December 10, 2016
There wasn’t a lot of sun around on Monday last week (December 5 2016) in New Zealand. International Volunteer Day seemed more muted than usual. Yes, there were tea parties and picnics and presentation of volunteer awards around the country, but fewer media statements from previous years and less shouting-out on social media.
A very big thunder rolled across our sky when the Prime Minister announced his intention to resign, taking too much of our airspace. And the coach of our Phoenix football team resigned too, after losing a match which took them to the bottom of the table.
On the other hand there was a great news story about the rescue of 340 campervans and rental vehicles stranded in Kaikoura after their renters had left town – by ship, helicopter or plane in the aftermath of the earthquake. About eighty volunteers from the NZ Motor Caravan Association put in a ten-hour day, travelling by bus to the town, and returning in convoy over a road that still has some hairy spots to negotiate. Pity there wasn’t a mention that the first journey took place on International Volunteer Day.
But there was enough during the day to give me a glow, and a deal of pride in the value of volunteering. Here is my hit parade:
For starters, the United Nations’ theme for the year Global Applause – Give Volunteers a Hand is well captured in a video which also reminds us of the role volunteers play in working towards UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Our Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector commended the volunteer workforce as ‘major contributors to New Zealand topping lists of the world’s best places to live’.
Over the previous weekend more than 800 Flight Centre staff gave 2,200 hours of volunteer time to community projects around Auckland, as part of their ‘Giving Back’ conference. A big tick for corporate volunteering.
Volunteer Centres did their stuff, from a library display to a reminder that New Zealand boasts the highest rate of volunteering in the OECD with kiwis spending an average of 13 minutes a day volunteering. (The global average is just 4 minutes a day.) Volunteer Waikato’s message on Facebook went like this:
“Thank you is not really enough… without you guys there would be a lot less happening in communities throughout New Zealand… and all over the world. You are not just awesome… You are FREAKIN’ AWESOME (with a Unicorn!)”
There were some great one-liners too:
From a volunteer: ‘I think I needed volunteer work as much as volunteering needed me’.
‘While on this day we think of you we recognise that you have been thinking of others all year.’ (Salvation Army)
‘We acknowledge that there is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.’ (St John New Zealand)
In New Zealand our theme for the day was Together we Can, a tag-line which could be incorporated into a photo of volunteers at work. Here is Gisborne Volunteer Centre’s effort, and incorporated in their message is the best line of the day:
Together we can! Together we DO!
In this era of external constraints and funding cuts, a day to understand and appreciate the work of volunteers is a small candle for the community and voluntary sector. Volunteering is never going to disappear, but the future of many organisations looks uncertain. In this last week two long-standing telephone counselling services reported on loss of funding: Lifeline now needs its own lifeline and Youthline will have to reduce services, or even close down. It seems decisions are made with little thought to flow-on consequences.
I am looking for better things in 2017, and I have found a couple of encouragements. In her latest Hot Topic Susan J Ellis reminds me:
When things seem dark and cloudy, history tells us that volunteers can be the bolts of lightning that can turn things around.
For managers of volunteers out there you could start singing the Twelve Pearls of Wisdom, coined for a Thoughtful Thursday post.
And I shall hang on to this quote from John Berger: Remember that hope is not a guarantee for tomorrow but a detonator of energy for action today.
For now, I am stepping off my soap-box to enjoy a festive season and summer holidays. Best wishes to all readers.
September 15, 2013
An excerpt from a NFP newsletter dropped into my inbox recently. The headline read We are not Volunteers. The author preferred the term unpaid appointees on the basis that such people were ‘nominated’ by community organisations, rather than ‘putting up their hands’ to volunteer. In all other respects these unpaid appointees followed standard volunteer programme practices in being interviewed, attending a training programme and orientation. On completion of all this they were gazetted and sworn in to undertake their roles as Justices of the Peace. That was the bit that put them beyond being called volunteers.
Oh dear – here we go again on the definitions and principles of volunteering.
Are volunteers for emergency services, for surf life-saving and fisheries protection to be deemed a different category from JPs?
What about the work-for-the-dole programmes, and community sentencing? That’s ‘compulsory’ work for nothing, people say, not volunteering!
When I give my time and accept tickets for a concert in return is that volunteering, or incentivised something? Time-Banking raises another curly question: for all its popularity it’s more about exchanging services, a trading arrangement, isn’t it?
Then there’s the business of ‘informal volunteering’, being a family care giver for aged or disabled people, or being a good neighbour. This sort of volunteering simply goes under the radar, uncounted and unrecognised. But it is suggested that foster care, which is paid, could be termed volunteering under a ‘moral contract’.
And even if organisations involved in advocacy and activism are not eligible for charitable status, their workforce embodies significant volunteer commitment.
Some of these instances were debated in a panel discussion on the scope and definition of volunteering at the recent Australian National Conference on Volunteering. Opinions diverged of course, but there was a point of agreement on the way forward:
Overcoming the undervaluing of volunteering is the outstanding challenge
This undervaluing of volunteering is evident in both NFP and Government sectors, said the CEO of Volunteering South Australia/Northern Territory. Recent research in New Zealand drew similar conclusions. It does not take much to see the flow-on effect in low respect and appreciation for the work of managers of volunteers.
So debate and discussion on what constitutes volunteering is a very big red herring. The real issue here is finding a voice that speaks out about the value of volunteering, and I don’t mean in economic terms. Volunteering is a force to be reckoned with, and we owe it to volunteers and our communities to demonstrate why and how.
The collective “We” includes organisations and their leaders, the movers and shakers in our communities, and managers of volunteers. By creating alliances and developing collaboration we will find a unified voice, telling the story of volunteers and volunteering like it is.
There’s encouragement to be found in the latest Thoughtful Thursdays posting. Susan Ellis acknowledges the busyness of managers of volunteers and reviews some reasons why we do not speak out. The real challenge is to find ways to present volunteering as a vital part of civil society, within organisations as well as in the wider community.