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.

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3 Comments »

  1. Roz said,

    A very contemporary perspective which opens the conversation. Thank you! Volunteering is not a sector specific endeavour but perhaps rather a deep purposeful human endeavour that adapts with the season and the well of belonging that both separates and unites us all.

    Like

  2. Great blog Sue. As companies become “socially conscious” and non profits become “business-like” we will see some blurring of the lines and ultimately we need to be ready to cultivate volunteers in all sectors.

    Like

    • Sue Hine said,

      I like the reference to ‘purposeful human endeavour’. In this sense volunteering is as old as the beginnings of human groups. Let’s keep the adaptations going!

      And I’m ready to go gardening Meridian – growing volunteers in all sorts of places. But I do want to maintain a strong Civil Society to ensure the community voice is heard. Can I have it both ways?

      Like


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