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.

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