August 30, 2015

“Get Them While They’re Young”

Posted in Best Practice, Managing Volunteers, Volunteer Diversity, Youth Volunteering tagged , , at 2:45 am by Sue Hine

SVW

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.

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May 5, 2013

The Totally Best Volunteer Experience

Posted in Best Practice, Good news stories, Managers Matter, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 3:20 am by Sue Hine

volunteering-300x242[1]Going on three years ago I wrote about someone else’s bad volunteer experience, and regretted it ever since.  Because every year this post is the most viewed, by a wide margin.  Every day someone has Googled the words and they end up on my blog site.  I’ve tried in several different ways to highlight what volunteers appreciate, but good news stories do not attract the same attention.

So the tales of volunteers being under-valued and unappreciated, and treated badly, continue to mount up.  And now Australian volunteers are invited to register violations of their rights or inappropriate treatment.

Two problems here.  One, I don’t know of any cast iron document on volunteer rights relating to ‘inappropriate treatment’.  Which means, secondly, there is not much legal protection for volunteers (in New Zealand) beyond privacy and health and safety regulations and the non-discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act.  ‘Volunteer rights’ are more in the realm of ethical and best practice procedures.

There are various Codes of Practice for managing volunteers.  There are various Rights and Responsibilities documents outlining reciprocal obligations for volunteers and organisations.  There is, if you did not know already, a Code of Ethics for managers of volunteers.  In 2001 (remember that year?) a “Universal Declaration on the Profession of Leading and Managing Volunteers”   was developed by an international working group, including New Zealand representation.   These hallmarks of a profession are clearly not sufficiently embedded to address the wrongs experienced by volunteers.

The regulatory environment in most jurisdictions will include volunteers within health and safety, privacy and human rights.  Volunteers are excluded from employment law of course, though there is a grey area when we start talking about being ‘a good employer’ (see this post).

So from a volunteer’s perspective there is not much comeback if they get bullied, or mucked around, or ignored – all that personal insult stuff that is so hard to argue.  There is no formal means of redress, unless the organisation’s HR policies and their ‘good employer’ commitment includes volunteers in their complaints and disciplinary procedures, and in annual review processes which offer a two-way consideration of both the volunteer programme and volunteer contributions.  To go further into ‘workplace protection’ would jeopardise the meaning and status of volunteering.

In 2009 serious breaches of trust between volunteers and the organisations they volunteered for led to Volunteering England’s Volunteer Rights Inquiry.  The outcome called on organisations to sign up to the 3R Promise, promoting and protecting and taking responsibility for volunteer experience and raising standards of management of volunteers, and reconciliation when things go wrong. Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations is another model, outlining opportunities for organisation development and change to develop and maintain a programme that offers volunteers the best possible experience.

But the fundamentals of that best experience is based on good communication, effective working  relationships, high standards of training and induction, ongoing support, demonstrative appreciation and being valued for contributing to the organisation’s mission and to the community.  (Have I missed anything here?)  These are matters of professional standards and ethics and values.  They are ‘people-centred’, involving relationships of mutual respect and trust.

Volunteers can tell us what they want, what they think is their best experience in all sorts of ways.  See what I wrote a few months ago.   Or consider this account from another writer.

If we listened to ‘what volunteers want’ we would not have to set up complaint registers or to promise commitments, or guidelines for organisations.  If we listened to volunteers we would not be pushed to concern for protecting their rights.  We might even become the profession we ought to be.

And – we’ll get more pictures of happy and satisfied volunteers.