December 8, 2013

A Celebration of Volunteering

Posted in Celebrations, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , at 3:37 am by Sue Hine

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International Volunteer Day (IVD) is the highlight of the week that was, that one day of the year set aside for giving thanks, and to celebrate all the work, the accomplishments, the contributions of volunteers to our communities, large and small.  There were gatherings all around New Zealand to acknowledge this day, to make the speeches and do the presentations – and for volunteers to take pride in being appreciated.

There were many words of praise tendered to volunteers.  The most frequently used adjective was ‘vital’, sometimes further qualified with ‘absolutely’.  Here’s a summary of words and phrases that appeared in the tributes via news media and online sources:

Recognising: Wonderful job; Valuable contribution

Acknowledging:  Efforts and contributions; Giving time; Dedication

Service:  To the community; Making a difference; Backbone of local community activities; “Where would we be without you?”

Helping Out:  Lending a Hand forms a large part of our national identity

Government Support:  Commitment to supporting volunteers; Working towards strategic and long-term investment in local communities

Impact:  Provision of comprehensive support; Achieving more with limited resources; Break down barriers and provide needed networks; Achievements, at local national and international levels

I am pleased to read here fewer benign platitudes, and more down-to-earth recognition than in previous years.  There was however, a more muted display of public acknowledgement by national organisations via press releases.   I’m sure this does not mean IVD was not observed through in-house communication, but I have started to ask if IVD is at risk of becoming just another date on the calendar among all the other United Nations designated Days.

This is where I pick up on a more profound meaning and understanding of IVD.  Its full title is International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, gazetted by United Nations in 1985. Here are some interpretations of this title:

  • International Volunteer Day (IVD) offers an opportunity for volunteer organizations and individual volunteers to make visible their contributions – at local, national and international levels.
  • IVD is about telling the world what volunteers and volunteer-involving organizations achieve for peace and sustainable development.
  • IVD is an international observance day to celebrate the power and potential of volunteerism. 
  • IVD gives volunteers a chance to work together on projects and campaigns promoting their contributions to economic and social development at local, national and international levels.
  • IVD is an opportunity for volunteers, and volunteer organisations, to raise awareness of, and gain understanding for, the contribution they make to their communities.

What interests me in these statements is the reference to international volunteering, and by extension, to Millenium Development goals (MDGs).  United Nations runs its own volunteer programme; Governments support and promote volunteering overseas for young people; many, many global aid agencies also engage volunteers.   Every day thousands of people are volunteering, online or on-site, contributing to peace and development and working to achieve the MDGs. As Jayne Cravens argues, these volunteers deserve their own day.

Only a few clicks are needed to find the UN page and the official IVD Site.  And the banner indicating the theme for 2013 is YOUNG.GLOBAL.ACTIVE.

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So while we celebrate and recognize volunteerism in all its facets in our local communities we also pay special tribute to the contribution of youth volunteers in global peace and sustainable human development.  Young people can and do act as the agents of change in their communities.

I am reminded again of that slogan “Think global, act local”.  Thinking globally shows me how volunteering is so much bigger than my small corner of the world, and how and why my volunteer actions count.

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This post is the last for another year.  Happy Holidays, and the best of volunteering to all. Start-up for 2014 will be late January.

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December 1, 2013

Outsource to Volunteers!

Posted in Marketing, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 3:37 am by Sue Hine

Way Signs "Outsourcing - In-House Solutions"“Outsource to Volunteers” were the words inscribed on a floating pendant at Festival for the Future, a weekend event to celebrate what’s possible, “supporting the next generation to spark & grow world-changing ideas for a better New Zealand”.

Now there’s an idea, I thought, and my mind raced away on the potential for community organisations to outsource work and even whole service delivery to volunteers.  All I need to do is work up a business plan and organise a few contracts.

After all, hospitals outsource food and cleaning services to private operators; local authorities outsource waste collection services; airlines might have aircraft servicing done outside their country of origin; and we are all familiar with local businesses that outsource the manufacture of their products to way beyond our shores, along with IT services and Call Centres .

How could I make this work for volunteering?  It would be a non-profit business for starters.  I would recruit and train volunteers, undertake the whole professional management of volunteers, and organisations would contract with me to supply and deliver their volunteer programme.  I would make sure a contract price included provision for volunteer rewards and recognition, and also allowances for travel – as well as the costs of administration and training and support and so on – and reasonable recompense for my own efforts.  Volunteers do not come for free, you know.

Outsourcing will foster a strong volunteer identity, give volunteers a sense of ownership and pride in their status instead of being reminded of that professional/amateur inequality.  Nor would volunteering fall into the black hole of ignorance and being ignored by management in the organisation.  Outsourcing could make volunteering more visible in the community rather than being confined to particular organisations.  Ultimately volunteering would become an attractive proposition to a wider range of people, and stimulate widespread recognition as well as a broader range of activities.  Outsourcing will also give a manager of volunteers the freedom to apply best practice away from the curbs of restrictive organisation processes.

But would it still be ‘volunteering’?  Sigh.  Such flights of fancy always have fish-hooks.  Worst is the inference that volunteers are just another tradable commodity, even if they do not get paid for their work.  Market principles do not, should not ever, apply to volunteering.  Outsourcing might also expose a shameful concession that volunteer programmes are not part of an organisation’s core business.

My ideas also cut across some of the present work of Volunteer Centres.  Many organisations would never dream of letting an outsider take over ‘their’ volunteers.  There could be practical objections when it comes to specialised services like emergency services, telephone help-lines and befriending programmes.  Some people will protest that outsourcing changes the whole flavour and meaning of volunteering.

But think about it. Think about the words ‘outsource to volunteers’.  They do not mean ‘replace paid staff with volunteers’, nor ‘let’s exploit volunteer willingness to help’, and nor do they imply ‘volunteers can do anything’.  But they do encourage me to think about extending volunteer responsibilities and developing new initiatives that would add value to organisation services, or to trial new ways of operating.

My realist head is now seeing ‘outsource to volunteers’ as a simple slogan to remind us of the wealth of goodwill, of talents and experience, that volunteers bring to any organisation – and why we should place high value on their services.  If we forget that then our organisations and our communities are the poorer for it.