August 30, 2015
Years ago I heard a claim that if you have not been exposed to volunteering before the age of 15 you are unlikely to volunteer as an adult. I have never been able to find a source, or to know if this assertion can be verified, but I sure am aware of the current level of involvement by young people in volunteer projects of all kinds.
It’s like there is a huge surge of interest, from schools, organisations, communities and young people themselves. Young people create their own organisations, like Canteen, or SADD, or the Student Volunteer Army, or their own specific projects. Young people are the faces of Youthline and UN Youth Aotearoa New Zealand.
The conventional age range for youth is 15-24, but volunteering can start at a much younger age. How about the infant that goes with his Mum to a High School Class to talk about child-rearing and parenting? (It’s the Mum who does the talking of course.) Or the whole families who get involved in fundraising or a beach clean-up? Or you can stretch the age range to 30, and find at least one Volunteer Centre consistently registers its highest proportion of volunteers in the 20-29 age band.
Yay! Here are another couple of generations coming along to inspire communities, to advocate for and to lead change, and to fill gaps or attend to particular needs – even as older people fade from the volunteering scene.
Student Community Involvement Programmes have been a feature in New Zealand since the early 1990s, developed and promoted by several Volunteer Centres to introduce young people to volunteering and to learn about different parts of their communities. Establish relations with schools and youth groups and services, negotiate for projects with local organisations and there can be lots of satisfaction all round.
But not if your experience is like this story:
A class of eleven and twelve year olds are assigned to a coastal regeneration programme, clearing the scrubby stuff and replanting the area. ‘Assigned’ sounds like there is not much choice, like it’s not the students’ idea. If you didn’t want to go you had to stick around at school all day with nothing to do. When the students get to the location there is little instruction and not enough tools for everyone. OK – those hanging around can go and do a beach clean-up.
No wonder there were plenty of gripes and groans from this episode, which was not, I hasten to add, organised through a Volunteer Centre.
So it’s clear the basic principles of a good volunteer programme still apply, regardless of the age of volunteers. Get the planning done, ensure you’ve got adequate resources, and most of all check the project is something young people really want to work on. See this excellent resource, or this one to learn the best practice tricks.
When Student Volunteer Week comes around on September 7 I hope there will be plenty of opportunities to celebrate student volunteer efforts in the community. Let’s acknowledge their initiatives, enthusiasm, commitment and their willingness to pitch in and to ‘make a difference’.
PS “Get them while they’re young” is a line from the musical Evita, interposed on a paean to ‘Santa Evita’ sung by a chorus of children.
June 2, 2013
Recognition and appreciation of volunteer work throughout community organisations is something managers do every day in lots of different ways. This month Volunteering New Zealand is heading into National Volunteer Week (June 16-22), a brief time to celebrate the contribution of volunteers to all parts of New Zealand’s social and cultural life.
There are other annual opportunities for public acknowledgement, from national honours to local civic awards and community-sponsored medals. Two standout nation-wide programmes come via TrustPower and Kiwi Bank (as principal sponsor of New Zealander of the Year Awards). Both programmes are competitive, involving nomination and judging at both local and national levels in a range of categories.
TrustPower Community Awards are run in 24 regions, and they cover five categories: Heritage and Environment, Health and Wellbeing, Arts and Culture, Sport and Leisure, and Education and Child/Youth Development. Supreme winners in each region then vie for the title of National Awards Supreme Winner. For 2012 the winner was Kaibosh, a Wellington-based organisation dedicated to daily redistribution of left-over food.
The catalogue of winners at regional level is an eye-opener on the range of community organisations and their achievements. The Men’s Shed scored in Tauranga; in Dunedin the winner was the Neurological Foundation Southern Chair of Neurosurgery; a theatre group from the small town of Katikati took out honours in Western Bay of Plenty; and the ecological restoration project at Maungatautari was the winner for the Waipa District. Runners-up and commendations are recorded too.
TrustPower’s award for Youth Community Spirit recognises secondary school students’ service to school and the community. From the achievements noted in the citations these young people are the emerging leaders for a new generation.
New Zealander of the Year Awards focus more on individuals than organisations. There is a top award for New Zealander of the Year, and others for a Young New Zealander and a Senior New Zealander. Then there are the Local Hero awards identifying everyday people doing extraordinary things in their local communities. All of these engender significant local and national publicity, and recognition for individual and collective achievements.
In addition, the Community of the Year award provides groups with an opportunity to be recognised for their holistic contribution, rather than a focus on a particular sector. The small town of Paeroa is the winner for 2012, for its determination to retain an active events calendar and to enhance heritage attractions.
The heart of this community really lies with the large number of volunteers whose can-do attitude has seen the town develop to be a safe and vibrant community. The contribution and energy of a large number of groups is in contrast to the small population. It is this strong sense of community that is the key to the towns continuing growth and proves what can be achieved when residents share a common goal and work together harmoniously.
That’s a real illustration of what the spirit of community volunteering can achieve.
A study of winners and finalists for Community of the Year could reveal significant data on success factors – like leadership, collaboration and cooperation, strategic planning and implementation – because the achievements of Paeroa and other communities do not happen without effective leadership and management of a volunteer programme.
There’s no huge prize money offered from these award programmes, but the publicity and kudos will generate increased awareness to be translated into donor and funder interest and volunteer applications.
And when you scroll through the list of present and previous award winners it is very evident there are more things in community services and community development than NGOs filling the breaches in government health and welfare services. So when we join the functions lined up for National Volunteer Week let’s give a nod to the way leaders and managers of volunteers make all things possible for volunteers.
February 24, 2013
Just two months into the year and already there are plenty of agendas being talked up, plenty of rising anxiety levels in community sector organisations, accompanied by what sounds like, and feels like, a sinking lid for programmes and practice. Paying for criminal checks on volunteers, getting the charities legislation reviewed and the prospect of new contracting and funding arrangements through ‘social bonds’ are just three of the big picture issues. I shall leave them to other platforms for the moment.
My matter for this week is not as the headline suggests, the community gardeners. Nor am I presenting yet another promo for best practice volunteer recruitment. The niggle at the back of my head is the continuing interest in courting Gen X and Y to engage in volunteering, as though it was a new and untapped resource for organisations short on volunteers.
I wrote about Youth Volunteering a bit over a year ago, being enthusiastic about all the evidence of increases in young people’s involvement. And they continue to be involved, even as part of whole family volunteering. More recently Volunteering New Zealand has published a paper on UN Youth NZ; Labour Party youth are on a roll this year to connect with local community groups; in January United Nations announced a trust fund to support Youth Volunteerism. There is no end to the ways young people can be involved in their communities, and you can see this even at early school years when class projects open children’s minds to community and community needs.
Here is my ‘yes but’ question:
Are we cultivating volunteers or promoting the cult of youth?
The rise in youth volunteering is capturing attention at a time when retirees, the ‘baby-boomer’ generation, could be expected to join the ranks of volunteers in droves. They are not, for various reasons: they continue in paid employment; they are full-time care-givers for grandchildren; they are travelling the world and ‘pursuing other interests’. Yet there are still enough older people – and we can see them working in our communities every day throughout the year – to be a significant proportion in volunteer statistics. This is the expanding age group that is proving such a burden on governments and age-support organisations throughout the western world. To which I would say: “if you don’t use them, you’ll lose them”.
My plea is for inclusion, for all population groups. I am thinking of skills that older people can offer from their employment experience. I am thinking of tolerance and acceptance of difference that comes with age and experience, along with a raft of communication and relationship skills. Of course they do not have these skills on their own, and nor is the wisdom of age always informed by tolerance. But neither do young people hold all the answers to achieving organisation goals through volunteering.
Dissonance between age and youth is as old as time. This is not the time to pitch one in favour of the other. Volunteering could be the much-needed space where young and older New Zealanders come together to learn from each other and to appreciate the perspectives of different generations. That’s where leadership for the 21st century could come from.
Disclaimer: Please do not think I am carrying personal angst in writing the above. By conventional dating I belong to the Silent Generation, those who never spoke out, who accepted everything thrown at them. I like to think I have moved with my times.
PS: Comment per email sent by Salle-Ann Ehms:
As always, your blog is very thought-provoking. In the light of inclusiveness, I thought that you’d appreciate this photo I took last week-end. It’s not the best shot but I love the contrasts; youth-aged,
caucasian-asian, able-disabled, but what I most love is that none of those things are really relevant, the caring is palpable.
December 4, 2011
“Get them while they’re young” is a line from the musical Evita, interposed on a paean to ‘Santa Evita’ sung by a chorus of children. It is also a line spun in a religious context and a strategy exploited by many a commercial and consumer enterprise.
So I should not be surprised to learn if you have not been exposed to volunteering by the time you are 15 you are not likely to get engaged as a volunteer either now or later. That bit of hearsay gave me pause to think about my own history of volunteering and where it came from.
These days the evidence shows more and more young people are volunteering, in all sorts of spheres, and they are not always following the model of their parents as I did.
In Australia youth volunteering (aged 18-24) doubled in the ten years to 2006, to 32%. A US report (2005) found the rate for ages 12-18 was 55%, more than one and a half times the adult rate of 29%. In England only 24% of 16-24 year olds are engaged in formal volunteering, according to a 2009 review. The rate in New Zealand for the year ending March 2009 was just 27%, for the age group 15-24 years.
Statistics such as these offer bald information and clearly international comparisons on this data would be odious. What needs to be noted is the increasing interest by youth in volunteering: in New Zealand this age group is anecdotally claimed to be the fastest rising volunteer demographic. Over the past six months Volunteer Wellington finds the number of volunteer seekers aged 14-29 have outnumbered other age groups more than 2:1, and 50% of these volunteers were students.
Alongside this burgeoning volunteer population there is a welter of related research, conferences, and reviews, national and international. There are presentations from young people themselves on what they expect, where their interests lie and how they want to be engaged. There is also an ongoing blog written by young people for young volunteers.
They come with different strengths and expectations from older generations. Being technologically-gifted they expect all information and communication to be available on-line. Sometimes they prefer to work in groups or to be involved in time-limited, task-focused activities. They want opportunities to get work-related experience, something to put on their CVs. Yet they can also have altruistic reasons for volunteering, and a sense of civic responsibility.
The volunteer work of young people can be as varied as programmes that engage older people. A study on student involvement showed nearly half worked as a mentor, coach, or counsellor with youth. Sports and cultural activities attracted a significant proportion, and close behind were health and emergency services.
For the leader of volunteers and the manager of a volunteer programme here is another dynamic to add to the business of harnessing the skills and energies brought by volunteers to the organisation. Be warned, youth volunteers will not tolerate being patronised. There is much to admire in their enthusiasm and commitment, and in their achievements. Organisations in New Zealand, like Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), CanTeen (supporting teenage cancer patients) and YouthLine, are obvious standouts, yet young people will be found volunteering in a whole lot of other places as well.
There is much to encourage and entice youth volunteers at Volunteering Otago, and a really great Wish List at Volunteering Hawkes Bay. What we want, they say, is: Flexibility, Experience, Incentives, Legitimacy and Variety; accessing volunteering needs to be Easy; like everyone else Appreciation and Support is important; and most of all we love to Laugh! Go check out the details, and find how engaging young people as volunteers is pretty much the same as for other populations.
Get them while they are young, to open opportunities for learning skills and about self, about community, about service, and about the life-long gains that volunteering can bring. Better still, get them to show you a thing or two about different ways of volunteering and new approaches to existing volunteer programmes.
[If you think I have tossed in too many hyperlinks here, it is simply an indication of the wealth of material and information available on engaging young people in your organisation.]
And have a great day celebrating the International Volunteers’ Day on December 5, whatever your age!