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.

December 7, 2014

International Volunteer Day 2014

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 3:49 am by Sue Hine

SetWidth600-Over-a-third-of-the-people-that-live-here-give-here.-No-copy[1]It’s done and dusted for another year, that day when we do all the shouting out about volunteers and the work they do everywhere in our communities in all sorts of ways.

Events took place all over the country.  Various social gatherings, award presentations, a march down the main street of a regional town, and if you can call social media an event there was a field day of on-line interaction.  The stories about the work of volunteers and by volunteers describing their own journeys just kept on coming.  One contributor’s advice was ‘Milk it!’

There were public declarations of thanks and appreciation.  Some statements illustrated why it was this day is important.

National organisation, health sector:

We could not deliver what we do if it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of volunteers. They contribute in many different ways, such as assisting with land and water based exercise classes, volunteering at children’s camps, helping at seminars, working in our offices, being on support groups, supporting us on our regional and national committees, advocating for our services, assisting with our annual appeal, and much more.

Government Minister for Sport and Recreation:

These volunteers – coaches, umpires, referees, the people who wash the uniforms, transport the teams, organise sausage sizzles and clean the clubrooms – they are the heart of sport in New Zealand.  They also have a key role to play in the success of major sporting events.

Another health sector organisation:

About 2500 people have generously offered up their time in the past year, contributing more than 15,000 hours of unpaid work collectively.  That’s a huge amount of time our volunteers have freely given up to shake buckets, help at events, carry out administrative work and speak at public events on behalf of the organisation.

A Regional Council responsible for environmental issues had this to say:

The volunteers have been involved in a range of projects throughout the region and in the past year. They have collectively given more than 26,500 hours of their time to activities such as fencing, planting, plant and animal pest control, building visitor facilities, bird monitoring, litter collection, mangrove management, sign installation and promoting safe boating.  Through our combined efforts in the past year 106 ecological sites, 188.8km of waterway margins and 1449 hectares of highly erodible land has been protected. More than 100 tonnes of rubbish has been collected and many, many thousands of native plants have been planted and cared for.

Hurrah!  Now we are starting to hear what we are thanking volunteers for, beyond their time and $$ saved for organisations.

And then there is the opportunity to put a stake in political ground.  Another parliamentarian wanted to “celebrate volunteers by opposing regulatory burden”:

The current Health and Safety Reform Bill would treat volunteers – even casual ones – as workers, forcing organisations to take liability for the safety of people who have chosen to pitch in for events like tree plantings and disaster clean-ups.  The practical effect of this regulation is obvious: it will be harder for communities to mobilise volunteer action. Ratepayers in particular will be hit hard, as local councils currently utilise volunteer labour for many vital services and initiatives.

We also got a reminder from Volunteering New Zealand and Volunteer Service Abroad (NZ) that volunteering is not just about domestic issues, and how the need to promote volunteering never ceases:

Every year, more than one million New Zealanders volunteer here and overseas, in their own communities and in countries facing hardship and poverty. Their goal is to work with those who wish to improve their lives, and the lives of others, in some way.  On International Volunteer Day, the international volunteering community renews its call for volunteering to be seen as key to international and national development.

At the end of the day I was able to kick back with colleagues from Volunteering New Zealand.  We toasted our achievements for the day and looked forward to imminent holiday time.

Quote of the day comes from the Chair of Volunteer Wellington’s Board of Trustees:

It’s hard to measure the impact of volunteering, but it’s easy to feel the difference we make.


The image above is by Ken Samonte, for Positively Wellington Tourism.  See more here, especially re volunteering.


I’m signing off now for the year.  I’ll keep beating my drum in 2015, though probably less often.

November 30, 2014

Let the Tall Poppies Grow

Posted in Celebrations, Community Development, Good news stories, Impact Measurement, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 4:30 am by Sue Hine

4871271[1]‘Tis the season for proclaiming the virtues of volunteering.

This week there’s that global day to honour volunteers (IYV), and I’ll be joining the crowd in Wellington to hear our praises sung and the inspiring stories about volunteer journeys.

Right now there’s also a raft of KiwiBank medals being awarded throughout New Zealand to Local Heroes, those people doing extraordinary things in their local communities.

We’ve even got our own set of awards for Wellingtonians – the Welly’s – which include an award for Community Service.

And Volunteer Centre websites are carrying regular pages for Featured Volunteers, or Volunteer Testimonials, or Volunteer Profiles.

Fantastic!  To shout out about volunteers and volunteering, and rewarding people for their service to a cause, or their creative initiative, or for the difference they have made in their communities – for all these reasons it’s important to ensure we give public recognition where it is due.  A newspaper editorial (Dominion Post, November 22, 2014) puts it like this:

New Zealand has a long tradition of modesty.  Not for us the big-noting of brasher cultures.  Strutting, boasting celebrities who too often are all sizzle and no sausage are unwelcome.  Instead, achievements should speak for themselves.  Which is all well and good, but sometimes it is important to praise those among us who have succeeded.

Yes indeed.  At last the Tall Poppy Syndrome is on the wane.  We can get rid of that fateful Kiwi term, the Clobbering Machine.  Some time ago I wanted to nominate a volunteer for an award, but the idea was vetoed because you can’t single out one volunteer, you must not imply that one is above the rest.  So the whole volunteer programme misses out on being noticed, and neither is the impact of volunteering on community well-being.

Sometimes volunteering awards appear to be given out on the basis of length of service.  Working for the same organisation for twenty or thirty years is admirable of course, but I hope it is the particular achievements over time that are being recognised, not just longevity and loyalty.

The citations of awards bring to public attention a great deal of the volunteer activity in our communities, including the whole range of volunteering fields – sport, working with youth or needy families and disabled people, a training course in prisons, emergency services, local communities and environment issues, or the arts.  Recipients are also as diverse as the volunteer population: young people gain as many awards as older people; disabled people and an ethnic mix are included.  These unsung heroes are our Tall Poppies, demonstrating what can be achieved.

So let us rejoice, and cheer on all volunteers – whether they win awards or not.  Their stories need to be told, because here is all the raw data to illustrate the outcomes and impact of volunteering.  Get the measuring process right, and we’ll be able to find out just how valuable volunteering can be.

Let’s keep on telling the stories and making sure the poppies grow tall. 

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



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.

April 6, 2014

Variations on a Theme

Posted in Language, Trends in Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , at 3:45 am by Sue Hine


I am no musician, though I enjoy listening to a variety of music. This week I have come across two new variations on the theme of volunteering. When you think about it there’s quite a catalogue of words playing on ‘volunteering’. Let me introduce you to the old, the new and my own inventions.

Volun-Told – I start with this term, because that’s how I got involved in volunteering, years and years ago when my mother roped me in to help with a fund-raising event. I was about eight years old, and you did what mother said in those days. It was a while before I understood fully what volunteering is about. Today it’s ‘work-for-the-dole’ and community service sentencing that keeps ‘volun-told’ alive.

Volun-Tourist – Another familiar term, referring to those (like Grey Nomads) who take up a spot of volunteering while on holiday, or to spend time helping on a development programme in foreign parts. Nice work, as long as there is benefit to local people.

Micro-volunteer – The new kid off the block, offering multiple opportunities for time-poor people, for virtually anything. But not well understood in my neck of the woods.

Shadow-volunteer – Here’s a newcomer, courtesy of Gisborne Volunteer Centre (March 31). Could be a new way to induct new volunteers, or a ‘try-and-buy’ recruitment option.

Volunt-Hear – From Volunteer Canada, running a hotline for North America’s National Volunteer week, for people to shout out about volunteers and their efforts. Possible spin-off: organisations create in-house opportunities to appreciate volunteers.

Now here are my novel terms:

Vol-Intern – Bring this word into common parlance and we would be rid of arguments on whether an intern is a volunteer or not.

Volun-Corp – Perhaps it doesn’t have the same ring of importance as ‘corporate volunteers’, but at least it puts the volunteering context up front.

Volun-Finders – Raising cheers for all the Volunteer Centres that facilitate volunteer engagement between organisations and the volunteer aspirant.

Volun-Funders – They’re a special breed, going all out to support organisations of their choice. They are the elves to the Fundraising Manager’s shoemaker.

Volun-Tired and Volunt-Tried – Here is a bit of word-play, referring to the long-standing volunteer, or to the volunteer on trial (and/or found wanting). Or maybe the volunteer who contacted the organisation and never got a reply; or the volunteer who has not enjoyed a good experience. Take your pick.

Volun-Steering – I like this one, referring to the manager/leader of volunteers. Not only steering the programme, but negotiating organisation waters that can sometimes be troubled. Could apply equally to volunteer peak bodies.

There is one word omitted from this list: I refuse to include ‘Vollies’. It may be a colloquial term of endearment, but I see it more as word used in a patronising tone, one you might apply to a domestic pet.

That’s enough to go on with; there are plenty more variations to conjure up (suggestions welcomed!). ‘Volunteering’ is a generalist term, covering a multitude of activities and roles. It’s a bit like an orchestra, a collection of very different instruments that collectively can make a beautiful noise. Let’s keep it that way, because in being inclusive we can demonstrate the strength of volunteer actions and the organisations that engage with volunteers. We might yet “become the change we want to see in the world”.

December 8, 2013

A Celebration of Volunteering

Posted in Celebrations, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , at 3:37 am by Sue Hine


International Volunteer Day (IVD) is the highlight of the week that was, that one day of the year set aside for giving thanks, and to celebrate all the work, the accomplishments, the contributions of volunteers to our communities, large and small.  There were gatherings all around New Zealand to acknowledge this day, to make the speeches and do the presentations – and for volunteers to take pride in being appreciated.

There were many words of praise tendered to volunteers.  The most frequently used adjective was ‘vital’, sometimes further qualified with ‘absolutely’.  Here’s a summary of words and phrases that appeared in the tributes via news media and online sources:

Recognising: Wonderful job; Valuable contribution

Acknowledging:  Efforts and contributions; Giving time; Dedication

Service:  To the community; Making a difference; Backbone of local community activities; “Where would we be without you?”

Helping Out:  Lending a Hand forms a large part of our national identity

Government Support:  Commitment to supporting volunteers; Working towards strategic and long-term investment in local communities

Impact:  Provision of comprehensive support; Achieving more with limited resources; Break down barriers and provide needed networks; Achievements, at local national and international levels

I am pleased to read here fewer benign platitudes, and more down-to-earth recognition than in previous years.  There was however, a more muted display of public acknowledgement by national organisations via press releases.   I’m sure this does not mean IVD was not observed through in-house communication, but I have started to ask if IVD is at risk of becoming just another date on the calendar among all the other United Nations designated Days.

This is where I pick up on a more profound meaning and understanding of IVD.  Its full title is International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, gazetted by United Nations in 1985. Here are some interpretations of this title:

  • International Volunteer Day (IVD) offers an opportunity for volunteer organizations and individual volunteers to make visible their contributions – at local, national and international levels.
  • IVD is about telling the world what volunteers and volunteer-involving organizations achieve for peace and sustainable development.
  • IVD is an international observance day to celebrate the power and potential of volunteerism. 
  • IVD gives volunteers a chance to work together on projects and campaigns promoting their contributions to economic and social development at local, national and international levels.
  • IVD is an opportunity for volunteers, and volunteer organisations, to raise awareness of, and gain understanding for, the contribution they make to their communities.

What interests me in these statements is the reference to international volunteering, and by extension, to Millenium Development goals (MDGs).  United Nations runs its own volunteer programme; Governments support and promote volunteering overseas for young people; many, many global aid agencies also engage volunteers.   Every day thousands of people are volunteering, online or on-site, contributing to peace and development and working to achieve the MDGs. As Jayne Cravens argues, these volunteers deserve their own day.

Only a few clicks are needed to find the UN page and the official IVD Site.  And the banner indicating the theme for 2013 is YOUNG.GLOBAL.ACTIVE.


So while we celebrate and recognize volunteerism in all its facets in our local communities we also pay special tribute to the contribution of youth volunteers in global peace and sustainable human development.  Young people can and do act as the agents of change in their communities.

I am reminded again of that slogan “Think global, act local”.  Thinking globally shows me how volunteering is so much bigger than my small corner of the world, and how and why my volunteer actions count.


This post is the last for another year.  Happy Holidays, and the best of volunteering to all. Start-up for 2014 will be late January.

June 9, 2013

Volunteer Recognition (2) National Volunteer Week

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 4:28 am by Sue Hine

Yes, in a week’s time New Zealand will have its turn at turning a spotlight on Volunteering.  It is a time for national celebration of the work of volunteers, their organisations – and for the people responsible for managing volunteers.  So what’s with the promotional banner adopted for this year?  Volunteering NZ’s briefing explains.

The Proverb:

“Hutia te rito o te harakeke       Kei whaea te kōmako e kō?       Kī mai ki ahau;       He aha te mea nui o te Ao?         Māku e kī atu                   He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.”

If the heart of harakeke was removed, Where would the bellbird sing?   If I was asked What is the most important thing in the world?    I would say:   It is people, it is people, it is people.           

The Plant:

harakeke[1]Harakeke  is one of New Zealand’s oldest plant species.  We call it flax, but really it is a lily.

Harakeke supports a community of birds, animals and insects.

Harakeke  is a fibre plant sourced by Maori to use  in all parts of domestic life and community living.

Harakeke is surely the symbol to represent volunteering, to signal the weaving between all peoples and their connections with community and the land.

[Read more about the history and uses of Harakeke here.]

The Poster:


Look closely – see the interlacing weaving, see the linked arms of community, of people, creating a badge of honour.  Volunteering is by People, for People, and about People.

The Pride:



In  the run-up to National Volunteer Week volunteers are going to great lengths to parade the world of their work.


Go Volunteers!  And please, take notice of what their managers are doing every day, in every way, to create the best possible experience for volunteers.

June 2, 2013

Volunteer Recognition

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Valuing Volunteers, Youth Volunteering tagged , , , , at 5:02 am by Sue Hine

Awards-Logo   local heroes

Recognition and appreciation of volunteer work throughout community organisations is something managers do every day in lots of different ways.  This month Volunteering New Zealand is heading into National Volunteer Week (June 16-22), a brief time to celebrate the contribution of volunteers to all parts of New Zealand’s social and cultural life.

There are other annual opportunities for public acknowledgement, from national honours to local civic awards and community-sponsored medals.  Two standout nation-wide programmes come via TrustPower and Kiwi Bank (as principal sponsor of New Zealander of the Year Awards).  Both programmes are competitive, involving nomination and judging at both local and national levels in a range of categories.

TrustPower Community Awards are run in 24 regions, and they cover five categories: Heritage and Environment, Health and Wellbeing, Arts and Culture, Sport and Leisure, and Education and Child/Youth Development.   Supreme winners in each region then vie for the title of National Awards Supreme Winner.  For 2012 the winner was Kaibosh, a Wellington-based organisation dedicated to daily redistribution of left-over food.

The catalogue of winners at regional level is an eye-opener on the range of community organisations and their achievements.  The Men’s Shed scored in Tauranga; in Dunedin the winner was the Neurological Foundation Southern Chair of Neurosurgery; a theatre group from the small town of Katikati took out honours in Western Bay of Plenty; and the ecological restoration project at Maungatautari was the winner for the Waipa District.  Runners-up and commendations are recorded too.

TrustPower’s award for Youth Community Spirit recognises secondary school students’ service to school and the community.  From the achievements noted in the citations these young people are the emerging leaders for a new generation.

New Zealander of the Year Awards focus more on individuals than organisations.  There is a top award for New Zealander of the Year, and others for a Young New Zealander and a Senior New Zealander. Then there are the Local Hero awards identifying everyday people doing extraordinary things in their local communities.   All of these engender significant local and national publicity, and recognition for individual and collective achievements.

In addition, the Community of the Year award provides groups with an opportunity to be recognised for their holistic contribution, rather than a focus on a particular sector.  The small town of Paeroa is the winner for 2012, for its determination to retain an active events calendar and to enhance heritage attractions.

The heart of this community really lies with the large number of volunteers whose can-do attitude has seen the town develop to be a safe and vibrant community. The contribution and energy of a large number of groups is in contrast to the small population.  It is this strong sense of community that is the key to the towns continuing growth and proves what can be achieved when residents share a common goal and work together harmoniously.

That’s a real illustration of what the spirit of community volunteering can achieve.

A study of winners and finalists for Community of the Year could reveal significant data on success factors – like leadership, collaboration and cooperation, strategic planning and implementation – because the achievements of Paeroa and other communities do not happen without effective leadership and management of a volunteer programme.

There’s no huge prize money offered from these award programmes, but the publicity and kudos will generate increased awareness to be translated into donor and funder interest and volunteer applications.

And when you scroll through the list of present and previous award winners it is very evident there are more things in community services and community development than NGOs filling the breaches in government health and welfare services.  So when we join the functions lined up for National Volunteer Week let’s give a nod to the way leaders and managers of volunteers make all things possible for volunteers.

February 17, 2013

Volunteer Name-Calling

Posted in Good news stories, Language, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 1:31 am by Sue Hine




I have been collecting a litany of words commonly used as descriptors of volunteering.  There’s quite a selection, and they cover various meanings, from conferring respect and value to some not-so-flattering terms.

Volunteers make the world go round          Backbone of society

Local heroes      Salt of the earth      Good sorts       People power

       Glue / Fabric of the community                        Community Builders

Community collective    Spirit of Community    Community Champions

     Not-for-Profit Institution  Non-Government Organisation

Third sector

              Freebies                Do-gooder                        Lady Bountiful

No doubt there are a few more to add (please do!)  The one that is grabbing my attention at present is Unsung Heroes, a television programme on TVNZ.   Yes, really!  Volunteers are featuring on prime time TV, an extended series show-casing the range and variety of volunteer work in New Zealand.

Most of the major NFP organisations in our communities are represented, and there are some nice pieces on less widely-known charities.  Even the Christchurch Student Army gets a look-in.

What a relief from other reality-TV programmes which too often display the sad, the bad and the downright silliness of human behaviour.  Unsung Heroes hits all the right notes, covering the real activities undertaken by volunteers and including off-the-cuff comments on their motivation.  Mostly the latter is about the feel-good benefits for the volunteer, or the doing-good-in-the-community effect, and once or twice because the volunteer had experienced help from the organisation they have joined.

And yet….  It’s all very well showing off the worthiness of volunteer work, and the achievements of volunteers – but if you haven’t got the background of the organisation, and what it takes to getting a volunteer on the job then you are getting less than half the story.  There’s no show yet of a manager of volunteers, nor the extensive training undertaken by emergency service volunteers and telephone counsellors.  Training has not had a mention in any context.  Or even an induction and orientation.  The series, thus far, has excluded that vast array of informal volunteering that goes under the radar and which really does make the world go round.  It would be nice to see something of Mahi Aroha, and the volunteer effort generated by migrant and refugee communities for supporting their own and for sustaining their cultures.

OK – we can’t have everything, and we should be congratulating NZ On Air for commissioning the programme.  But still I think – why not go a bit further?

What about creating a series based on the drama that is ever present in the life of a manager of volunteers?  Synopsis: follow a valiant manager who herds a bunch of aspiring volunteers through the process of recruitment, training and placement, and what happens to them on the job.  Now there’s a scenario to put management of volunteers on the map!  Because they are our real Unsung Heroes.

June 24, 2012

The Week That Was

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Language, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 5:35 am by Sue Hine

Whew!  The excitement and hype of Volunteer Awareness Week has come to an end – though I hope the messages of appreciation have gone far and wide, and will linger in the ears of volunteers for a while to come.

This year the Week generated more participation and enthusiasm than I have seen in years.  Press releases continued to be issued throughout the week, from such diverse organisations as Department of Conservation, Age Concern, and Coast Guards.  On Facebook there were dozens of daily entries inviting you to check the ‘like’ box, because they were highlighting an event or acknowledging the extent of volunteer service.  Newspapers ran articles on volunteering and management of volunteers, and occasional stories of volunteer experience.  There were also advertisements of appreciation, from a wide range of organisations, alongside invitations to volunteer.

There was little public proclamation from volunteers themselves. You had to be at one of those functions where awards were handed out and where the stories were told.

“It’s very nice to be appreciated,” said recipient Brenda Segar, 71, of Parklands.  That was on the front page of The Press, about Volunteer Canterbury’s award ceremony.  Another item reported on the 82 year old woman who was too busy volunteering to accept an award for her work.  “I don’t do it for reward”.  She likes doing things for others. “This is most enjoyable. I get home on a bit of a high afterwards.”

I wish we heard more from all those younger generations of volunteers who are filling the ranks in increasing numbers.  Volunteering is not just for the olds!

The story of matching organisation need with corporate interest and volunteer support was recounted at a Wellington function to celebrate the Nikau Foundation Corporate Challenge 2012. There could not have been a more literal example of building communities than the alliance between Habitat for Humanity, and the volunteer engineers from Beca.

In all the hoop-la and speechifying I could still hear the platitudes and clichés about volunteers and volunteering.  There were some new buzzwords too.  I wish we could find the slogans that offer genuine meanings of volunteering.

However, my media-scanning over the past week has gleaned some thoughtful and honest representations of volunteering and the relationship between volunteers and the organisations they serve.

Volunteers make the world go round, which is another way of saying Volunteering is Fun; it’s going and doing.  Volunteering is not the last word saving the world or being indispensible: it is being human, and being involved in community.

Volunteers demonstrate commitment and dedication and passion and skill, and they choose to show us how. (Plunket Society)

Volunteering and volunteer organisations are an important part of the fabric of New Zealand (Citizens Advice Bureau).  Yes!  A fabric is made up of warp and weft, and colour and design, length and breadth – all the multiple dimensions we can find in our communities.

Connection is the heart of volunteering   There is resonance here: Connection speaks of interaction, and a linking with other parts of societal structures – the political, economic and cultural.  This, from the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector who concludes:

“As a short-cut for describing the outcomes achieved by the volunteering sector, we often use descriptions like ‘improving social cohesion’ and ‘strengthening communities’. What that really means at a personal level is that volunteers are creating relationships and enriching people’s lives, including their own, as they contribute their time and effort to making New Zealand a better place.”

There we have it then, a simple equation:

Volunteers + the organisation (good leadership and management) = Building Communities

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