November 30, 2017

International Volunteer Day 2017

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Good news stories, Leading Volunteers, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 11:03 pm by Sue Hine


All hail to volunteers on this day. May you enjoy being feted in various ways, and feel real warmth in the thanks and appreciation that is showered on you. Of course, I would like to think you get the respect you deserve throughout the year, and not all at once.

For the past seven years I have paid tribute to volunteers and volunteering through this blog, and railed against the platitudes of ‘couldn’t manage without you’ and ‘you help us make a difference’ and ‘volunteers are the life-blood of our organisation’.

I have also written about the benefits of volunteering – to national economy, to social well-being, and to all the community-based organisations offering services around people and animals and the environment and all the rest of human activity. And of course I have bleated and challenged and pounded the table on best practice in leading volunteers – to the point where I begin to repeat myself. Now it is time to bring a full stop to my blogging, and this post is my last.

For this IVDay I give thanks and appreciation to volunteers for what I learned from them, and for what I gained in my time as a manager and leader of volunteers.

I did not ‘own’ volunteers or refer to them as ‘my’ volunteers. I was not their best buddy, and never a ‘nanny-manager’. But the office door was ever open, to say hello and thank you, to be the support when volunteer work wasn’t going well and to listen when there were grievances that were getting in the way of their work. I loved the recruitment process of discovering new talent, new enthusiasms, and helping the shy and nervous to blossom.

Working with volunteers affirmed my faith in human nature. Their energy and commitment and their collective action showed me how community spirit is still alive and well. They gave freely without expectation of reward – and then discovered all the intangibles that make volunteer work a reward in itself.

To volunteers I have worked with, and to those all over who contribute so much to social well-being I give my sincere appreciation in a paraphrase of an oft-quoted saying:  “I have forgotten much of what you said and did, forgotten names and perhaps what you looked like, but I still remember how great it was to work alongside you.”

Ten years ago I wrote the short personal essay which follows. For me it reveals fundamental lesson – I wonder if it rings bells for other leaders, managers, coordinators of volunteers?

My Season for Hugs

I left paid employment as a manager of volunteers some two years ago.  Didn’t miss the work routines a jot, nor the morning and evening lemming-rush of commuters.  There were a few regrets for the loss of warm relationships with people in my workplace, but these passed as I became re-tyred and got a new life as far as I wanted to travel.  Until there was a call to fill the vacuum created by my successor’s extended sick leave.  I had to go back, because the organisation was not yet ready to cope with leaderless volunteers.

What I do not foresee is the welcome I receive on my return.  There are greetings and smiles close to cheers from the paid staff.  There is a big bear-hug from bear-like Brian who has been a stalwart volunteer forever.  I am spied by Jane and Stephanie whom I met first as diffident and anxious volunteer applicants.  They are now accomplished in their supportive roles with clients, love their work and are well-liked by staff.  There are cries of delight and acclamations at seeing me again, and more close hugging.  Later in the day another Jane, who wears shyness wrapped round her like a muffler, becomes more animated than I have known before: she too is pleased I have returned.

I know how rapidly the waters close over the departure of a staff member, no matter how well respected.  I’ve spent much of my life in community volunteering, social working and counselling and never paid much attention to my inter-personal contribution in the roles I have undertaken, despite knowing about its impact in communication and relationships.  This welcome from staff and volunteers is over-the-top, I think.  Then I remember one of the quotes I used to jot down from books I have read, the sentences that leap off the page, representing perhaps small coinage in the currency of my life at the time.  In Brazzaville Beach William Boyd writes “You are the last person to understand the effect you have on other people”.  Now I know this truth.  I am honoured and humbled in the way I have been greeted in my brief return to the workplace.  I wish I could unravel the code of the effect I have on others, so that I may not always be the last to know.


International Volunteer Day is an annual event held on December 5. The global theme for 2017 is “Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere.” – recognising volunteer efforts around the world, as well as a tribute to the support volunteers provide in times of instability, disasters or humanitarian crises. The banner photos are showing off New Zealand Emergency Services.