February 17, 2013

Volunteer Name-Calling

Posted in Good news stories, Language, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 1:31 am by Sue Hine




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

Third sector

              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.


  1. I love the idea! Since there are very successful reality shows based on the most dangerous jobs and the dirtiest jobs, perhaps our profession can head up the “most misunderstood jobs”, It would be cringe funny and poignant all at the same time.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Now where can I find the script-writer and the person who can sell the perfect pitch to the funders?


  2. Sue Hine said,

    Here’s a postscript: in October last year I claimed we would never see a reality programme on volunteering: https://management4volunteers.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/the-volunteering-x-factor/. Moral is: never discount anything!


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