September 23, 2012

Why Else Would You Volunteer?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Language, Motivation, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 4:46 am by Sue Hine

At the beginning of this month I was extolling the nature and philosophy of volunteering, quoting words like Citizenship, Engagement, Generosity, and a Felt Sense of Community.  No question, these words represent the best concepts of volunteering.

Except….  Unless….  Until….  I start thinking about the other reasons why, in this day and age, people give their time and skills and energies, for free, for community benefit.

I have banged on a lot about the Gift Relationship, spoken in hushed words about the virtues of Altruism and the Spirit of Community.  You see, all these words (they deserve no less than Capital Letters) are the true representations of volunteering.  Except….  Unless….  Until….

Now it is time to get real, time to see just how inclusive volunteering and volunteer programmes can be, outside the Goodwill and Community Solidarity philosophy.

At the local Op-Shop the customer service volunteers are pretty much all older people.  They tell me their time here is the social highlight of their week.  Yes, they are unpaid, and all there by free will, though their ulterior motive is socialisation, to meet and greet people, have a conversation and a bit of a laugh.  And maybe a chance to pick up a bargain as well.

Also on the staff at this Shop are the sorters and cleaners, a right mix of volunteers.   There are young people looking for work experience to put on their CVs.  There are migrants and refugees practising English language skills.  There are the people working off community sentences.   Others are there as evidence of job-seeking in order to retain their welfare payments.

In the administration office of another organisation I meet the ‘interns’, mostly students on placement for their applied degree qualification, and a fair smattering of new migrants.  Unpaid internships are welcomed as work experience to improve job prospects, especially for these groups.

And then I come across the team of Corporate Volunteers who are out on their ‘day-release’ programme, that annual event that demonstrates ‘corporate social responsibility’.  They have engaged with the Department of Conservation to check out bait traps in a protected reserve.  Whoa, I think.  The exercise is likely to be a whole bit of hiking, and possibly encounters with some health and safety hazards in the not-so-nice parts of the day when dealing with captives in the traps.  It is quite a bit different from their day job.  Next time they might prefer to offer pro bono services of their professional skills in governance, or in organisational management and administration.

Volunteering is not what it used to be.  The ideas of ‘free will’ and ‘compulsion’ have been mixed and stirred in a blender.  (I can even confess to volunteering as an escape from tele-marketing calls.) Take a look at Volunteering Tasmania and how they are describing volunteering for our new age:

  • It has a direct benefit to the community and the volunteer (whether the benefit is tangible or intangible);
  • It is undertaken by choice; and
  • It is unpaid. (However, the volunteer may receive reasonable or appropriate reimbursement for expenses incurred that are associated with the role, and/or may receive a monetary or other incentive/reward.)

That’s the commonsense reality of volunteering in the 21st century for you.  Volunteering is always a two-way stretch of reciprocal benefits.

Because, whatever the reason for volunteering, the experience of working for nothing is also an exposure to community services, to the values and commitment supporting development in our communities.  Many a volunteer has extended self-interest to an employment career in the community and voluntary sector.  Or a corporate volunteer programme has introduced people to organisations and opportunities for on-going volunteering.

Understanding these details gives you a head start in recruiting volunteers, and in knowing how to reinforce the rewards, and how to retain volunteer support.

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1 Comment »

  1. Wendy Moore said,

    People volunteer for many different reasons whether it is for philanthropic reasons, gaining experience for future employment, gaining experience in an environment in a chosen field of study, practicing English language, corporate volunteering or community volunteering. All of these volunteers have one thing in common. They are ALL giving their time to help others. No matter what their reason for volunteering they are ALL making a valuable contribution. No one form of volunteering should be regarded as being BETTER than another.

    I have witnessed university students who volunteer to gain experience in their area of study. They make an incredible contribution to volunteering, assist so many people, socialise with other volunteers and become very much a part of the team. They in turn have referred their university friends who have also become volunteers and have made valuable contributions to volunteering.

    I have seen youth volunteers, just out of school, who have grown in confidence with the guidance and leadership of other more experienced volunteers. They too make a wonderful contribution to volunteering and in turn they too will guide and inspire new volunteers.

    Volunteers with English as a second language relish in the opportunity to practice their English speaking skills while volunteering their time to help others. We celebrate the cultural diversity of an amazing group of people who are enriched by learning about one another’s cultures.

    Perhaps it would be easier to have a rigid structure which precluded episodic volunteers and volunteers with English as a second language because it is all too hard to accommodate this type of volunteering. However by doing this you would miss out on the valuable contribution that these people make, their exuberance, their willingness to learn new things, new skills, their willingness to share their culture and their capacity to develop leadership skills to in turn inspire other volunteers. To miss out on all of this would be a tragedy.

    Like


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