September 28, 2014

Volunteer Effort in Conference

Posted in Civil Society, Community Development, Conference communication, Politics of volunteering, Trends in Volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:44 am by Sue Hine

 

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IAVE is the organisation that exists to promote, strengthen and celebrate the development of volunteering worldwide. At the Gold Coast in Australia in mid-September the 23rd IAVE conference was indeed a worldwide gathering.

Plenary and breakout sessions offered a menu that was both mouth-watering and bordering on indigestible. I could choose between the trials and triumphs of local organisations or listen to the political arguments around structural issues for the sector.

The hot topics for our age were well canvassed. Corporate volunteering, partnerships and collaboration, working with government, marketing and engaging with technology were the popular subjects in the programme outline.

Practice issues did not feature so prominently. Presentations considered engaging with youth and aged populations, with diversity – or rather inclusion, with building communities, and with emergency and event volunteering.  Even less attention was offered to management of volunteers and the importance of leadership, and I heard no voice raised by volunteers themselves.

The message that came through loudest was the tension between government and business involvement in the community and voluntary sector, and sector organisations struggling to be heard and respected as an equal partner.

It seems economic analysis is more important than social policy. *

Comments like this one reflect prevailing political ideology, that economic development is the best route to social development and community wellbeing. Opposition was forthright:

Government does not own volunteers: nobody does!

Government involvement with NGOs is a contradiction in terms!

Western democracy is afraid to cede power to community.  

There were plenty of references to social capital, to capacity building and development, yet never accompanied by objectives or expected outcomes. I should not be surprised.   It seems like volunteering /volunteerism is being colonised by public and private sectors. Efforts to build Civil Society are being subjected to business and government interests.  On the other hand:

What is the nature of engagement we want with government? 

Government should offer enabling frameworks, should stimulate but not step in further.

Yet New South Wales government steps up and funds a Time-Banking programme. By contrast, the UK minister (now former) for civil society told UK charities “to stick to your knitting and keep out of politics”.

However, positive collaboration can happen. South Australia offers an impressive example where state and local government, the business sector and the Volunteering peak body, Volunteering SA&NT have developed a state-wide volunteering strategy designed to bring improvements to volunteer experience.  Read about it here.

While the question of relationships between sectors looks like being the debate of the decade (and beyond), another stream raised important voices.

Professionalised human service delivery has pushed volunteering aside – volunteers are not being involved in decision-making.

What is the real purpose of volunteering?

We need to sell volunteering through telling volunteer stories.

The keynote address at the beginning of the conference, given by the Hon. Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, was an inspiring challenge.  It’s easy to admire volunteering, he said, in schools, in Rotary, in surf life-saving, but what are the things we are not talking about today?  Where are the unpopular causes?  What’s the next big thing?  We all have a duty to defend human dignity.  Responses were pretty immediate:

Get volunteering included in the constitution! (Australia)

Volunteering is the badge of freedom hard won

So it was fitting that a final forum for the conference was about Volunteers and Advocacy – Challenging the Status Quo.  We heard about Every Australian Counts, a campaign for the rights of disabled people, about Australia’s First Peoples and their struggle for inclusion, and about improving conditions for AIDS caregivers in Africa.

Advocacy is about connecting with others – you can’t do it on your own.

Advocates are ‘creative extremists’.

That was a good note to end the conference. There is a lot more to be said, but I have brought home a headful of reflections, and an Einstein quote raised by a speaker:

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

I just have to figure out how to change the way I think!

………………..

*  All statements in italics are direct quotes.

See the Michael Kirby address here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sarXb_aTzuk

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September 14, 2014

Is it Time to Change the Rules?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , at 3:55 am by Sue Hine

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New Zealand’s All Black top-of-the-game rugby coach has earned another headline: Rip up the rulebook and write another! He is complaining about numerous laws of the game and their complexity which gives referees leeway in their interpretation. Spectator fans are infuriated when they see the game and rule infringements treated differently from their own expectations.

Well, I’ve found a rule for volunteering that seems quite out of sync with contemporary practice. Included under a heading Factors which tend to make the involvement of volunteers inappropriate is this item:

Where the work is for the benefit of a profit-making organisation.

OK – it’s not really a rule, merely a recommendation that volunteers in for-profit organisations is not a good look. But what does it imply, and how does it work out in practice?

I guess the ‘rule’ is related to that other no-no: volunteers must not displace paid staff positions. That is, it is assumed volunteering in a for-profit business has to be taking employment from someone else.  Not so, given the unpaid internship opportunities for new graduates in a range of corporate organisations.

Or are we being a bit precious about volunteering, not wanting to be tainted by profit motives? Volunteering belongs to the community, it stands outside the public and private sectors.  Get too cosy with them and Civil Society gets lost – is that what ‘rule-makers’ are thinking?

Let’s do a reality-check with contemporary practices.

Contracts for service provision have encouraged a number of NGOs to become large corporate-like organisations, in which volunteering becomes less central to core business. When budget cuts result in service reduction organisations overlook how volunteer time could be just as valuable and productive as the $$ equivalent.

Sponsorship and partnerships are bringing the commercial world closer to non-profit organisations. Corporate social responsibility has spawned widespread employee volunteering and Not-for-profits welcome their contributions, both practical and professional.   Why should volunteers be excluded from a reciprocal arrangement?

These days many NGOs are setting up fund-raising enterprises as subsidiary businesses. Think op-shops, able to raise significant income through donated goods and volunteer time.  Trade Aid is a NFP, operating as a retailer, importer and wholesaler agency – staffed by volunteers.  Oxfam has generated an income stream from offering consultancy to businesses wanting to move into developing countries.  If there are no barriers for NFPs to run a business which includes a volunteer programme, it does not make sense to frown on volunteer involvement in a for-profit business.

Rest homes and private hospitals have run volunteer programmes for many years, recognising all the different ways voluntary action can support the personal and relationship needs of older people. Yes, the provision of rest homes for the burgeoning aged population is a growth industry, showing significant profits for shareholders.  Volunteers are welcomed in private sector rest homes, in recognition of the ‘added value’ for residents that paid staff do not have the luxury of time to offer.

There is widespread volunteer involvement in the public sector too.   Schools, courts and prisons, conservation services, museums and public hospitals all enjoy significant support from volunteers, sometimes through subsidiary NFP organisations.  Emergency services with large volunteer programmes are operating a public service.  No-one is raising objections here, even though public sector organisations are operating under vastly different conditions from NFPs.

Consider too, those large sporting events, tourist operations and expos run by private event management operators. There’s no question of volunteer involvement in these circumstances – the volunteers become the public face of the event.

It looks like volunteers are engaged in a whole range of organisations across all sectors. Maybe not so much in manufacturing businesses – though Victim Support is on hand as a free service when an industrial accident occurs.  Volunteering is characterised by innovation and flexibility, so anything is possible in the future.  Let’s not short-change the scope and influence of volunteering by holding to a premise which is no longer working.

September 8, 2014

A Fair Go for Volunteers

Posted in Best Practice, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 7:13 am by Sue Hine

images[1]It’s in our DNA.  It’s in our thinking and every-day language.  A Fair Go has been the Kiwi ethos since the early days of European colonisation.  New settlers came to escape from social injustice and gross inequity in their home states.  Then the limitations of climate and soil and natural resources fed the development of cultural norms, social practices and political institutions that encouraged and enabled fairness, sharing and redistribution.  We were living in ‘God’s own country’.

We got votes for women in 1893, a pension for elderly people in 1898, and in 1938 the landmark Social Security Act introduced our distributive welfare system.  Fairness has been a foundation for our health and education policies and public services, and of course in the evolution of community organisations.  But the growth of inequality in recent decades has shaken up our faith in getting a fair go.

Politicians (especially in this election-fevered period) like to talk of ‘ordinary New Zealanders’ in defence of their policies and to rebut critics.  Trouble is, we are no longer an ‘ordinary’ bunch of people: the conformist years of 1950s are long gone.  There is nothing ordinary about income inequality and child poverty.  Ethnic diversity has become extraordinary, along with different cultures and a plurality of values.  Fair Go (a consumer advocacy programme) might be the longest running TV show in New Zealand, consistently achieving high ratings – because it is about righting shoddy practice and unfair dealings – but could the programme’s success indicate a decline in the practice of fairness over recent decades?

When it comes to the community and voluntary sector it does not take much search of the literature to find references to ‘marginalisation’, ‘political interference’, ‘loss of independence’ and ‘contracting constraints’.  There is nothing fair going on here.

I wonder how volunteer programmes fare in this current environment.  What does it take to ensure and to maintain a fair go for volunteers?  There’s a bunch of indicators that could give me some answers.

Recruitment patterns:  Elements of discrimination or exclusion, and recruiting volunteers to fit the organisation mould – or diversity welcomed and potential perceived.

Level of Engagement:  Volunteers assigned low-skill tasks, minimal support and encouragement – or real work contributing to organisation mission; opportunities for job enrichment; ongoing support and training; consulted on organisation change; ideas and suggestions welcomed, and actioned; good relations with paid staff.

Retention rates:  Regular turnover of volunteers – or sustained and involved engagement; resignations due to external factors.

These measures are no-brainers: they indicate the best and worst of volunteer engagement.  Best is the organisation that understands volunteering, appreciates the work of volunteers and the added value they bring to the organisation.  It’s an organisation that never has to hang out signs like ‘Desperately Needing Volunteers’.

And it doesn’t take much to join the dots with the core business of a manager of volunteers.  That’s the person that knows all about a Fair Go, and how to make it happen for volunteers.  So let’s make sure we give the manager of volunteers a fair go too.  Find out how in the Volunteering New Zealand document, Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer Involving Organisations.