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

Abstract big speech bubble

 

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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5 Comments »

  1. Vanisa Dhiru said,

    Sue, your question, “what is the difference a volunteer makes” it is a great one that we are forever asking leaders in the sector.

    I spoke to a CEO of a large not-for-profit about what the volunteers in her organisation today. She said, ‘well, they basically run the show’. She shared that they don’t have a focus on them, ‘but they are important… and my next question to her was one that made her think:

    “If all your volunteers stayed home tomorrow, what would you as the leader of your organisation do?”

    Lots of work still to do here.

    Vanisa Dhiru
    Chief Executive
    Volunteering New Zealand

    Like

    • Sue Hine said,

      Thanks Vanisa, for such a good example of inadequate understanding of volunteering. Might be time to start a volunteer labour union??

      Like

  2. Wendi Wicks said,

    Nice post Sue

    Like

  3. Hi Sue! Great points about messaging. Thanking a volunteer for specific contributions tells the volunteer that not only is their work noticed, but it is needed and meaningful. And you are so correct in saying that a prospective volunteer views these broad messages with a shrug of the shoulders. Every public statement by an organization is a chance to recruit volunteers.

    Like

    • Sue Hine said,

      Not just to recruit volunteers Meridian – but for organisations to own up to the real work volunteers undertake, and the added value they bring to the organisation’s mission.

      Like


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