June 27, 2015

The Week That Was

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Impact Measurement, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 10:51 pm by Sue Hine

NVW 2015

Volunteering is for anyone and everyone!  That’s the celebrating we have been doing for this week.  The theme for National Volunteer Week, as the banner says, is ‘There is a place for you to volunteer’, ‘He wahi mohou hei tuao’.  And you just had to cast your eye over press releases and newspaper inserts and social media posts to notice how much volunteering is going on, and how widespread it is across our communities.

Volunteering is nothing less than diversity, in volunteer opportunities, the volunteers themselves, and in the impacts of volunteering.

There’s a young mum and her infant daughter who go visiting at a rest home; you can live a boyhood dream as an engine driver; there are countless opportunities to get outdoors into conservation projects; you can pay it forward in volunteering with emergency services or a health sector organisation; become a best buddy to people who want a bit more social contact; be the key support person to help a refugee family find a place in their community; try to make a dent in the effects of poverty or violence, or the abuse of drugs and alcohol.

Volunteers are found in schools and hospitals and all the big institutions.  They keep sports clubs going, drive emergency services, environment and heritage conservation.  They make national and local events and festivals the best ever.  They just keep on keeping on, whatever and wherever.  (You can read more about the importance of diversity in a volunteer programme here.)

Yes, you know all that.

Of course we are thanking volunteers every day, in all sorts of ways.  But on this one week of the year, what are we thanking them for?  The litany of platitudes still gets paraded:

Thanks to our wonderful volunteers

We couldn’t manage without you

We really need you

You help us make a difference (to what? I might ask)

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organisation

Much better, and more enlightening, are the messages coming through that tell something of what volunteers do for the organisation:

Thank you to all the volunteers ….

…..who work hard to ensure safe, enjoyable experiences in New Zealand’s outdoors for us all.

…..for helping to give more than 4000 individuals and families a hand up during the past year.

…..for supporting skilled migrants in their search for meaningful work.

…..for giving someone a second chance at life.

…..for helping support a life without limits.

…..for skills in providing telephone advice and resources.

Yes, you know all that stuff too.

This year there is a lot more quoting of figures related to volunteer services.  But oh dear, the wide variation makes me wonder what oracles were consulted for the information.

Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector says: “On average there are just over 400,000 kiwis volunteering every week for a charity, adding up to over 1.5 million hours contributed to our communities”.

Another report says nearly 500,000 people volunteer on a weekly basis; or 800,000 hours of work per week.  This rate amounts to 15.5% of the population, per week.  Per annum it is said 1.2 million people volunteer – about 25% of total population.

Different research methodology and different variables make for a confusing mix of information.

I have a bit more confidence in the Quarterly indicators from Department of Internal Affairs for September 2014 (the latest available):

  • Nearly 35 per cent of all respondents volunteered at least one hour of their time. This is the highest volunteering rate of the five years measured.
  • Of those who volunteered, 59 per cent were female and 41 per cent were male.
  • People between the ages of 30-39 volunteered the most.

And now there is a brand new survey from Seek Volunteer New Zealand which sheds a poor light on Wellingtonians: under 19% of working Kiwis in the region currently volunteer, though 38% say they have volunteered previously.   It’s the lack of time, say 69% of those surveyed.   Volunteer Wellington issued a prompt response which tells a different story:

‘Of the approximately 3000 volunteer seekers who come through our matching processes every year, those in the ‘working’ (meaning in full-time employment and part-time) category, have increased over the past few years and is currently nearly a third of our total volunteer seeker cohort.’

‘Annually we work with between 800–1000 employee volunteers who are matched with any one of our 400+ community organisation members to be connected with projects of interest. Last year 87 such projects took place, ranging from physical work to skill based programmes and, with several of these employee volunteering teams, being involved on a weekly basis.’

So while we claim New Zealand has a culture that values and encourages volunteering we are not so good in getting our facts together, or at least determining a consistent base-line for data-gathering.

Small wonder that organisations are being pressed to deliver measurable outcomes for the services delivered through government contracts.  At the beginning of June the Minister of Social Development announces a new Community Investment Strategy to “create a more results-focused and evidence-based approach for purchasing of social services for vulnerable people and communities, and will also be more transparent, targeted, flexible and efficient”.  On the first day of National Volunteer Week a clear warning is issued that more funding cuts are on the horizon.

No question that community social service organisations are under threat.  I’d like to think the prospect of significant change creates a real opportunity to put volunteering up where it belongs.  Former Prime Minister Helen Clark understood the importance of volunteering when she said “without volunteers New Zealand would stop”.  (She repeated the tenor of this comment on Twitter on International Volunteer Day in 2014, as head of UNDP).

Volunteering will not go away any time soon.  The adaptations to changing conditions will continue, innovation and enterprise will keep on creating new ways of responding to diverse situations – as people have done for millennia.

Seek Volunteer NZ might have got its figures wrong, but they have produced excellent presentations of real volunteers and the reality of volunteering.  And included is the best line of the whole week, said by a volunteer about her work, illustrating yet another dimension of volunteering – the personal value:

You can’t put a price on the feeling of what you can get out of it – you can’t.

June 29, 2014

Mixed Messages

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Language, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , at 4:35 am by Sue Hine

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Yes, last week was a blast, a real boost for recognition of volunteers in so many ways.  The sincerity of published tributes cannot be doubted; the excitement of award ceremonies and special functions is spread throughout organisations and communities.  What could be better?

 

Something started niggling as I scrolled my way through electronic messages, and scanned newspaper supplements.  There was something missing.  In all the heaps of praise there was little to tell me what volunteers really do.  Have a look at these comments:

We couldn’t manage without you  (the most frequent tribute)

Thank you to our army of caring volunteers

Thanks to all our wonderful volunteers for their community work

Volunteers are vital to our work

A big “thumbs up” to all our volunteers – you do an awesome job!

Without our team of dedicated volunteers we wouldn’t be able to achieve half of what we’re able to do

Thank you – you really do make a difference.

If I was a non-volunteer these statements would have gone right under my radar and I would have missed discovering the rainbow of volunteering opportunities out there in our communities.

Messages from organisations which cannot manage without volunteer contributions are confusing.  Do they mean the organisation would not exist without volunteers?  And if so I’m sure they do not mean volunteer time and effort is being exploited.   Why not simply say how valuable the volunteer work is to achieving a goal or a mission and some particulars of the work, instead of a commonplace expression?

What is it that volunteers do, that makes them so awesome, so vital, so dedicated?  Please tell me, what is the difference a volunteer makes?   That’s what I start wondering. Yes, the stories of volunteer contributions are there, but you have to go looking or know where to look, and then read the fine print.  Of course the scope and detail of volunteering is not really the material to cram into a snappy social media post – but it can be done.

Instead there is a tendency to focus on numbers, of volunteers, of their total hours worked, as though counting outputs and putting a $$ value on volunteer effort was the most important information we need to know about volunteering.  Yes it is satisfying to claim our place in world surveys, up there with world leaders of volunteering, but still there is little information to tell non-volunteers what all the excitement is about.

So what would I count as real tributes to volunteers?  It would be so simple to complete the sentence Thank you for…. and itemise the task the volunteer (or group of volunteers) undertake.  Like:

Thanks for turning up each week to look after our kids sports team

Thanks for responding each time we get an emergency callout

Thanks for the hours you spend in care-giving telephone calls, home visits, supporting vulnerable people…….

Thanks for being such an enthusiastic fundraiser

Make the message simple, sincere and specific to the organisation.  Adding in service-user feedback comment could highlight volunteer effort, illustrating what really makes a difference.  Other messages could focus on why the organisation engages volunteers, what makes them so vital and valuable.

That’s the kind of communication that connects with a wider public, that demonstrates what is involved in volunteering, and which can encourage more people to put up their hands to volunteer.

 

June 22, 2014

Cheers for NVW 2014

Posted in Celebrations, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 3:38 am by Sue Hine

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From start to finish National Volunteer Week 2014 has been an outstanding success in achieving widespread promotion and acknowledgements for volunteer contributions to organisations and communities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

Day after day sector organisations offered press releases, postings on social media and accounts of events to mark the week.  There was a huge increase in the numbers of organisations going public, and in the range of organisations – the small, the large, the national and the local groups.

 Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te tangata.

(With your contribution and my contribution the people will live.)

This whakatauki represents the fundamental nature of volunteering.  It highlights the cooperative work of individuals and the sharing of skills, knowledge and experience that can make a difference in our communities.  And this is what the published tributes are saying:

Thanks for taking a moment to connect with us

Thank you for your passion, for all your hard work and thank you for your time.  You have helped us keep more hearts beating for longer.

Thank you for making our work possible

We recognise the talent and dedication of our volunteers

Ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference

They say it takes a village to raise a child, by volunteering at Playcentre we’ve found that village.

Then there are the events, the awards and the displays.

There were static displays at public libraries promoting what volunteering can offer and how to connect with an organisation.  There were community fairs where organisations could display information about their work.  The first Employee Volunteering Awards were presented in Wellington, the outcome of another sponsored Corporate Challenge for the region.  In other centres there are certificates of service to be presented, and local ‘Volunteer of the Year’ awards to be announced.

Special mention has to be made for the Wellington Sportsperson of the Year whose work is based on a philosophy of ‘attract, retain, develop’ in working with volunteers.  That’s a pretty good summation of the purpose for good management of volunteers.

Another special mention goes to Kiwibank who went all out to produce a couple of videos on Facebook, on staff who volunteer.  “Everyone contributes”, says one winner, “Giving back is natural, and it’s good to find work values are in line with my own”.

Prime-time TV grabbed a head-start on the week with a news item about Coastguard volunteers, outlining their work and the training involved.  Volunteers talked about why they volunteer and why they stick with it.

Volunteers at VNZ’s office were kept busy compiling a record of all the media items.  If you missed anything you can probably find it here.

So congratulations to Volunteering New Zealand for promoting the celebrations we have enjoyed this past week.   I did not get all last week’s wishes met, but one day, some day in the near future, we might reach a point where shouting out for volunteers happens every day, not just one week in a year.

June 15, 2014

National Volunteer Week 2014

Posted in Celebrations, Civil Society, Good news stories, Volunteer Centres tagged , , , , at 4:39 am by Sue Hine

NVW 2014

Volunteering New Zealand have done it again!  Here’s another National Volunteer Week banner, together with a message to inspire volunteers and their organisations.  You can learn more about the whakatauki and its theme here.

The buzz about NVW has started already, with postings and notifications for events to come.  And some nice little tasters, like this piece from Volunteer Wellington’s June newsletter:

According to recent OECD statistics people in this country spend an average of 13 minutes per day volunteering, compared with four minutes in other countries.  The stats go on to say this results in higher ‘happiness’ ratings plus longer life expectancy.

Nice one – New Zealand leads the way in yet another field of endeavour!  It’s worth reading this OECD report for its background introduction, as well as finding out more on the data.

Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being. Studies show that time spent with friends is associated with a higher average level of positive feelings and a lower average level of negative feelings than time spent in other ways.

Helping others can also make you happier. People who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Time spent volunteering also contributes to a healthy civil society.

A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as access to jobs, services and other material opportunities.  […]  A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation.

It’s a long time since I have seen such well-rounded reasoning for building strong and healthy communities, and how volunteering is part of that healthy status.

Volunteering NZ reviews other global and local reports which indicate a downward trend in volunteering and in monetary donations.  No explanations for these trends are offered.  Nor can I find explicit definitions of volunteering that informed the surveys.

In the week ahead I’m hoping to read some great stories about volunteers and volunteering, about the good experience they enjoyed, and the difference they made for people or the environment, and the fun they had in the process.  I’m hoping there will be stories too about good relationships between paid staff and volunteers, and praise for staff who support volunteer effort.  And that’s where the managers of volunteers might get a tiny acknowledgement.

And maybe, somewhere, even in a postscript, there will be a nod to the nature of volunteering, and what it represents, and why volunteering is important in our communities and within organisations.  That is worth thinking about, in the course of this week.

June 1, 2014

The Measure of Success

Posted in Managers Matter, Organisation responsibilities, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 3:44 am by Sue Hine

success-factors[1]In just a couple of weeks it is New Zealand’s turn to hold National Volunteer Week, that opportunity to give some real acknowledgement and appreciation of volunteer work undertaken for organisations and in communities throughout the country.  If you did not know about this event already I am giving you advance notice to get cracking and plan something special for the volunteers in your organisation.

I was reminded recently of the sometime lack of understanding of volunteering and the relevance of holding a National Volunteer Week:

I asked audiences of managers of volunteers how executive leadership at their organizations define success regarding volunteer involvement. And one of the answers really disturbed me: It’s successful if no one complains.

That statement is a huge indictment on executive ignorance of volunteering, not to mention any understanding of the skills and professionalism required to manage volunteers.  I have to wonder if there was a similar lack of interest in the work of paid staff.  I wonder if there is any executive consideration of the relation between the organisation’s structure and function, and outcomes for its users?  I don’t think I would enjoy employment in that organisation, in either paid or voluntary capacity.

So I would like National Volunteer Week to be trumpeting not just volunteer virtues, but also the meaning of volunteering and what organisations need to know about volunteering and its management.  Here are three questions executives in leadership positions could be asking themselves in the lead-up to NVW.

Why does your organisation involve volunteers?

How does volunteering contribute to social well-being in our communities?

What do you need to know about managing volunteers?

I’m not going to answer the questions, because that’s the mission for executive managers.  Think of it as a treasure hunt, with the potential to bring as much value to the organisation as the next funding grant.  Then everyone will be better informed about volunteering, and will be looking to celebrate volunteer achievements.  Then we will know the real success of a volunteer programme.

By coincidence there is another post considering the meaning of success for volunteers and management of volunteers.  There’s plenty of material available to tell us what a successful volunteer programme looks like – don’t let’s accept excuses like ‘no complaints received’.

You see, if it takes a whole village to raise a child, it can take a whole organisation to make the most of volunteer contributions.

June 23, 2013

Volunteer Recognition (4) The Week that Was

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , , at 4:37 am by Sue Hine

NVW-Website-Banner-1

What a blast!  What a storm of praise, press releases, and parties.  Interviews erupted all over news media and the internet, whether it was in print, on radio, television, or webinars and Youtube clips.   Facebook and Twitter were full-on with accounts from Volunteer Centres and volunteer organisations.  They just kept on coming.  National Volunteer Week has never been like this!

Even when a destructive Antarctic storm roared “like an express train without a driver” through the country volunteers could still capture a headline:

Emergency Volunteers in Action for National Volunteer Week

Was all this hype over-the-top?  Too much?  There can never be too much promotion for volunteering!  Even non-volunteers in my brief informal poll have picked up key messages about the social and economic contribution of volunteers to New Zealand.

Government recognition came from the Prime Minister and MPs, and local councils issued press statements in support.  The Minister of Health presented five awards to volunteers in the health and disability sector for outstanding achievement.  There were more awards from the Minister of Police for public safety volunteers.  There was recognition from all sectors – sport, health, emergency services, public safety, schools, conservation, and social services.  There were awards, certificates, ceremonies and celebrations – for long service; outstanding achievement, and for excellence.  A volunteer expo promoted local organisations to attract new recruits; there were displays in libraries and community centres.  Promotion and publicity was innovative and creative throughout the week.

I was not tracking everything, and my engagement in the week’s events was confined to Wellington.  Here is my selection for the Top Twelve features of the week (not in any particular order):

Best headline: Let’s Celebrate People Power (Wellington City Council)

Best reported quote: (On TV1 Breakfast Show) Maya said she volunteers on crossing patrol because she a young leader at the school and volunteering is what leaders do.

Best innovation: Volunteering NZ daily webinars, on Resourcing the community with partners; on Te Reo, the Language of Volunteering in Aotearoa; on Recognition and Rewards; on Reimbursing Volunteers; and on the Rights of the Volunteer.  (Now available on VNZ’s YouTube channel)

Best story: A fishy story, one that illustrates the best of volunteer service and awarding recognition.

Best TV interview:  Dr Louise Lee, on employee volunteering (plus associated press releases)

Best plug for management of volunteers:  Conference presentation on Volunteer Recruitment (Dr Karen Smith)

Closely followed by : Competencies for Managers of Volunteers (coming in early the previous week); and the launch of on-line Guidelines for Managers of Volunteer Services, from Hospice New Zealand.

Best Thank You message (specially for going beyond individual volunteer contribution): New Zealand Fire Service –“Your tireless commitment to protecting lives and property has helped to build safe, strong and caring communities.  We are also grateful to whanau, friends and employers for supporting our volunteers to be on call to help, whenever help is needed.”

Runner-up:  “Volunteers  – thank you for your smile” – Auckland Council.

Best function: Nikau Foundation Corporate Challenge celebration – to see the suits sincerely committed to joining with the volunteer sector, and being impressed by what volunteering can achieve.

(There were a lot of other functions up and down the country, but I could not get to all of them!)

Best under-the-radar recognition:  a School Newsletter acknowledging volunteer contribution to the sports programme:  “…. thanking the staff, parents and members of the local community who give up their time to share their talents and experiences with our students.”

Best testimonials for volunteering: a compilation of feel-good stories direct from volunteers, presented by Volunteer Nelson.

Best Action Plan:  Our Volunteer Capital, Wellington City Council’s effort to recognise and grow volunteer groups, launched this week.

For recognition of multi-volunteer roles:  Taupo Hospice

So National Volunteer Week and all the public recognition for volunteering is done and dusted for this year, even though we all know volunteering does not stop with the end of this week.  Go follow-up the links here to catch up on the week’s happenings, or just to re-live the experience.

I would like to think ‘recognition’ of volunteers continues on in the form of regular ‘appreciation’.  Recognition is that formal stuff; appreciation is the daily acknowledgement, the regular thank you to each and every volunteer no matter how large or small their contributions might be.  You show your appreciation in behaviour, your tone of voice, the gesture, the time you take to listen with attention, and the way you communicate and keep in touch with volunteers.  Appreciation is remembering a volunteer’s name, including volunteers in organisational planning and development, understanding the ‘added value’ and ‘service enhancement’ and the role volunteers play as ‘ambassadors’ for your organisation in the community.  Volunteering is indeed People Power:  He Tangata! He Tangata! He Tangata!

…………………

This post is the last for a few weeks:  I am out of the country until August.