August 31, 2014

Is it Folly, or a bit of Fun?

Posted in Good news stories, Marketing, Trends in Volunteering tagged , , , at 5:06 am by Sue Hine

images0D14JGBNThe ice bucket challenge has swept the world, becoming more intense over the past month.  Not just a self-indulgent YouTube and Facebook craze, the challenge is also a phenomenal fund-raiser for more organisations than the original intention of supporting ALS Association.

It has also garnered rather a lot of cynical commentary.  Celebrities from Presidents to Pop stars have bared their discomfort and attracted their imitators.  It’s an ego trip, nothing but narcissism, a waste of water in drought zones, say the columnists.  Corporate challengers have found yet another means for promoting their business.  Essentially the challenge is “a middle-class wet-T-shirt contest for armchair clicktivists”.  It’s a virus more contagious than other recent crazes combined.  There are also risks to your health if you have a heart condition, and the shock of really icy water can be risky too.  So it’s just another on-line folly, right?

More substantive criticism is slanted at charity organisations hijacking the idea for their own fundraising, though Cancer Society in New Zealand found they were unwitting beneficiaries early in July.  Wikipedia offers a summary of the saga, and a long list of on-line references if you want to know more.

This craze has attracted huge numbers of people to respond to the challenge, volunteering to undergo the drenching indignity and to turn it into a public event – which draws attention to the cause.  There is more: (1) undertaking the challenge is also a commitment to donating money, and (2) issuing a challenge to three more people.  With that process in place the explosive outcome is not so surprising.  And we all love a challenge, specially when it’s a bit of fun – don’t we?

Whether folly or for fun, the Ice-Bucket challenge is attracting voluntary effort everywhere.  It’s yet another example of social media creativity which must be exciting marketing and fundraising managers in the non-profit world.  Other initiatives include Givealittle, the zero fees fundraising website, and the TV station which takes up hard-luck stories and raises $500,000 to support disadvantaged kids.

What if we turned these $ donors into time volunteers?  Not all the Ice-Bucketers at once of course.  What would it take to get people thinking outside their self-indulgent mode, showing interest in community and commitment to a cause?  It’s not so hard when you’ve got an attractive interactive website, and you’re social media-savvy.  It’s retaining that interest and commitment that can test an organisation and its manager of volunteers.  Just have to make sure we can keep the fun in volunteering!

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August 24, 2014

The End is Nigh

Posted in Civil Society, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Trends in Volunteering tagged , at 3:49 am by Sue Hine

jan24_forgoodforprofit

The lugubrious title for this post captures the sombre tone of a recent news headline: Academic Warns of Australia’s Disappearing NFP Sector.  And the full account of Professor Paul Smyth’s seminar presentation is worth reading to follow the arguments.  Here are some variations on his theme:

A new order of things where the private sector practises social responsibility and states seek to be more entrepreneurial, while community organisations become more and more business-like.

Not only is your mission as a community sector organisation irrelevant but your practice risks ending up indistinguishable from private sector providers.

The voluntary sector is seen as having no distinctive value add to bring to the welfare table but becomes just another rival ‘business’ in a privatised service market.

These views are not exclusive to Australia – indeed they represent a trend that can be found elsewhere, including New Zealand.  I’ve been collecting indications over the past couple of years:

The meaning of ‘Democratic deficit’ allows governing bodies the power to do what they like.  It’s an undemocratic reality when all the power is in the hands of government, when the voice of the sector is not valued, nor respected.  (Grey & Sedgwick research, 2013)

Volunteer sector service providers are under public management.  The contracting environment has introduced competition within the sector, undermined  efforts at collaboration, and reduced the flexibility and responsiveness that is a hallmark of community organisations.

There’s a decline in volunteer numbers, and their role has become instrumental rather than a means towards mission achievement.   There is even some anxiety about using the word ‘volunteer’.

I have bleated about these themes in various ways, considering the ‘business’ of NGOs, the future of volunteering, and the two-tier status of community organisations.

A logical outcome of marketisation of non-profit organisations is a weakening of Civil Society.  We are seeing this already in the fall of public participation, particularly in ‘voter apathy’ at election time.  When major NGOs become ‘privatised’ they take on the formality and philosophies of the corporate sector.  When non-profit and community organisations are required to dance to government dictates they are effectively disempowered, losing control of their purpose and practice.  When Civil Society is weakened it can no longer offer a counterbalance to the power and control of the market and government: citizens and their communities are the poorer for that.

“It’s time for outrage!” is a cry that has not yet been taken publicly.  But we do need to start the “difficult conversations about the future”.  It can be argued that the present paradigm for delivering social services is neither sustainable, nor desirable: “there is an emerging consensus that the welfare sector … is being stripped of its ethos of service to the community and of the ethic of voluntarism”.  Professionalisation of care services delivery diminishes the power of voluntary contribution from wider community.  We lose the diversity of networks and connections and opportunities that the broader community can bring to social needs.

None of these views are new.  You can read about their evolution in New Zealand in this history of the non-profit sector.  This publication includes a reminder that our present is a product of past conditions, and:

….non-profits have always had life cycles, and that there was a historical pattern of growth and decline.  This has been an essential element in the vibrancy and adaptability of the sector.

It is time now to get beyond outrage.  We need to revive that vibrancy, the commitment and concern that created the sector in the first place.  The end is not nigh, but we do need to reaffirm the strength and status of volunteering and community organisations.

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Cartoon sourced at http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/nfp-kneebone   24/01/13

August 17, 2014

It Takes All Sorts

Posted in Best Practice, Trends in Volunteering tagged , , , at 3:27 am by Sue Hine

imagesIGCG892CDiversity is the theme of the moment, popping up in workshops around the country, promoted on websites, and a national forum is to be held next week, with a focus on migrant and refugee employment.

New Zealand is now recognised as one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world.  Without overlooking our bicultural heritage we need to acknowledge the 213 ethnicities that are living here in Aotearoa.  You could say we have become a melting pot for the 21st century.  So what does this mean for the voluntary and community sector?

Volunteering is a well-travelled route for new migrants, for offering work experience, for improving language skills, for getting to know local communities.  There are countless success stories, and many continue their volunteer involvement long after they find paid work.

But diversity is wider than including ethnic groups.  There’s a huge range of skills, interests, ages and abilities in our population to contribute to volunteering in our communities.   And when this diversity is set alongside the diversity of volunteer organisations and their members and users we could be entering a golden age of volunteering.

So let’s look at developing further all those different volunteer streams.

Corporate volunteering is increasing in bounds, especially when it is organised through the local Volunteer Centre.   (Find out more hereEmployees in the Community)  Corporate groups can tackle large-scale projects or special ventures for organisations, or offer pro bono services.  Here is a way to introduce people to the excitement, the creative stimulation, the camaraderie and companionship that volunteering can offer, which can then spin-off to a continuing involvement for individuals.

Engaging people with disabilities is not a new source of volunteers, not if you have an open mind and a focus on ability.  Disabled people might need accessible facilities or extra support (see this useful model) – but to exclude them from volunteering opportunities is to deny their participation as members of our communities.   There are plenty of examples where disabled or chronically-ill people are helping their fellows, or working in another field altogether.  Well-planned programmes bring benefits to disabled people and to the organisation, and to our communities.

Gen Y and Millenials get a lot of public attention these days.  There is quite an industry devoted to encouraging young people into volunteering.  Yet I note plenty of examples where these generations are doing boots-and-all stuff in their communities, creating and sustaining initiatives and developing social enterprises, and their own strategies to counter limited opportunities in mainstream employment.  The story of the Student Volunteer Army is a good example.  At the same time traditional volunteer services are proving they are open to engaging with young people.

Internship programmes offer another point of entry to volunteering for young people.  Despite concerns and debates the best programmes will be ensuring benefits to both organisation and the intern.  And if they have not discovered volunteering previously the interns I meet are also discovering community and the world beyond paid employment.

The Boomer generation is another significant population group, yet we hear little about them as volunteers.  Are they being ignored?  As the community movers and shakers of times past is their continuing involvement being taken for granted?  Like all other volunteers older people are looking beyond stuffing envelopes for challenges relevant to their knowledge and skills.   There is still a place for cross-generational mix, and without full representation in the volunteer pool then the claim to diversity is diminished.

It takes all sorts to achieve the best in volunteering.  I’ve said all this before, but some things are worth repeating.