels between metropolitan and regional-based organisations, or across Australia and New Zealand”. That is not to say Aussies and Kiwis are just the same: there are distinct cultural differences, despite our neighbourliness.
Other results show that less than half of research participants have an IT plan; that there is a positive correlation between IT capability and revenue generation; and that capability is not relevant to organisation size and complexity. And still 11% of organisations do not have or use a website. There’s a heap of challenges to make IT more productive of course, starting with affordable and skilled technical resources. Staff training is high on the list, and making the most of new IT developments is also important.
But wait, there is more. A Facebook link turns up: Tech is Everyone’s Job. Because Tech is also the space for innovation, and lack of staff training and opportunities to test new processes becomes a barrier to effective organisation progress. Right? Just see what Chief Executives are missing when they refuse to use social media.
There is a heap of stuff available urging digital proficiency. There’s also a deal of research and statistics on internet connectivity and use. What about volunteer involvement in their organisation’s on-line activity?
When the idea of volunteers being let loose on social media is raised I hear objections that come close to outrage. I sigh, for this indication of such a lack of trust, that volunteers will abuse the system and risk the organisation’s credibility – which I note is a slur rarely applied to paid staff. With a well-drafted policy to cover and manage perceived risks (and there are examples) volunteers could prove a real asset in promoting good news and even attracting donors’ attention.
Let’s make volunteers and volunteering digital-friendly, and up on the spectrum of technological competence – as well as getting some up-skilling in digital proficiency for organisations.
March 16, 2015
A bunch of leaflets landed in my letterbox this week. They were inside an envelope from a UK publisher of academic works who keeps hoping I will purchase another book. This time the promotion was all about new publications on safety in the workplace. I groaned.
I am, at best, ambivalent about safety and the regulatory environment that is imposed in workplaces. I grew up learning the consequences of climbing trees without a safety net, and there was never a playground swing sheathed in protective rubber. I cycled everywhere on open roads without a care (or a helmet) and later drove a car with a few elements of recklessness. I learned my risk-taking limits through practical experience and without any disastrous consequences. So when I find a person in a hi-viz vest is designated sole responsibility to shepherd pedestrians round a bit of roadworks, I confess to being offended by the assumption that I have no common sense, don’t know my road rules and that I will deliberately create mischief for the roading project.
Of course the flip side of this kind of over-protection is the high accident rate in farming and forestry industries, in manufacturing and on our wharves, resulting in serious injury and death. It seems there is enough management and worker carelessness out there to give cowboys a bad name.
I take a closer look at those leaflets and the blurbs that tell me a little about the content of the books. There’s a whole library of them, all more or less dealing with safety in the workplace, with titles like The Field Guide to Understanding ‘Human Error’; The Past and Future of Safety Management; and The Human Contribution. The common point seems to be the ‘human factors’ that contribute to accidents. Even company bonuses have potential for perverse consequences when attention to major hazard risk is diverted to financial incentives – that’s the book titled Risky Rewards.
There are also a number of titles about ‘resilience engineering’, as in changing human behaviour. Being resilient is all about shifting safety from being protective to becoming productive, increasing the number of things that people do right instead of engendering risk. In my earthquake-risk city resilience is not a new concept: we have been urged for some years now to prepare ‘for when the big one comes’.
One book blurb reminds us that even if humans are the major hazard in a safety system, they can also be the heroes, as a documentary on the Christchurch earthquake demonstrated. Here’s another reason to broaden our thinking beyond the blame and punishment regimes of safety regulations.
The reform of workplace health and safety in New Zealand has caused much concern for the community and voluntary sector, mostly for the extended responsibilities of employers and board members, and increased financial penalties if found at fault. Yet for most non-profit organisations and NGOs this is also an opportunity to review current obligations and practice, and to start encouraging a culture of ‘looking out for each other’, and speaking out about hazards and safe practice. That would go a long way to keep us all safe, much better than ‘turning a blind eye’ and thinking ‘that’s not my problem’.
Hang on a minute. Isn’t this ‘resilience engineering’ just the stuff of developing and managing a volunteer programme? In the selection and training process there is a constant assessment of individual risk elements, and the degree of risk that might impact on the volunteer roles and tasks to which they are assigned. We look out for the well-being of volunteers, for job satisfaction and retention as well as their safety. And volunteers, even if it is not their primary motivation, will find that the pleasure of participation and connectedness will also contribute to their resilience and their safety in the workplace.
The key to excellent health and safety management for volunteers, says a Factsheet on Volunteers, is good planning and good communication. But before you sit back with a got-it-sorted grin, best to check out how good you really are and whether all bases are covered.
February 7, 2015
Technically, all unpaid work is illegal, unless an employer can show it is a training opportunity.
This sentence leapt out at me recently when reading a columnist’s critique of internships. The writer was having a go at the dearth of jobs for new graduates, and the creeping elitism of tertiary education when being an unpaid intern is affordable only to children of the rich.
If unpaid work is illegal where does that put volunteering? Should we be nervous? And would we ever say ‘volunteering is not working’?
Of course not, except the question exposes – yet again – the looseness of English language. Have a go at writing synonyms for ‘work’ and I’ll bet in short order you’ll have a list of ten words, without even including ‘employment’.
Trouble is, ‘work’ gets conflated into ‘having a job’, ‘being employed’, ‘being paid for what you do’, and ‘work status’ is a defining personal concept in many contexts. To admit to being unemployed is not usually something to shout about. And all the while there are plenty of examples of ‘unpaid work’ that we undertake without question: mowing lawns and gardening, raising kids, ‘housework’, caring for aged parents – though we may not call these tasks ‘volunteering’.
Volunteering is work, no question. We have job descriptions and tasks to perform. We put much effort into our endeavours. The organisation will have policies which support our ‘work’ and recognise our rights, similar to employee conditions. We like to be included as ‘staff’ of the organisation, and sometimes we are happy to be referred to as ‘staff’, even if we are not paid. We are not too keen on situations where professional staff regard us as amateurs – that suggests our volunteer work is of lesser value to the organisation.
I am not hearing mumbles about volunteers encroaching on paid staff roles, nor of volunteers being seen as a threat. (Though there are concerns expressed in this nfpSynergy report, p12.) How far can we promote volunteering in the non-profit sector before there is a backlash?
But back to taking on an internship. “Whatever happened to the idea of paying for honest toil?” asks the columnist. Entry level career opportunities seem to have disappeared: it’s either a volunteer internship or flipping burgers and night-shift office cleaning. The struggle to get a foot on the employment ladder makes me wonder if gaining university qualifications are worth the effort. So it is good to see Student Job Search developing proactive partnerships with corporate groups, offering part-time permanent – and paid – positions for graduate students.
There are other anomalies related to ‘work’. New Zealand’s government office for welfare benefits is called Work & Income. A programme to get unemployed people into jobs is called Workfare. Mandatory ‘work for the dole’ is not formalised in New Zealand, and volunteering is a recommended option. We could not call compulsory ‘work experience’ volunteering, yet Volunteer Centres report growing numbers of unemployed people independently seeking volunteer positions for that purpose.
Internships and work experience placements are just a couple of indicators of changes in the employment market and job opportunities. The level of required skill has been raised; unskilled paid work is becoming hard to find. There is no longer a life-long certainty of employment; demand for technological expertise is increasing. Businesses and organisations get restructured at regular intervals. Businesses are bought and sold, and down-sized, and reports of staff lay-offs are reported frequently. So volunteering has become a popular occupation while waiting for the next spell of employment.
Volunteering will never be deemed illegal, yet with the way the world is going we might just see volunteering become an honourable profession.
January 18, 2015
From time to time I have wondered about absence of ‘organisation theory’ in training courses for managers of volunteers. The focus continues to be devoted to the components and processes of a volunteer programme and getting them right. Yet all the while we live and breathe within a structure that contains and at times constrains the work we do. The struggles a manager of volunteers can encounter are well-recorded and debated, but rarely set in the context of organisational realities. It’s as though we should know about organisations by osmosis – after all, we live all our lives in one form of them or other.
So when I discovered recently that Charles Handy had published a book outlining the characteristics of voluntary organisations I pounced on the old and tattered copy found in my public library. Handy was a go-to management guru of the late 20th century, the person who did for organisations what Myers-Briggs (and others) has done for our understanding of personality types. Who could resist Handy’s typology of organisations based on the characteristics of ancient Greek gods? (See Gods of Management, 1978.)
You can find out a bit more about these gods in Understanding Voluntary Organisations. And so much more about how to make organisations function effectively. This book is about organisations, not management, on the principle that better understanding will lead to better practice. As Handy suggests in this advice:
It is as foolish to try to run things without organisational understanding as it would be to go mountain climbing without the proper clothing and equipment.
The first part of the book is devoted to people in organisations. Handy writes about individual motivation, casting aside conventional theories on volunteering based on needs and focusing on our self-concepts. He reminds us that people like targets, they like to feel good and that we are all different: truisms that fit well with what we learn very quickly about volunteers. When it comes to ‘roles’, Handy shows how complex they can be: overlapping, confused, ambiguous, conflicting, and overloaded. “People in roles talk to other people in roles”, affecting our thinking and behaviour. When we slot people into role pigeon-holes we can get blinded by our expectations and forget to see the person in the role. There we have an explanation for the sometimes poor relations between paid staff and volunteers.
The chapter on groups covers standard theory and practice on teams, committees and group process, putting a framework on the do’s and don’ts of group work. The longest chapter in this section is on power and influence – forbidden topics, according to Handy, “especially in voluntary organisations”. Handy brings them into the light, both the negative and positive aspects, and calls for a better understanding based around democracy. There are plenty of cues here to support the practice of managers of volunteers.
Part Two is all about organising the organisation. Here you can find a chapter on the cultures of the Greek gods, with the proviso that organisations are not culturally pure, just like one’s dominant personality type is infused with others. Factors of size, work flow, environment and history can influence the cultural style.
The shape of organisation structures is determined according to division of labour, accountability and coherence. A structure is the skeleton which comes alive with people and groups and tasks “to get the blood running and the nerves and sinews working” – which implies the need to find ways to integrate different parts of the structure, something well-understood by managers of volunteers, even if we do not always know why or how to achieve integration.
Organisation systems are never more at risk of fall-out than when communications are distorted, by either sender or receiver, or a lack of clarity and distance. (How many volunteer offices are located down the far end of the building, some distance from the executive wing – and what does that communicate?)
The numbers game for accountability is just as fraught, depending on different levels of success and how to measure them. Handy’s answer is to be very clear about purpose; to be specific about tasks related to that purpose; and to establish a set of measures indicating what will mean success for each task – that’s the role of numbers. He emphasises the importance of numbers: neglecting this part of the system will distort organisational effort. There’s a message here for organisations struggling to find ways to measure outcomes and effectiveness.
The final chapter covers organisational change, that drive for growth and development that can also bring dislocation and disruption. We adopt blinkers to block change; we prefer predictability – and organisations rely on predictability to ensure efficiency – which just inhibits experimentation, innovation and creativity. Handy sets out the ‘levers of change’ which are the key elements of an organisation he has described previously: task, systems, structures and people. They are all interconnected, so change in one part will impact on all others (that is basic systems theory). He does not present a manual for change but does say:
If you want an exciting, developing, changing organisation, look for one where the individuals are themselves encouraged to be exciting, developing and changing.
Leadership, in case you are wondering, permeates all chapters in the book. It’s there in discussion on groups, on power and influence, on communication, and on organisational change and development. Handy points out that the word ‘management’ is found only in English, and its use in everyday contexts is not confined to organisations or running a business. Management theory is based on engineering models, he says, implying that “control of people is similar to the control of things, that people are resources to be counted, deployed and utilised.” Non-profit organisations are not immune to treating people this way.
Handy urges us to adopt the new metaphors of political theory, in thinking of organisations as societies or communities rather than as machines or warehouses. Look how we are currently investing more usage and practice on words like ‘networks and alliances’, ‘shared values’, ‘power and influence’ and ‘leadership’. Is it time to drop the word ‘management’ from our understanding of volunteer programmes and our job title?
Handy offers an explanation of voluntary organisations that tells us why things are as they are: he is not just repeating what we already know. There are times when lines between formal and informal organisations are blurred. Perhaps the book sketches the world we inhabit rather too lightly, and its publication date means there is no account of sector developments over the past 25 years. Yet the key messages resonate still, about people, tasks, structures and systems that make up our organisations. Understanding Voluntary Organisations is a short and easy read with plenty of examples and box inserts. Go find a copy if you can – it’s worth a read.
Handy, Charles (1988) Understanding Voluntary Organisations: How to Make Them Function Effectively. Penguin
December 7, 2014
Events took place all over the country. Various social gatherings, award presentations, a march down the main street of a regional town, and if you can call social media an event there was a field day of on-line interaction. The stories about the work of volunteers and by volunteers describing their own journeys just kept on coming. One contributor’s advice was ‘Milk it!’
There were public declarations of thanks and appreciation. Some statements illustrated why it was this day is important.
National organisation, health sector:
We could not deliver what we do if it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of volunteers. They contribute in many different ways, such as assisting with land and water based exercise classes, volunteering at children’s camps, helping at seminars, working in our offices, being on support groups, supporting us on our regional and national committees, advocating for our services, assisting with our annual appeal, and much more.
Government Minister for Sport and Recreation:
These volunteers – coaches, umpires, referees, the people who wash the uniforms, transport the teams, organise sausage sizzles and clean the clubrooms – they are the heart of sport in New Zealand. They also have a key role to play in the success of major sporting events.
Another health sector organisation:
About 2500 people have generously offered up their time in the past year, contributing more than 15,000 hours of unpaid work collectively. That’s a huge amount of time our volunteers have freely given up to shake buckets, help at events, carry out administrative work and speak at public events on behalf of the organisation.
A Regional Council responsible for environmental issues had this to say:
The volunteers have been involved in a range of projects throughout the region and in the past year. They have collectively given more than 26,500 hours of their time to activities such as fencing, planting, plant and animal pest control, building visitor facilities, bird monitoring, litter collection, mangrove management, sign installation and promoting safe boating. Through our combined efforts in the past year 106 ecological sites, 188.8km of waterway margins and 1449 hectares of highly erodible land has been protected. More than 100 tonnes of rubbish has been collected and many, many thousands of native plants have been planted and cared for.
Hurrah! Now we are starting to hear what we are thanking volunteers for, beyond their time and $$ saved for organisations.
And then there is the opportunity to put a stake in political ground. Another parliamentarian wanted to “celebrate volunteers by opposing regulatory burden”:
The current Health and Safety Reform Bill would treat volunteers – even casual ones – as workers, forcing organisations to take liability for the safety of people who have chosen to pitch in for events like tree plantings and disaster clean-ups. The practical effect of this regulation is obvious: it will be harder for communities to mobilise volunteer action. Ratepayers in particular will be hit hard, as local councils currently utilise volunteer labour for many vital services and initiatives.
We also got a reminder from Volunteering New Zealand and Volunteer Service Abroad (NZ) that volunteering is not just about domestic issues, and how the need to promote volunteering never ceases:
Every year, more than one million New Zealanders volunteer here and overseas, in their own communities and in countries facing hardship and poverty. Their goal is to work with those who wish to improve their lives, and the lives of others, in some way. On International Volunteer Day, the international volunteering community renews its call for volunteering to be seen as key to international and national development.
At the end of the day I was able to kick back with colleagues from Volunteering New Zealand. We toasted our achievements for the day and looked forward to imminent holiday time.
Quote of the day comes from the Chair of Volunteer Wellington’s Board of Trustees:
It’s hard to measure the impact of volunteering, but it’s easy to feel the difference we make.
The image above is by Ken Samonte, for Positively Wellington Tourism. See more here, especially re volunteering.
I’m signing off now for the year. I’ll keep beating my drum in 2015, though probably less often.
November 30, 2014
This week there’s that global day to honour volunteers (IYV), and I’ll be joining the crowd in Wellington to hear our praises sung and the inspiring stories about volunteer journeys.
Right now there’s also a raft of KiwiBank medals being awarded throughout New Zealand to Local Heroes, those people doing extraordinary things in their local communities.
We’ve even got our own set of awards for Wellingtonians – the Welly’s – which include an award for Community Service.
And Volunteer Centre websites are carrying regular pages for Featured Volunteers, or Volunteer Testimonials, or Volunteer Profiles.
Fantastic! To shout out about volunteers and volunteering, and rewarding people for their service to a cause, or their creative initiative, or for the difference they have made in their communities – for all these reasons it’s important to ensure we give public recognition where it is due. A newspaper editorial (Dominion Post, November 22, 2014) puts it like this:
New Zealand has a long tradition of modesty. Not for us the big-noting of brasher cultures. Strutting, boasting celebrities who too often are all sizzle and no sausage are unwelcome. Instead, achievements should speak for themselves. Which is all well and good, but sometimes it is important to praise those among us who have succeeded.
Yes indeed. At last the Tall Poppy Syndrome is on the wane. We can get rid of that fateful Kiwi term, the Clobbering Machine. Some time ago I wanted to nominate a volunteer for an award, but the idea was vetoed because you can’t single out one volunteer, you must not imply that one is above the rest. So the whole volunteer programme misses out on being noticed, and neither is the impact of volunteering on community well-being.
Sometimes volunteering awards appear to be given out on the basis of length of service. Working for the same organisation for twenty or thirty years is admirable of course, but I hope it is the particular achievements over time that are being recognised, not just longevity and loyalty.
The citations of awards bring to public attention a great deal of the volunteer activity in our communities, including the whole range of volunteering fields – sport, working with youth or needy families and disabled people, a training course in prisons, emergency services, local communities and environment issues, or the arts. Recipients are also as diverse as the volunteer population: young people gain as many awards as older people; disabled people and an ethnic mix are included. These unsung heroes are our Tall Poppies, demonstrating what can be achieved.
So let us rejoice, and cheer on all volunteers – whether they win awards or not. Their stories need to be told, because here is all the raw data to illustrate the outcomes and impact of volunteering. Get the measuring process right, and we’ll be able to find out just how valuable volunteering can be.
Let’s keep on telling the stories and making sure the poppies grow tall.
November 23, 2014
IVD is a global celebration of volunteerism, honouring people’s participation in making a change at all levels.
This statement is a tag-line on IVD 2014 website. December 5 is the day to ‘applaud hundreds of millions of people who volunteer to make change happen’. The Volunteering New Zealand whakatauki for the day (in the banner above) conveys a similar meaning.
Yes, I know it’s hard on the heels of International Volunteer Managers’ Day, but the two go together, don’t they? It’s a moot point on which is more important: managers of volunteers will not exist without a volunteer programme; and you will never get the best of volunteer contribution and achievement without a switched-on leader and manager of the programme.
Even then we can run into trouble. How can we measure the outcome, the effectiveness and the impact of volunteer work? That’s the question that’s troubling the community and voluntary sector at present. Counting hours of time delivered, perhaps adding in transport and travel costs as donations in kind, tells us simply the amount of free labour an organisation has enjoyed. When the hours are translated into a rough (read basic hourly rate) $$ amount we can shout loudly about how much money volunteers have saved us.
That is not real appreciation for volunteer effort, not what most volunteers set out to do. That is not ‘honouring people’s participation in making a change’.
So what are some better ways to acknowledge the real work of volunteers? When the question is put like this the answers are obvious:
- What is the real work volunteers have been doing? Describe it.
- Add in how this work has contributed to organisation mission.
- How does the work of volunteers enable higher staff performance and overall service provision? (Please don’t say staff could not manage without volunteers.)
- In thinking about why volunteers are engaged in your organisation, what has been impressive in the way volunteers carry out their roles.
- Go to consumers and ask them for stories about volunteers – the school kids who are coached by a volunteer; the homebound older person who relies on meals delivered by volunteers; the guests at the soup kitchen; the person whose cat was rescued from a tall tree by the volunteer fireman.
It’s hard to cover everything volunteers undertake. But the more specific we can be in celebrating volunteering the better we can demonstrate our understanding of volunteering, and how we value it for its non-monetary worth.
When December 5 comes round I do not want to be disappointed by the raft of blanket statements proclaiming volunteers as the organisation’s backbone, or the backbone of society. Volunteers are not skeletons!
November 16, 2014
The difficulties of volunteer recruitment never seem to go away. The plaints of being short of people or not getting the ‘right sort’ of people keep on being raised. I am still seeing notices in community newspapers or on social media and on websites about ‘wanting’ and ‘needing’ volunteers – which do little more to attract people beyond relying on the organisation’s reputation and public profile.
Well if you have not read the small print in the image above take a look at it now.
This notice reportedly delivered 5000 responses to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment of a crew for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914. The original advertisement has never been located so there is doubt about its authenticity. Nevertheless it is a great story, alongside the subsequent adventures and heroism of the men on the expedition.
Yes, the message is based on men wanted (remember this is pre-Women’s Lib days), but it was the era of Antarctic exploration, and maybe the name of Shackleton drew attention (he had already made a name for himself). Maybe all those men were looking for adventure, not knowing there was a different sort of adventurous expedition that would be announced in just a few months time.
For managers of volunteers the point of any recruitment advertising is (1) grabbing attention and (2) understanding the range of motivations that draw people to volunteer. Add to that some basic principles of marketing, along with the organisation’s well-articulated reasons for engaging with volunteers.
What sort of salvo from a voluntary organisation would deliver the impact that Shackleton achieved?
- Unleash your talents!
- Want to apply your under-utilised skills?
- Opportunity knocks!
- Make friends and influence people
- Join our fun-filled team at….
It’s the impact that counts – one that attracts attention. Offer a taste of the kind of work available – which does not have to be accompanied by the kind of conditions Shackleton was describing. Add in other attractions: the rewards of volunteer work, like Shackleton’s ‘honour and recognition’, or the flexible time arrangements, or the benefits of skill development and work experience. Yes, you can make much of the worthiness of your organisation’s cause, because many volunteers will sign up to pursue their passionate interests. But do avoid messages that sound like you are desperate for help. That plea makes me wonder why volunteers are not signing up and to ask if there is something wrong with the volunteer programme.
All of these suggestions tap into standard volunteer motivations. They are also pretty similar to anything found in Sits Vac columns or job-seeking websites. Let’s not forget that volunteering is a job, is real work – and not simply stuffing envelopes and making cups of tea. And we do it for free, for all sorts of different reasons.
Two more recommendations (but note, there is never a last word on recruitment): (1) include a name, a real person to contact beyond the phone number or email address; and (2) ensure a quick response to messages and expressions of interest. That’s the most important start for a conversation that could lead to a long career as a volunteer.