March 25, 2017
A few days ago I got a call from Matthew, one of those volunteer types who like to put up their hand for the next best thing. He had landed the job of recruiting a team of volunteers for a city-wide fund-raising effort and scheduling them into a roster for the day. Not a problem he thought – just ring around the people on the list handed to him – slot them in at their preferred time, perhaps do a bit of juggling with where they wanted to go. Piece of cake. And a nice way to support an organisation he respected.
Except a lot of people did not answer his calls, even after several messages. ‘Should I keep on trying to contact them?’ he asked. Of course my question in reply was ‘What sort of briefing were you given when you took up this job?’ Not much. ‘What did you understand you were asked to do?’ Just ring around a few people. ‘No outline of how to run a conversation?’ Zilch. … And so on.
Matthew was not very happy.
Neither was Gina, who volunteered for a branch of a national organisation that had a high reputation in the community. She really wanted to get involved in this work, took up the intensive training, got fired up to give it a go. Loved the work and being involved with people in the community, but hugely disappointed and disillusioned with the organisation. Problem was the other volunteers had all been involved for some years, and they were a very cliquey group. Not at all inclusive when it came to newcomers. And the team leader, the local manager of this branch, was in cahoots with them. You’d go to a meeting and they would spend half the time gossiping about local issues, and even the cases they had been working on. No direction from the manager, no meaningful support, and little guidance when you needed it. Gina stuck it out for a year or so but was pleased to move on to new employment in a different town. She was going to be more cautious about volunteering in the future.
Jess’s problem was somewhat similar. Her volunteering involved supporting families in the community, taking up heaps of time and rather a lot of travel when there were meetings arranged with various agencies. That was OK, really, but Jess was missing the organisation support she had got from volunteering stints with other organisations. Yes, there was an occasional group email with a generic thank-you message, and a list of instructions on what still needed to be done. And yes, there was also a compulsory fortnightly team meeting to attend. But instead of a forum for discussion of ideas and sharing concerns, the manager would go through a list of what Jess and her colleagues were doing wrong. All rather dispiriting. Jess checked out what other people were thinking and feeling and they supported her idea to challenge the manager at their next meeting.
It wasn’t going to be a formal complaint, just setting out what volunteers would appreciate in support and recognition for the work they were doing. Jess was not unaccustomed to laying out facts and examples, but she did not expect the hostile response from the manager. There was no discussion, just a personal attack that made Jess out to be ungrateful, lacking understanding of the organisation and its mission, and totally off the wall in her comments. The other volunteers stayed silent.
Jess has not done any formal volunteering since.
Fortunately I don’t think the experiences of Matthew, Gina and Jess happen frequently, but they are reminders of the real importance of
- Clear instructions for volunteer tasks via a role description
- Ensuring an inclusive process for new volunteers
- Managers of volunteers understanding ethical boundaries and their leadership role
- Genuine recognition and appreciation of volunteer work
- Listening to volunteers and their ideas for improvements in the programme
When we listen carefully volunteers can always teach us a thing or two.
October 14, 2012
Promoting diversity is a significant industry in New Zealand. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) works for a fair, safe and just society, where diversity is valued, human rights respected, and everyone is able to live free from prejudice and unlawful discrimination. Commissioners for Race Relations, Equal Employment Opportunity and Disability Rights are included in the office of HRC.
Of course it is in the public interest (and the Government’s) to celebrate cultural diversity, to promote equal rights, to foster harmonious relations, and to meet the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi. And it should be of no less interest to managers of volunteers.
There are some tactical advantages in aiming for a volunteer team that represents diversity in the community. One is the signal to donors and the public that the organisation is open and community-friendly. Better still is the opportunity for a wide spread of information and good tidings about the organisation – which in turn can generate more goodwill, and donations, and a steady stream of volunteer applicants. And when users or clients of the organisation come from diverse backgrounds it makes even more sense to recruit a broad range of volunteers.
This approach means the manager of volunteers is faced with applications from people aged 19 to 90, job-seekers to corporate professionals, people wanting social contact and others paying social debts, those on a mission and those looking for one, the able and the disabled, and people new to town or new to the country.
All those differences matter not a jot when there is a common goal, and when the differences have nothing to do with volunteer tasks. In other words the manager plays on volunteer commonalities. Difference and diversity does not have to mean lack of ability to work together.
But I think there is a point where demonstrating openness and community representativeness in a volunteer programme is overtaken by attention to inclusiveness.
Selection procedures will screen out people on solid grounds, according to the nature of the service or the particular volunteer roles. There is never a place to rule out the applicant who ‘does not fit the mould’.
Inclusiveness is what happens when the application from a wheelchair-user is not declined because of disability, but assigned to a role according to ability. Stumbling with communication when English is your second (or 3rd or 4th) language is no obstacle to volunteering on a beach clean up or to planting trees. The bright-eyed school leaver could be just the person to take cups of tea around to elderly patients.
Inclusiveness is what happens when the organisation offers a contribution to travel costs, or makes allowances for child care schedules. To do otherwise is to exclude people from volunteering. Inclusiveness is taking a volunteer’s good idea and running with it instead of saying it can’t be done.
Nobody has said embracing diversity would be easy. Nor commented on the amount of juggling a manager does to harness the diversity of volunteers. But the end result is creating a community of volunteers working together for the good of the organisation. Which in turn generates a flow-on impact on relationships in the wider community.
The fern represents the growing cultural diversity of New Zealand. Starting from the base of the fern, the motifs are as follows:
- Traditional kowhaiwhai pattern from a painted panel. Manutuke church. (1849) Rongowhakaata Tribe.
- Fleur de Lys design loosely representing the European population, taken from hinges on St Patrick’s Cathedral, Auckland.
- Samoan pattern from tapa cloth.
- Traditional Chinese character found on silk cloth. The character ‘shou’ means longevity.
- Indian paisley, used in henna (mendhi) designs to adorn the hands.
- Vietnamese motif from a piece of woven fabric.
- Middle Eastern motif (Iranian).
- Baby fronds symbolising new growth.