April 14, 2013

“Getting” Volunteering

Posted in Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 4:39 am by Sue Hine

aha-moment[1]

For too long I have been listening to these words, how “they” just do not understand volunteering and management of volunteers.  Now I am sitting up to ask the question “What do we mean by getting volunteering what do we want ‘them’ to get?”

And I’m running into trouble when I go looking for answers.

I could recite the litany of volunteer motivations; describe the history of community organisations and their rise to national and corporate status.  I could tell the stories of volunteers, and there are millions to document ‘making the difference’ for individuals and communities.  I’m not so keen on citing the record of hours worked and assumed $$ contributions, because that information does not seem to wash further than input/output statistics in the annual accounts – volunteers are just another resource to draw on.  And anyway, we have gone down all these roads, many times.

What is it, what is the real deal that would get staff and organisation executives and government departments and corporate bosses to open their eyes to a real Ah-Ha moment about volunteering?

For starters it would help if “they”

Have had personal experience of volunteering and an understanding of the relevance of community in the wider fields of political and social action.

Work in an organisation structure and culture where volunteers are physically located in staff work-spaces, and which integrates the volunteer programme in service delivery plans and processes.

Employee volunteering is another option to open eyes to the richness and diversity of community organisations, and to their needs.

Yet these experiences do not seem to work for everyone in all places.  The stories keep recurring about a lack of support for volunteers and their managers, and about organisations not taking volunteering seriously.  It’s a low cost investment, nice to have, but not something to be worried about nor included when it comes to planning and strategic development.

Of course what the bosses and bureaucrats should be doing is paying attention to Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations

It is encouraging to note increasing awareness and activism among managers of volunteers and associated groups.  We are talking up impact and outcome measurement of volunteer services, advocating for volunteering within our organisations.  But following this path is simply trying to prove the worth of volunteering on “their” terms, a linear logic that can be described with numbers on paper.

If only “they” could look the other way to see the true value of volunteering.  Here is what I would want “them” to see:

Volunteers complement the organisation’s delivery of services.

Volunteers add value to services, providing extras that are never going to be funded, and which enhance the holistic experience of users/clients.

Volunteers are ambassadors for the organisation.  With a good experience volunteers can be the best marketing agent ever.  If that experience is not so good they will do the worst possible damage to your reputation in the community, making it difficult to recruit new volunteers, and putting significant limitations on the success of fundraising projects.

Community organisations are said to be driven by values.  No matter the mission you will find words like respect, dignity, communication, family-whanau/people-centred, community inclusiveness featuring on the masthead.   Values represent beliefs and attitudes we hold dear, and we know them by the way they are exhibited in behaviour.  Regardless of the reasons why people volunteer their behaviour generally reflects the ideals of the organisation.

So when we try to measure volunteering according to business plans and key performance indicators and impact measurement we get stuck on things like courtesy and goodwill, like relationships and understanding, like social connections and community development and individual and collective strengths.  Volunteering is about people, by people and for people.

The value of volunteering is not less than the organisation’s ability to reach targets and to show a return on investment.  Volunteering is a different sort of value.  So, for “them” to ‘get volunteering’ requires understanding a different culture.

The beauty of understanding and accepting cultural difference is the new relationship that forms, based on each others’ strengths and a willingness to learn how to work together.  That’s when I shall know “they” really get volunteering.

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4 Comments »

  1. Excellent Sue! Right on the button

    Like

  2. “The value of volunteering is not less than the organisation’s ability to reach targets and to show a return on investment. Volunteering is a different sort of value.”
    Hi Sue! This is so spot on, excellent article!

    Like

    • Sue Hine said,

      Glad you think I have hit the spot, but there is still a lot of work to be done to get different ‘value’ fully recognised.

      Like


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