July 26, 2015

Bring on the Boomers

Posted in Marketing, Volunteer Diversity, Volunteer Generations tagged , , , , at 3:48 am by Sue Hine

Human Women Age Progression

I’ve been hearing about the implications of an ageing population for a long time now. Prognostications include an awful lot of doom and gloom about the cost of pensions and health services, and the shrinking tax-paying work force available to support that expenditure. At the same time there is much laudatory exposure of the engagement of young people in volunteering – Gen Y and the Millenials.

The World Giving Index (2013) shows that “Global youth are driving the rise in volunteering: Since 2011, the biggest increase in participation in volunteering has occurred among 15-24 year olds.  Within three years this age group has gone from being the least likely to the second most likely to volunteer.”

An outspoken blogger argues the obsession with Millenials is a Nonprofit Trend that has to Die. “There are other groups we also need to pay attention to, like the Boomers, who will be retiring and affecting the sector in various ways.”

So I went looking for what’s happening in volunteering, for the data that might give me a reality test of who is doing what.

Statistics New Zealand’s Time Use Survey 2009/2010 showed older people (aged 65+) spent more time on unpaid work than people at other life stages – 4 hours and 31 minutes a day; young people (aged 12–24 years) spent the least, at 1 hour and 46 minutes. OK – that information is a bit old, but gives a pretty clear difference between age groups.

A bit more up to date is 2012 information from Volunteering NZ’s Statistics on Volunteering (New Zealand General Social Survey). People aged 65-74 reported undertaking volunteering work the most (37.7%) followed by people aged 45-54 (34.4%). People in the 25-34 age group reported the lowest rate of volunteering (24.8%). When measured by life-stage, the proportion of people volunteering increases from 28.8% of young adults volunteering to 35% of older people, as indicated in the following graph.

volunteering-lifestage-450x284

On the other hand, Department of Internal Affairs (NZ) Quarterly Volunteering & Donating Indicators for the September 2014 quarter show that people between the ages of 30-39 were the largest cohort of volunteers.   People of 60-74 and 75+ years were not far behind.  Long-term trend indicates people aged 40-49 have had the highest percentage of volunteers for 11 of the 19 quarters analysed.  Ages 10-19 have lowest % for 16 of 19 quarters.

US Bureau of Statistics data for 2014 finds that people aged 35-44 were most likely to volunteer (29.8 %). Volunteer rates were lowest among 20- to 24-year-olds (18.7%). For persons 45 years and over, the volunteer rate tapered off as age increased, though the rate for people aged 65 and over was 23.6%. Teenagers (16- to 19-year-olds) had a volunteer rate of 26.1%.

NCVO figures from UK Civil Society Almanac 2014 note that between around a quarter (24%) and a third (33%) of people in each age range report volunteering at least once a month, with those aged 65-74 the most likely to volunteer this frequently.

Enough! From this mish-mash of information I take the following points:

  • Yes, there is a significant rise in the rates of youth volunteering, but they don’t put in the hours that older people (65+) work as volunteers.
  • What is fairly consistent is the highest rate of volunteering in the 30-49 age group, what is (or used to be) called middle adulthood, when involvement in children’s school and sporting activities and local community services can be expected.
  • Yet, in New Zealand at least, it seems older people (65+ years) are the biggest contributors to the community and volunteer sector.

So why are we not hearing more about what older volunteers can do, about attracting older people to volunteering? Specially when we know they are living longer in better health, and how volunteering can be good for both physical and social health. The buzz of volunteering and its intangible (and tangible) rewards are just as important for older people as for younger generations.

A UK report on the future of volunteering in an ageing society indicates the challenges, like they keep on working till at least age 70; they take on extra grandparent duties (or even full-time parenting); and bountiful economic years have given many of them opportunities for travel. Anxiety about being a ‘do-gooder’ or ‘interfering’ is also expressed by people raised in an era of different social norms. And current marketing and promotion of volunteering is not reaching them.

Some excellent resources for engaging with Boomers are available, from best practice to tips and tools. It’s all the stuff we’ve been preaching in New Zealand about management of volunteers for the past five years and a reminder about being inclusive in volunteer programmes. Boomers are too big a population to ignore, and volunteering is their best opportunity to keep involved in all spheres of community life.

As an 82 year old Ambassador promoting Boomer volunteering for Volunteering Waikato has said: No-one should ever be left out!

According to Henry Ford, “Anyone who stops learning is old – anyone who keeps learning stays young”.

And that’s the point made by the president of New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) in 2012:

It has become an obsession to label people as belonging to supposedly homogenous generations – be that Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials or Baby Boomers. Often this labelling becomes a tool for negatively creating false and divisive barriers between generations, or setting one generation against another. Carelessly used, these labels perpetuate ideas of ‘them’ and ‘us’, rather than helping us to build greater social cohesion.

Being a student is one of those shared experiences that continues throughout our lives – we never cease to learn. So everyone is a Generation Student!

That label would suit me just fine, because I could be learning from young people as well as my peers.

So let’s spread the word about the variety of volunteer challenges available to the Boomer generation, about the opportunities to apply their skills and experience, and the opportunities to learn more, and about the richness of belonging and being involved in our communities.

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April 22, 2015

Making the Most of Technology

Posted in Marketing, Technology tagged , , at 10:34 pm by Sue Hine

Multi Media Internet Laptop with Objects

A few weeks back I received notice of a piece of newly-published New Zealand research on digital proficiency in the NFP Sector.  It came via my email inbox of course, and though I am no great shakes in computer literacy and technological competency I do know what a necessary asset these skills are for all things volunteering, and for volunteer organisations.

I have lamented for a long time about the often poor and inadequate use of technology.  Goodness, it’s nearly five years since I wrote about making websites attractive for volunteers.  And still I come across inadequate and out-of-date information, misleading links, and a sort of stone-walling that looks like the organisation has something to hide.  I’ve preached about more effective use of social media too, and making space for volunteer on-line participation.

Anyway the analysis of digital proficiency in the research is pretty-much spot on.  The report says the NFP Sector is under pressure to do more with less: Government wants to reduce spending; traditional sources of funding are shifting; and supporters want to see the impact of their investment.  Organisations that are digitally proficient are better placed to respond in a challenging environment, and there are gains to be made across a range of NFP operations.

It is possible these findings could be extrapolated to a global sphere: “there is no significant difference between IT capability levels between metropolitan and regional-based organisations, or across Australia and New Zealand”. That is not to say Aussies and Kiwis are just the same: there are distinct cultural differences, despite our neighbourliness.

Other results show that less than half of research participants have an IT plan; that there is a positive correlation between IT capability and revenue generation; and that capability is not relevant to organisation size and complexity.  And still 11% of organisations do not have or use a website.  There’s a heap of challenges to make IT more productive of course, starting with affordable and skilled technical resources.  Staff training is high on the list, and making the most of new IT developments is also important.

But wait, there is more.  A Facebook link turns up: Tech is Everyone’s Job.  Because Tech is also the space for innovation, and lack of staff training and opportunities to test new processes becomes a barrier to effective organisation progress.  Right?  Just see what Chief Executives are missing when they refuse to use social media.

There is a heap of stuff available urging digital proficiency.  There’s also a deal of research and statistics on internet connectivity and use.  What about volunteer involvement in their organisation’s on-line activity?

When the idea of volunteers being let loose on social media is raised I hear objections that come close to outrage.  I sigh, for this indication of such a lack of trust, that volunteers will abuse the system and risk the organisation’s credibility – which I note is a slur rarely applied to paid staff.  With a well-drafted policy to cover and manage perceived risks (and there are examples) volunteers could prove a real asset in promoting good news and even attracting donors’ attention.

Let’s make volunteers and volunteering digital-friendly, and up on the spectrum of technological competence – as well as getting some up-skilling in digital proficiency for organisations.

November 16, 2014

Getting Recruitment Right!

Posted in Best Practice, Language, Marketing tagged , , , at 2:47 am by Sue Hine

Shackleton advtThe difficulties of volunteer recruitment never seem to go away.  The plaints of being short of people or not getting the ‘right sort’ of people keep on being raised.  I am still seeing notices in community newspapers or on social media and on websites about ‘wanting’ and ‘needing’ volunteers – which do little more to attract people beyond relying on the organisation’s reputation and public profile.

Well if you have not read the small print in the image above take a look at it now.

This notice reportedly delivered 5000 responses to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment of a crew for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914. The original advertisement has never been located so there is doubt about its authenticity.  Nevertheless it is a great story, alongside the subsequent adventures and heroism of the men on the expedition.

Yes, the message is based on men wanted (remember this is pre-Women’s Lib days), but it was the era of Antarctic exploration, and maybe the name of Shackleton drew attention (he had already made a name for himself).  Maybe all those men were looking for adventure, not knowing there was a different sort of adventurous expedition that would be announced in just a few months time.

For managers of volunteers the point of any recruitment advertising is (1) grabbing attention and (2) understanding the range of motivations that draw people to volunteer.  Add to that some basic principles of marketing, along with the organisation’s well-articulated reasons for engaging with volunteers.

What sort of salvo from a voluntary organisation would deliver the impact that Shackleton achieved?

  • Unleash your talents!
  • Want to apply your under-utilised skills?
  • Opportunity knocks!
  • Make friends and influence people
  • Join our fun-filled team at….

It’s the impact that counts – one that attracts attention.  Offer a taste of the kind of work available – which does not have to be accompanied by the kind of conditions Shackleton was describing.  Add in other attractions: the rewards of volunteer work, like Shackleton’s ‘honour and recognition’, or the flexible time arrangements, or the benefits of skill development and work experience.  Yes, you can make much of the worthiness of your organisation’s cause, because many volunteers will sign up to pursue their passionate interests.  But do avoid messages that sound like you are desperate for help. That plea makes me wonder why volunteers are not signing up and to ask if there is something wrong with the volunteer programme.

All of these suggestions tap into standard volunteer motivations.  They are also pretty similar to anything found in Sits Vac columns or job-seeking websites.  Let’s not forget that volunteering is a job, is real work – and not simply stuffing envelopes and making cups of tea.  And we do it for free, for all sorts of different reasons.

Two more recommendations (but note, there is never a last word on recruitment): (1) include a name, a real person to contact beyond the phone number or email address; and (2) ensure a quick response to messages and expressions of interest.  That’s the most important start for a conversation that could lead to a long career as a volunteer.

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!

June 8, 2014

The Business of Non-Profit Organisations

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Civil Society, Community Development, Funding and Finance, Marketing, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , at 2:56 am by Sue Hine

People-first-300x300[1]I nearly bought myself into an argument recently, wanting to defend the claim “Charity organisations are different from a business”.  Now I have done some reflecting and marshalled the points I could have made at the time, as a kind of dialogue with myself.

Of course they are different, given the ‘for-profit’ and ‘non-profit’ labels.  But I have never liked the use of ‘charity’ in reference to non-profit organisations and NGOs.  The word has got too many connotations of ‘doing-to’ consumers/users/clients, as many a for-profit business operates.  I prefer the concept of ‘doing-with’ people – groups and individuals in the community.  When I hear concerns expressed about large nonprofits operating like corporate businesses I have to concede my opponents might have a point.

On the other hand it is not an unreasonable expectation that non-profits operate in a businesslike manner, especially in a contracting environment.  Of course non-profits need to be accountable for their financial management.   They also need to prove their value, to demonstrate outcomes and impact, or in current business-speak, to show a social return on investment.  And yes, they need to establish a strategic plan, set policy, outline the programmes and services they will deliver.

But still I cry: they are different from a business.  They do not exist to make a profit.   They deliver services, they fill a gap, provide for a need, or they offer opportunities for healthy lifestyles and leisure interests.  These organisations bring communities together, engage people in activities and actions outside the market-place.  Collectively the non-profit sector and its associations represent Civil Society, acting as a counter-balance to the weight of the private and public sectors.  Otherwise non-profits get swallowed up in politics and the economics of consumerism.

  • That does not excuse them from governance responsibilities and ensuring practice standards are maintained.

Of course not.  If they are not meeting expectations, if they are not offering an environment for member or volunteer satisfaction then the organisation will fold.  Non-profit organisations are different from businesses in their aims and obligations.  They began with a specific mission, and they hold particular values.

  • But so do business organisations. They are no different in holding statements on their vision, mission and values.

Yes, I am reminded of the snappy mission held by Canon: Beat Xerox!  That competition element is a big driver in business, always looking for that niche in the market, and to improve market share.   That is not the business of nonprofits!  Non-profit organisations tend to live by their vision and values.  In business these can be just words and not treated seriously, as the Enron history shows.  Not to mention the shady dealings of finance companies exposed in the Global Financial Crisis.

Non-profit organisations do not compete, they complement each other.  They are fulfilling particular needs for a specific community, at a particular time and place.  And there is much more focus on collaboration, working together and sharing information.  Businesses work to protect their intellectual property and ensure their bottom line is always a good one.

  • And so we should! If it wasn’t for business and our ability to create profits and pay taxes non-profit organisations would not be ‘in business’.

Now you are getting narky.  And also highlighting the fundamental difference between business and non-profit organisations.  Put it this way: business is about making monetary profits which go to shareholders, the investors.  The profit for a non-profit organisation is the benefits and gains seen in community and individual well-being, and in the contributions of a well-run volunteer programme.  That’s why it’s important that we stay different.

You are still not convinced?  Yes, there is plenty more ground to cover in this debate.  What would you have to say?

 

February 9, 2014

Why Involve Volunteers?

Posted in Best Practice, Civil Society, Marketing, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 2:17 am by Sue Hine

definitionAsk a reasonable question about why volunteers are involved in non-profit organisations and don’t be surprised if the answer is To Save Money!  It’s there in writing as well, in comments about budget constraints which ‘increase reliance on volunteer support’, and in ‘saving on administration costs’.

Annual Reports can include acknowledgement of volunteer numbers and hours contributed translated into monetary value, but rarely any analysis or demonstration of why they are valued and important for the organisation.

This money thing really gets in the way of thinking about volunteers and understanding volunteering.

The people who claim ‘volunteers are priceless’ have not looked at the costs of running a volunteer programme.  Somebody should be adding up expenditure on recruitment and training, provision of support and supervision, functions for recognition of volunteer work, and reimbursement of expenses.  Hang on, why should we reimburse volunteer expenses?  Paid employees don’t get reimbursed for travelling to work, nor their parking fees!

When I hear about organisations saving money by using volunteers I am hearing ‘exploitation’.  To ‘use’ volunteers is close to ‘abusing’ their goodwill, and their time and their talents.

If the budget shortfall really means increasing volunteer support what extra work will they do?  Taking up jobs that used to be paid? That would mean relaxing some of the current rules that limit volunteer roles like a ban on undertaking personal cares for frail and vulnerable people or the constraints of safety boundaries.  And let’s not overlook a potential backlash from worker associations.

What is it that so many people need to understand about volunteering?

For starters, ‘volunteering’ is a modern-day term for an ancient human practice that provided mutual support and protection for the collective group, binding people within their communities.  These days we call it ‘Civil Society’, denoting all those activities that bring people together to pursue their mutual interests.  Volunteering is noted for its diversity and the wide fields of interests, for large national organisations and small informal and local groups.  These days, volunteering is a means for community engagement, for maintaining social relations and stability.  Volunteering is also the agency to promote a cause, to bring enlightenment and create change.

So when we get down to organisation level, to the place that employs paid staff, what’s the point of volunteering, if it is not to save money?  Here are some pointers to finding an answer:

  • At a basic level, volunteer assistance will support staff and enable them to focus on specialist responsibilities.
  • Volunteers help to create a positive image of the organisation in the community.  As ambassadors they can be a real asset, attracting donors and more volunteers, and being the best-ever marketing agents.  (Or, as the worst-ever critics, they could be your biggest liability.)
  • Volunteers can bring new insights, energy and time to the organisation.  It was probably volunteer enthusiasm and commitment that got it started in the first place. So why not harness that energy to develop and trial new strategies or processes, to push the envelope beyond existing limits.  The voluntary sector needs a research and development function as much as manufacturing corporations.
  • When volunteers bring a diverse range of skills and experience they enrich the organisation, and help expand community connections which can extend the reach of organisation services.
  • At best, volunteers offer added value to the organisation’s vision and contribute to achieving its mission.

These are general points, and will need to be tailored to organisation specifics.  More importantly, getting to grips with the real reasons for volunteer involvement will mean you never have to say ‘volunteers are priceless’ or that they save you money.  And, you’ll find the words and phrases to give real meaning to volunteering.

December 1, 2013

Outsource to Volunteers!

Posted in Marketing, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 3:37 am by Sue Hine

Way Signs "Outsourcing - In-House Solutions"“Outsource to Volunteers” were the words inscribed on a floating pendant at Festival for the Future, a weekend event to celebrate what’s possible, “supporting the next generation to spark & grow world-changing ideas for a better New Zealand”.

Now there’s an idea, I thought, and my mind raced away on the potential for community organisations to outsource work and even whole service delivery to volunteers.  All I need to do is work up a business plan and organise a few contracts.

After all, hospitals outsource food and cleaning services to private operators; local authorities outsource waste collection services; airlines might have aircraft servicing done outside their country of origin; and we are all familiar with local businesses that outsource the manufacture of their products to way beyond our shores, along with IT services and Call Centres .

How could I make this work for volunteering?  It would be a non-profit business for starters.  I would recruit and train volunteers, undertake the whole professional management of volunteers, and organisations would contract with me to supply and deliver their volunteer programme.  I would make sure a contract price included provision for volunteer rewards and recognition, and also allowances for travel – as well as the costs of administration and training and support and so on – and reasonable recompense for my own efforts.  Volunteers do not come for free, you know.

Outsourcing will foster a strong volunteer identity, give volunteers a sense of ownership and pride in their status instead of being reminded of that professional/amateur inequality.  Nor would volunteering fall into the black hole of ignorance and being ignored by management in the organisation.  Outsourcing could make volunteering more visible in the community rather than being confined to particular organisations.  Ultimately volunteering would become an attractive proposition to a wider range of people, and stimulate widespread recognition as well as a broader range of activities.  Outsourcing will also give a manager of volunteers the freedom to apply best practice away from the curbs of restrictive organisation processes.

But would it still be ‘volunteering’?  Sigh.  Such flights of fancy always have fish-hooks.  Worst is the inference that volunteers are just another tradable commodity, even if they do not get paid for their work.  Market principles do not, should not ever, apply to volunteering.  Outsourcing might also expose a shameful concession that volunteer programmes are not part of an organisation’s core business.

My ideas also cut across some of the present work of Volunteer Centres.  Many organisations would never dream of letting an outsider take over ‘their’ volunteers.  There could be practical objections when it comes to specialised services like emergency services, telephone help-lines and befriending programmes.  Some people will protest that outsourcing changes the whole flavour and meaning of volunteering.

But think about it. Think about the words ‘outsource to volunteers’.  They do not mean ‘replace paid staff with volunteers’, nor ‘let’s exploit volunteer willingness to help’, and nor do they imply ‘volunteers can do anything’.  But they do encourage me to think about extending volunteer responsibilities and developing new initiatives that would add value to organisation services, or to trial new ways of operating.

My realist head is now seeing ‘outsource to volunteers’ as a simple slogan to remind us of the wealth of goodwill, of talents and experience, that volunteers bring to any organisation – and why we should place high value on their services.  If we forget that then our organisations and our communities are the poorer for it.

May 26, 2013

The Neediness of Volunteer Organisations

Posted in Best Practice, Language, Managers Matter, Marketing, Organisational gains from volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:36 am by Sue Hine

Help wanted on clothes lineI’m on my language hobby-horse again, this time on why we should be careful in using the word need.

Mostly I know volunteer organisations are established on the basis of responding to a need, whether it’s for kids sport, disaffected youth, family abuse, or for civic and political protest.  That is, people in the community recognise a gap or a flaw in services and decide to step up and step in to provide it themselves.

I can understand neediness when it comes to funding and resourcing operations.  Even the smallest organisation will be looking to cover costs for stamps and paper, and photocopying minutes of meetings, phone calls and internet services.  Maybe membership fees and dipping into our own pockets will cover the deficit, but that may not be sustainable over time.  The organisation might grow, get some traction through philanthropic grants and perhaps a government contract, though the $$ are never enough to cover total expenditure.

Recruiting volunteers is not the first step in developing a volunteer programme, but it’s certainly the one that trips many an organisation, as reported in the Managers Matter research (2010).  It seems the problem is about posing recruitment messages as needing volunteers.

Twice this week I’ve seen promos for volunteers that are more like begging pleas.  This or that organisation needs volunteers – can you help?  Need and help go together, relying simply on reader perception of these words and possible recognition of the organisation’s brand or logo.  Without indication of volunteer roles and responsibilities and without describing the advantages in volunteering for this organisation I am most likely to offer nothing more than a passing glance to such messages.

NeedHelp – and then add Want, to make a triumvirate of words least likely to attract volunteers.  British World War I recruitment posters no longer have the pull of earlier times: volunteers wanted is just another empty plea.  Empty, because no-one is asking about the skills and experience I could offer, nor describing the potential benefits of volunteering with your organisation.  Help wanted is just another banner fluttering in the breeze of volunteer opportunities.

What does work in attracting volunteers, whether it’s through community networks, a website, Facebook or other social media, or via Volunteer Centre brokerage?

For starters you don’t have to use any of the above: you go ask people.  Not because you need or want them to help.  You ask because they’ve got skills and talents that would be really useful; because the organisation is a fun place to work; because they’ve got a programme that supports and appreciates volunteer work – and a host of other reasons to shoulder-tap and get people interested.  There’s a powerful argument posted this week about Asking being the New Telling.  We’ve known about direct approaches to volunteers for many years, and we need to grow out of relying on begging messages.   Here’s another link promoting the direct ask, and you can’t do better than this compilation of ways to turn your organisation into a volunteer magnet.  Or have a look at Susan Ellis’ run-down on the turn-offs in volunteer recruitment.

I wish we could get past the agonising about needing and wanting volunteers to help organisations.  There is so much good advice available on practical ways to find and keep volunteers we should not have to keep on repeating the begging messages of neediness.

When I get past the neediness pleas I know that volunteering is much more about belonging in and building healthy communities.  And when I find an organisation that offers attractive recruitment promotion I will know there’s a switched-on manager of volunteers who knows how and can do.

It’s long past time to turn on a few more light bulbs.

April 21, 2013

What’s to Become of Volunteering?

Posted in Civil Society, Funding and Finance, Impact Measurement, Marketing, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 4:04 am by Sue Hine

jan24_forgoodforprofit

There’s my question for the week, something to puzzle over after reading the headline Some community social services could be funded privately in future, under a new agreement with the Government.   This is the first public statement on Social Bonds from a New Zealand government minister.

‘Social Bonds’ is a process of advancing funds to NGOs by philanthropist groups (‘private providers’) for the term of an outcomes-based contract, and then reimbursed by Government when the NGO delivers on pre-determined targets.  This funding arrangement has been researched and discussed within government in New Zealand since 2009.   Earlier this year a roadshow promotion from Treasury and Ministry of Health travelled the country to inform community organisations, and to start public discussion.

Those of us who do the media watching, monitor trends, and understand the politics of the day will not be overly surprised.  In the UK Social Bonds have been transforming the community and volunteer landscape since Big Society became the favoured social policy of the Coalition Government.  An Australian report indicates ongoing discussion and debate on details of a Social Bond programme.  Maybe we should heed a Canadian view that says “Social Impact Bonds are a new way to privatise public services.”

On the face of it, the intention of a Social Bond arrangement makes a lot of sense – as any venture capitalist would want from investing in a new enterprise.  You put in the money, and you expect to see some real returns on investment, like a reduction in the rate of teen-age pregnancy, fewer smokers, or a drop in criminal re-offending figures.   Social Bonds also link favourably with current developments in New Zealand for user-friendly contracts between government and NGOs, including multi-agency contracting and simple format financial reporting.  Social Bonds sit well with the results-based programme set by Better Public Services – though this ambitious agenda needs to involve all parts of the community and voluntary sector, from the beginning.

Nothing is yet certain, except for evidence of government intentions for change.  In my reactionary moments I see a pincer movement to corral organisations into a private sector model of service delivery, to get the job done in the shortest time at the lowest cost.  There are risks of reduced public accountability.  Worse is how the ethos of a welfare safety net is further eroded, because investor profits will take precedence.  At the work-face performance-based contracting could mean a selective practice devoted to the most ‘deserving’ clients who will boost the return on investment.

Nowhere in the discussion so far has there been a mention of volunteers – neither their existing contributions to NGOs, nor their future potential.  Non-Government Organisations are those which contract with government. To be drawn closer to web and snares of government is to revert to the decades-old acronym of QANGO – a quasi-autonomous non-government organisation, the ‘almost, but not quite’ independent body, a phrase that will fool nobody.

Not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) can be thankful they are outside this net.  Yet they too will be drawn into this new environment, if only in their efforts to secure a share of the charity dollar.  Will philanthropists consider NFP applications favourably alongside a guaranteed return for investing with NGOs?  And, if the ROI from government contracts is lower than finance market rates doesn’t that reduce the size of the over-all funding pool?

What will become of volunteering when government-sponsored community services become the norm?

Well, here’s your example.  There is one institution, developed and run by volunteers for many years.  Since it gained a government contract a few years back there has been a huge growth in paid staff, and volunteers have been side-lined, reduced to wondering what their role is, and whether they are needed any more.  They do not feature on the organisation chart; they are bit-part players, not really essential to the way the organisation is playing out its mission and vision.

If I was writing a fictional scenario for the future I would be describing the growth in NGOs marketing and fundraising departments.  The organisation-wide volunteer programme will be down-graded in favour of ‘greater efficiency’ from paid staff.  Volunteer activities will be confined to promotional and fundraising events.  No need now for managers of volunteers, because HR and FR people know how and can do.

But if I was looking for inspiration I would go straight to Inspiring Communities, where community-led change is still the mantra to follow, where they know about ‘learning by doing’, about community development thinking and action.  Or I would read again the stories from NZ Social Entrepreneur Fellowship.

Volunteering shall not die, because it is in our nature to collaborate and to care about our families, neighbours, and communities.  We just need to our voice to be heard, and heeded.

March 17, 2013

To Tweet, To Woo? Volunteerism and Social Media

Posted in Marketing, Recognition of Volunteering, Technology tagged , , at 3:24 am by Sue Hine

Social-Media-in-Business-Social-Media-Applications-GuideThe phenomenon of social media has spawned a raft of new ways to communicate, for business, for politicians, and for the voluntary sector – which has also generated significant commentary, on websites and in print.

In the on-line course Essentials of Volunteer Management participants are asked to comment on the advantages and disadvantages of using social media for recruitment.  Mostly the responses are “we don’t”, and reservations are sometimes based on unfamiliarity with the facilities social media can offer.

Yes, as Susan J Ellis points out, social media is not always the ideal medium for recruitment messages: there are other fundamentals to take into account.  And as we all know, it is word-of-mouth that proves the most effective tool for engaging new volunteers.  Yet I am impressed with the promotional information and volunteer opportunities put up on Facebook by Volunteer Centres.  In their role as brokers between organisations and prospective volunteers they are offering new opportunities for both parties.  Mostly the messages are short and snappy and accompanied by a photograph, plus clear contact details.

Why should NGOs and not-for-profit organisations be bothering with social media?  If you have a well-produced and inter-active web-site and regular e-newsletters what more do you need?

Well – social media is just the best communication tool for reaching the widest possible audience and for dispersing information and promoting organisational interests.  Just think how popular crowd-sourcing and on-line fundraising has become.  Notice how often a message or a video-clip can ‘go viral’ and become part of popular culture.

After all, says a UK fan, social media is designed to be fun, straightforward and easy to use, and with millions of potential supporters accessible online it’s too good an opportunity to miss.

Quite – especially when I want to keep in touch with Gen Y friends and find they are never checking their email inbox.

Of course, for all my enthusiasm there are still disadvantages to consider when thinking about using social media.

Here’s the advice from a for-profit business perspective * :

  • It takes time: it’s a constant investment
  • Target which channel you want to use, likely to be used by your consumers
  • What are your objectives?  To gain sales; build profile; communicate with members only?
  • You need to have something interesting to say: be instructive, informative, controversial or humorous – otherwise your efforts will be simply social media white noise
  • Is social media relevant to your target market?  Test and measure its value to your business

For NGOs and Non-Profit organisations the best resource is the information offered by Jayne Cravens .  Her advice and commentary, plus extra links, cover most of the points made above.  There are risks to manage: you need a written policy on staff and volunteer online engagement as representatives of the organisation.  It takes time to get results; you have to really get engaged with online supporters.  Ultimately, Jayne says, online social networks are an important part of a mission-based organisation’s box of outreach tools.

And outreach, in my book, is all that marketing and promotion we need to do in this day and age.  You might think it ironic that I am not a Tweeter, and a minimal contributor to Facebook – but I do know a good thing for community organisations when I see it.  And I do like to push out boats on this blog.

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*        Drawn from an article in Dominion Post, Februay 25, 2013

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