June 29, 2014

Mixed Messages

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Language, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , at 4:35 am by Sue Hine

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Yes, last week was a blast, a real boost for recognition of volunteers in so many ways.  The sincerity of published tributes cannot be doubted; the excitement of award ceremonies and special functions is spread throughout organisations and communities.  What could be better?

 

Something started niggling as I scrolled my way through electronic messages, and scanned newspaper supplements.  There was something missing.  In all the heaps of praise there was little to tell me what volunteers really do.  Have a look at these comments:

We couldn’t manage without you  (the most frequent tribute)

Thank you to our army of caring volunteers

Thanks to all our wonderful volunteers for their community work

Volunteers are vital to our work

A big “thumbs up” to all our volunteers – you do an awesome job!

Without our team of dedicated volunteers we wouldn’t be able to achieve half of what we’re able to do

Thank you – you really do make a difference.

If I was a non-volunteer these statements would have gone right under my radar and I would have missed discovering the rainbow of volunteering opportunities out there in our communities.

Messages from organisations which cannot manage without volunteer contributions are confusing.  Do they mean the organisation would not exist without volunteers?  And if so I’m sure they do not mean volunteer time and effort is being exploited.   Why not simply say how valuable the volunteer work is to achieving a goal or a mission and some particulars of the work, instead of a commonplace expression?

What is it that volunteers do, that makes them so awesome, so vital, so dedicated?  Please tell me, what is the difference a volunteer makes?   That’s what I start wondering. Yes, the stories of volunteer contributions are there, but you have to go looking or know where to look, and then read the fine print.  Of course the scope and detail of volunteering is not really the material to cram into a snappy social media post – but it can be done.

Instead there is a tendency to focus on numbers, of volunteers, of their total hours worked, as though counting outputs and putting a $$ value on volunteer effort was the most important information we need to know about volunteering.  Yes it is satisfying to claim our place in world surveys, up there with world leaders of volunteering, but still there is little information to tell non-volunteers what all the excitement is about.

So what would I count as real tributes to volunteers?  It would be so simple to complete the sentence Thank you for…. and itemise the task the volunteer (or group of volunteers) undertake.  Like:

Thanks for turning up each week to look after our kids sports team

Thanks for responding each time we get an emergency callout

Thanks for the hours you spend in care-giving telephone calls, home visits, supporting vulnerable people…….

Thanks for being such an enthusiastic fundraiser

Make the message simple, sincere and specific to the organisation.  Adding in service-user feedback comment could highlight volunteer effort, illustrating what really makes a difference.  Other messages could focus on why the organisation engages volunteers, what makes them so vital and valuable.

That’s the kind of communication that connects with a wider public, that demonstrates what is involved in volunteering, and which can encourage more people to put up their hands to volunteer.

 

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June 22, 2014

Cheers for NVW 2014

Posted in Celebrations, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 3:38 am by Sue Hine

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From start to finish National Volunteer Week 2014 has been an outstanding success in achieving widespread promotion and acknowledgements for volunteer contributions to organisations and communities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

Day after day sector organisations offered press releases, postings on social media and accounts of events to mark the week.  There was a huge increase in the numbers of organisations going public, and in the range of organisations – the small, the large, the national and the local groups.

 Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te tangata.

(With your contribution and my contribution the people will live.)

This whakatauki represents the fundamental nature of volunteering.  It highlights the cooperative work of individuals and the sharing of skills, knowledge and experience that can make a difference in our communities.  And this is what the published tributes are saying:

Thanks for taking a moment to connect with us

Thank you for your passion, for all your hard work and thank you for your time.  You have helped us keep more hearts beating for longer.

Thank you for making our work possible

We recognise the talent and dedication of our volunteers

Ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference

They say it takes a village to raise a child, by volunteering at Playcentre we’ve found that village.

Then there are the events, the awards and the displays.

There were static displays at public libraries promoting what volunteering can offer and how to connect with an organisation.  There were community fairs where organisations could display information about their work.  The first Employee Volunteering Awards were presented in Wellington, the outcome of another sponsored Corporate Challenge for the region.  In other centres there are certificates of service to be presented, and local ‘Volunteer of the Year’ awards to be announced.

Special mention has to be made for the Wellington Sportsperson of the Year whose work is based on a philosophy of ‘attract, retain, develop’ in working with volunteers.  That’s a pretty good summation of the purpose for good management of volunteers.

Another special mention goes to Kiwibank who went all out to produce a couple of videos on Facebook, on staff who volunteer.  “Everyone contributes”, says one winner, “Giving back is natural, and it’s good to find work values are in line with my own”.

Prime-time TV grabbed a head-start on the week with a news item about Coastguard volunteers, outlining their work and the training involved.  Volunteers talked about why they volunteer and why they stick with it.

Volunteers at VNZ’s office were kept busy compiling a record of all the media items.  If you missed anything you can probably find it here.

So congratulations to Volunteering New Zealand for promoting the celebrations we have enjoyed this past week.   I did not get all last week’s wishes met, but one day, some day in the near future, we might reach a point where shouting out for volunteers happens every day, not just one week in a year.

June 15, 2014

National Volunteer Week 2014

Posted in Celebrations, Civil Society, Good news stories, Volunteer Centres tagged , , , , at 4:39 am by Sue Hine

NVW 2014

Volunteering New Zealand have done it again!  Here’s another National Volunteer Week banner, together with a message to inspire volunteers and their organisations.  You can learn more about the whakatauki and its theme here.

The buzz about NVW has started already, with postings and notifications for events to come.  And some nice little tasters, like this piece from Volunteer Wellington’s June newsletter:

According to recent OECD statistics people in this country spend an average of 13 minutes per day volunteering, compared with four minutes in other countries.  The stats go on to say this results in higher ‘happiness’ ratings plus longer life expectancy.

Nice one – New Zealand leads the way in yet another field of endeavour!  It’s worth reading this OECD report for its background introduction, as well as finding out more on the data.

Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being. Studies show that time spent with friends is associated with a higher average level of positive feelings and a lower average level of negative feelings than time spent in other ways.

Helping others can also make you happier. People who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Time spent volunteering also contributes to a healthy civil society.

A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as access to jobs, services and other material opportunities.  […]  A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation.

It’s a long time since I have seen such well-rounded reasoning for building strong and healthy communities, and how volunteering is part of that healthy status.

Volunteering NZ reviews other global and local reports which indicate a downward trend in volunteering and in monetary donations.  No explanations for these trends are offered.  Nor can I find explicit definitions of volunteering that informed the surveys.

In the week ahead I’m hoping to read some great stories about volunteers and volunteering, about the good experience they enjoyed, and the difference they made for people or the environment, and the fun they had in the process.  I’m hoping there will be stories too about good relationships between paid staff and volunteers, and praise for staff who support volunteer effort.  And that’s where the managers of volunteers might get a tiny acknowledgement.

And maybe, somewhere, even in a postscript, there will be a nod to the nature of volunteering, and what it represents, and why volunteering is important in our communities and within organisations.  That is worth thinking about, in the course of this week.

June 8, 2014

The Business of Non-Profit Organisations

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Civil Society, Community Development, Funding and Finance, Marketing, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , at 2:56 am by Sue Hine

People-first-300x300[1]I nearly bought myself into an argument recently, wanting to defend the claim “Charity organisations are different from a business”.  Now I have done some reflecting and marshalled the points I could have made at the time, as a kind of dialogue with myself.

Of course they are different, given the ‘for-profit’ and ‘non-profit’ labels.  But I have never liked the use of ‘charity’ in reference to non-profit organisations and NGOs.  The word has got too many connotations of ‘doing-to’ consumers/users/clients, as many a for-profit business operates.  I prefer the concept of ‘doing-with’ people – groups and individuals in the community.  When I hear concerns expressed about large nonprofits operating like corporate businesses I have to concede my opponents might have a point.

On the other hand it is not an unreasonable expectation that non-profits operate in a businesslike manner, especially in a contracting environment.  Of course non-profits need to be accountable for their financial management.   They also need to prove their value, to demonstrate outcomes and impact, or in current business-speak, to show a social return on investment.  And yes, they need to establish a strategic plan, set policy, outline the programmes and services they will deliver.

But still I cry: they are different from a business.  They do not exist to make a profit.   They deliver services, they fill a gap, provide for a need, or they offer opportunities for healthy lifestyles and leisure interests.  These organisations bring communities together, engage people in activities and actions outside the market-place.  Collectively the non-profit sector and its associations represent Civil Society, acting as a counter-balance to the weight of the private and public sectors.  Otherwise non-profits get swallowed up in politics and the economics of consumerism.

  • That does not excuse them from governance responsibilities and ensuring practice standards are maintained.

Of course not.  If they are not meeting expectations, if they are not offering an environment for member or volunteer satisfaction then the organisation will fold.  Non-profit organisations are different from businesses in their aims and obligations.  They began with a specific mission, and they hold particular values.

  • But so do business organisations. They are no different in holding statements on their vision, mission and values.

Yes, I am reminded of the snappy mission held by Canon: Beat Xerox!  That competition element is a big driver in business, always looking for that niche in the market, and to improve market share.   That is not the business of nonprofits!  Non-profit organisations tend to live by their vision and values.  In business these can be just words and not treated seriously, as the Enron history shows.  Not to mention the shady dealings of finance companies exposed in the Global Financial Crisis.

Non-profit organisations do not compete, they complement each other.  They are fulfilling particular needs for a specific community, at a particular time and place.  And there is much more focus on collaboration, working together and sharing information.  Businesses work to protect their intellectual property and ensure their bottom line is always a good one.

  • And so we should! If it wasn’t for business and our ability to create profits and pay taxes non-profit organisations would not be ‘in business’.

Now you are getting narky.  And also highlighting the fundamental difference between business and non-profit organisations.  Put it this way: business is about making monetary profits which go to shareholders, the investors.  The profit for a non-profit organisation is the benefits and gains seen in community and individual well-being, and in the contributions of a well-run volunteer programme.  That’s why it’s important that we stay different.

You are still not convinced?  Yes, there is plenty more ground to cover in this debate.  What would you have to say?

 

June 1, 2014

The Measure of Success

Posted in Managers Matter, Organisation responsibilities, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 3:44 am by Sue Hine

success-factors[1]In just a couple of weeks it is New Zealand’s turn to hold National Volunteer Week, that opportunity to give some real acknowledgement and appreciation of volunteer work undertaken for organisations and in communities throughout the country.  If you did not know about this event already I am giving you advance notice to get cracking and plan something special for the volunteers in your organisation.

I was reminded recently of the sometime lack of understanding of volunteering and the relevance of holding a National Volunteer Week:

I asked audiences of managers of volunteers how executive leadership at their organizations define success regarding volunteer involvement. And one of the answers really disturbed me: It’s successful if no one complains.

That statement is a huge indictment on executive ignorance of volunteering, not to mention any understanding of the skills and professionalism required to manage volunteers.  I have to wonder if there was a similar lack of interest in the work of paid staff.  I wonder if there is any executive consideration of the relation between the organisation’s structure and function, and outcomes for its users?  I don’t think I would enjoy employment in that organisation, in either paid or voluntary capacity.

So I would like National Volunteer Week to be trumpeting not just volunteer virtues, but also the meaning of volunteering and what organisations need to know about volunteering and its management.  Here are three questions executives in leadership positions could be asking themselves in the lead-up to NVW.

Why does your organisation involve volunteers?

How does volunteering contribute to social well-being in our communities?

What do you need to know about managing volunteers?

I’m not going to answer the questions, because that’s the mission for executive managers.  Think of it as a treasure hunt, with the potential to bring as much value to the organisation as the next funding grant.  Then everyone will be better informed about volunteering, and will be looking to celebrate volunteer achievements.  Then we will know the real success of a volunteer programme.

By coincidence there is another post considering the meaning of success for volunteers and management of volunteers.  There’s plenty of material available to tell us what a successful volunteer programme looks like – don’t let’s accept excuses like ‘no complaints received’.

You see, if it takes a whole village to raise a child, it can take a whole organisation to make the most of volunteer contributions.