November 30, 2017

International Volunteer Day 2017

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Good news stories, Leading Volunteers, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 11:03 pm by Sue Hine

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All hail to volunteers on this day. May you enjoy being feted in various ways, and feel real warmth in the thanks and appreciation that is showered on you. Of course, I would like to think you get the respect you deserve throughout the year, and not all at once.

For the past seven years I have paid tribute to volunteers and volunteering through this blog, and railed against the platitudes of ‘couldn’t manage without you’ and ‘you help us make a difference’ and ‘volunteers are the life-blood of our organisation’.

I have also written about the benefits of volunteering – to national economy, to social well-being, and to all the community-based organisations offering services around people and animals and the environment and all the rest of human activity. And of course I have bleated and challenged and pounded the table on best practice in leading volunteers – to the point where I begin to repeat myself. Now it is time to bring a full stop to my blogging, and this post is my last.

For this IVDay I give thanks and appreciation to volunteers for what I learned from them, and for what I gained in my time as a manager and leader of volunteers.

I did not ‘own’ volunteers or refer to them as ‘my’ volunteers. I was not their best buddy, and never a ‘nanny-manager’. But the office door was ever open, to say hello and thank you, to be the support when volunteer work wasn’t going well and to listen when there were grievances that were getting in the way of their work. I loved the recruitment process of discovering new talent, new enthusiasms, and helping the shy and nervous to blossom.

Working with volunteers affirmed my faith in human nature. Their energy and commitment and their collective action showed me how community spirit is still alive and well. They gave freely without expectation of reward – and then discovered all the intangibles that make volunteer work a reward in itself.

To volunteers I have worked with, and to those all over who contribute so much to social well-being I give my sincere appreciation in a paraphrase of an oft-quoted saying:  “I have forgotten much of what you said and did, forgotten names and perhaps what you looked like, but I still remember how great it was to work alongside you.”

Ten years ago I wrote the short personal essay which follows. For me it reveals fundamental lesson – I wonder if it rings bells for other leaders, managers, coordinators of volunteers?

My Season for Hugs

I left paid employment as a manager of volunteers some two years ago.  Didn’t miss the work routines a jot, nor the morning and evening lemming-rush of commuters.  There were a few regrets for the loss of warm relationships with people in my workplace, but these passed as I became re-tyred and got a new life as far as I wanted to travel.  Until there was a call to fill the vacuum created by my successor’s extended sick leave.  I had to go back, because the organisation was not yet ready to cope with leaderless volunteers.

What I do not foresee is the welcome I receive on my return.  There are greetings and smiles close to cheers from the paid staff.  There is a big bear-hug from bear-like Brian who has been a stalwart volunteer forever.  I am spied by Jane and Stephanie whom I met first as diffident and anxious volunteer applicants.  They are now accomplished in their supportive roles with clients, love their work and are well-liked by staff.  There are cries of delight and acclamations at seeing me again, and more close hugging.  Later in the day another Jane, who wears shyness wrapped round her like a muffler, becomes more animated than I have known before: she too is pleased I have returned.

I know how rapidly the waters close over the departure of a staff member, no matter how well respected.  I’ve spent much of my life in community volunteering, social working and counselling and never paid much attention to my inter-personal contribution in the roles I have undertaken, despite knowing about its impact in communication and relationships.  This welcome from staff and volunteers is over-the-top, I think.  Then I remember one of the quotes I used to jot down from books I have read, the sentences that leap off the page, representing perhaps small coinage in the currency of my life at the time.  In Brazzaville Beach William Boyd writes “You are the last person to understand the effect you have on other people”.  Now I know this truth.  I am honoured and humbled in the way I have been greeted in my brief return to the workplace.  I wish I could unravel the code of the effect I have on others, so that I may not always be the last to know.

………………………..

International Volunteer Day is an annual event held on December 5. The global theme for 2017 is “Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere.” – recognising volunteer efforts around the world, as well as a tribute to the support volunteers provide in times of instability, disasters or humanitarian crises. The banner photos are showing off New Zealand Emergency Services.

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December 10, 2016

Volunteers’ Day in the Sun

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, Volunteer Centres tagged , , , at 11:47 pm by Sue Hine

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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:

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“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!

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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

When is a Volunteer Not a Volunteer?

Posted in Language, Leading Volunteers, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 3:44 am by Sue Hine

definitionAn 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?

For a couple of years a debate on whether unpaid interns are volunteers has been rumbling around internet channels.  See recent updates in this UK post, and this article in e-volunteerism. 

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.