May 18, 2014

The Power of Volunteering

Posted in Celebrations, Civil Society, Language, Leadership, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 4:05 am by Sue Hine

8[2]Congratulations to Volunteering Australia who celebrated last week their 25th year of National Volunteer Week (NVW).  That is some achievement.  And always (as in New  Zealand too, next month) it is a great opportunity to hold special events for acknowledging and saying ‘thank you’ to the thousands of people for their contributions and commitment to all parts of our communities.

This year the promotional theme for Australian volunteer-involving organisations was The Power of Volunteering.  But forgive me, country cousins – I am trying to figure what you mean by ‘the power of volunteering’.

‘Power’ is a word I associate with leadership and influence, with strength and a force to reckon with, and with achievement and change.  Given that volunteering/volunteerism operates along a continuum from political action to small informal volunteer groups pursuing community interest projects, what are the manifestations of strength and influence in the sphere of volunteering?

What change has resulted from street marches on poverty, domestic violence, or low-wage occupations?  Will global protests really help to “Bring Back Our Girls”?  Yes, there are a heap of good intentions in protest marches and demonstrations – but I cannot recall any direct political change from such actions.  Even the constant pressure of protests in 1981 could not put a stop to the South African Rugby tour of New Zealand.

I am talking here about civic action, expressions of community interest, seeking change of some sort.  But if nothing changes where is the power of this kind of volunteering?

Volunteer responses in times of disaster can achieve great things.  I have written twice under the heading of People Power – in praise of the volunteer response to Christchurch earthquakes and the beach pollution of the Rena grounding.  That’s the power of spontaneous collective action, based on humanitarian and environmental values.  I’ve praised the staying power of volunteer fire-fighters who sustain their essential service, along with volunteers in other emergency services.  That’s demonstrating the power of volunteer commitment.

It is different in everyday volunteer workforce contributions to community support services – environmental, education, disability, health and welfare, arts and leisure and sporting activities.  Volunteering in these contexts is formalised, organised, programmed, contained – and constrained.  By their numbers they are a powerhouse for the voluntary sector.  But let’s not fool ourselves: volunteers are a utilitarian labour resource for organisations serving the interests of government, business, and community.

That is what we acknowledge during our National Volunteer Week.  It is not the power of volunteering; it is the goodwill, the giving of time, energy, skills, and personal commitment to organisational missions and values that we wish to honour.

Yet there is a kind of power in the intrinsic benefits of volunteering, where volunteers gain for themselves.  Engaging with an organisation can be a way of finding that sense of belonging in a community, of being respected.  Volunteering can raise self-esteem, self-awareness and confidence, and don’t forget – volunteering is good for your health.  Volunteering is attractive for people seeking work experience (whether as graduate interns or unemployed people), for developing skills, for migrants and refugees to improve language proficiency.

So while I have doubts about volunteering being a power of ‘irresistible force’, there is much to be said for the work of volunteers in the way it signifies a strong and healthy civil society.

June 16, 2013

Volunteer Recognition (3) Why?

Posted in Celebrations, Civil Society, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 4:05 am by Sue Hine


National Volunteer Week is upon us.  The stories about volunteers will unfold through newspaper spreads and press releases, and celebratory functions will be held all over the country.

This feast for volunteering goes international every year, and now it is New Zealand’s turn.  Here, Volunteer Awareness Week has morphed into National Volunteer Week, taking a broader account of the ‘volunteer industry’.   In Wellington corporate volunteering gets due recognition for example, and there are at least a couple of workshops specially to support managers of volunteers.  Watch out for Volunteering New Zealand’s latest innovation: a daily webinar on different topics related to volunteering.

Why do we do this, every year?  What’s the rationale for putting such energy and expense into appreciating volunteers and the business of supporting volunteering, for one week every year?

I could presume we do this because:

  • Volunteers and volunteering are ignored the rest of the year
  • The news media don’t give much attention to good news stories
  • Organisations are focused on service delivery and overlook how much the work of volunteers contribute to those services on a regular basis
  • Any excuse for a party!
  • Opportunity for self-promotion of organisations and Volunteer Centres
  • It’s a great exercise to recruit more volunteers to the ranks

There might be some elements of truth here, but not enough to justify an annual blast of publicity.  We do a great deal of appreciation and recognition throughout the year, in large and small ways, both publicly and privately.  So why do we still need to hold an annual week in praise of volunteering?

I’m having trouble finding rational answers to this question, specially when I hear volunteers saying:

Volunteer work is as non-negotiable as brushing your teeth.  You just do it.  Being part of the community isn’t something that you tack on to life – it’s a really important part of life.

Volunteering gets into your blood.  Like you can’t live without it.

If volunteering is so every-day and ordinary, so much part of our lifeblood, why the need for an annual fanfare?

Maybe the point about recruiting more volunteers is a good enough reason, because total volunteer numbers represent only one third of our population (though the data is probably under-reported).  Because many organisations find they are constantly short on volunteers, and long in demand of services provided by volunteers.  It’s not unreasonable to showcase opportunities to attract interest in volunteering – except recruitment and retention of volunteers is an on-going practice which cannot be left to an annual drive.

Maybe a promotional week is something bigger than the detail of recruitment and recognition.  Maybe it’s the real opportunity to remind people about values of community, service, and the importance of Civil Society.  We might be labelled as non-government or non-profit organisations, and relegated to the less-than-noble title of Third Sector, but by heck if we were not around the political and economic sectors would be missing the third leg of the stool that represents the sort of society we enjoy.

Maybe it is coincidence that CIVICUS has published a new report on the role that civil society plays and the conditions that enable it to do so.  It is certainly timely.

Civil society plays multiple roles. We bring people together. We encourage debate, dialogue and consensus building. We research, analyse, document, publish and promote knowledge and learning. We develop, articulate and seek to advance solutions to problems. We engage with people and organisations in other spheres, such as government and business, to try to advance and implement solutions. We directly deliver services to those who need them.  Sometimes we do all of these things at once. We need to assert that these are all legitimate civil society roles.  [p 33]

This is what we do, all year, every year – right?  And if you, as an organisation or as a volunteer, are struggling to be heard – take heart that you are not alone in the world:

The value that civil society brings always needs to be proved, documented and promoted – and the argument for civil society continually made: “While the assumption of the need for strong government and private sectors is today generally not questioned, the need for a strong civil society is not always so readily assumed.”  [p44]

The report is worth reading in full to appreciate the global trends we are experiencing in New Zealand.

Maybe there is no definitive explanation for holding a National Volunteer Week.  For now and for this week all I need to know is the answer to the question : What is the most important thing in the world?  He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!  That is the start and the end-point of volunteering and community development, and of Civil Society.  It is people!

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.

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

June 17, 2012

Let Us Now Praise Volunteers, and Those that Begat Volunteer Organisations*

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , , at 3:20 am by Sue Hine

We’ve been talking up Volunteer Awareness Week for weeks.  Now let’s unfurl the banners, deliver the speeches, do the award presentations and the street parades, and read with pride the full-page spreads in our newspapers and the online affirmations about community organisations and the work done by volunteers.  Let the party begin!

Let us also hear the voices of volunteers, recording the delight they find in their work, and the personal and professional gains they make through their volunteer experience.

Volunteers involved in New Zealand’s biggest exercise in event management, the Rugby World Cup have a few things to say, in a recently published report:

“My fellow volunteers – they were all wonderful people and extremely generous with their time and energy – this feeling spread amongst the team, so everyone stayed motivated and fed off the energy of others.”

“The whole experience, from the information road shows to the training and captain’s run, was amazing. So well organised, totally positive and supportive, I truly felt like an important person in a team for an important event. I was VERY proud to tell people I was a volunteer for RWC 2011!”

At Volunteer Centres around the country the work of recruitment and referral of volunteers is their core business.  The quotes that follow are drawn from Volunteer Wellington publications.

“Volunteering has given me a chance to merge properly into the local community”

“Volunteering was a great stepping stone to help get from A to B, to make the big transition into paid employment.”

“Volunteering makes me a better person to be around.”

“It’s interesting, varied, challenging and rewarding too.  I’d recommend volunteering to anyone.”

I am told more stories from a community organisation involving large numbers of volunteers in a wide range of roles:

“I got a job, and I’m studying at Polytech, all because the organisation gave me confidence to believe in myself and my abilities”

“I’m working as an ESL teacher now – all because I volunteered and the organisation acted as my referee”

Then there are the corporate volunteers, where businesses support employees to volunteer in the community.  It might be for a fund-raising event, or a day-long conservation project working on improving a particular environment, or offering professional expertise to an organisation.  Here is what the organiser of one company’s volunteer projects says:

“This is a community-minded company.  The people here care about the community and volunteering.  My bosses leave me to make it happen.  It is very much their interest that drives our volunteering: it is their way of giving back to the community.”

I raise a flag too for the unsung volunteers in our communities, the huge population of informal volunteers whose voices are not often heard in public, nor their deeds loudly proclaimed.  These are the people who look out for their neighbours, the clusters of small organisations who take the initiative to restore a waterway, to plant a hillside, those who run a sports team, develop a programme for young people, or the young people themselves who fundraise to help the cause of their choice.

If you ask them why you are likely to hear statements like these:

“It’s what you do – it’s part and parcel of living in this community”

“Giving is also receiving.”

“It’s easy to write a cheque, and it’s much more satisfying to give your time and skills to doing something money can’t buy.”

This week is also a time to acknowledge the organisations that give volunteers such opportunities.   Here are a couple of testimonies from volunteers, drawn from Volunteer Wellington newsletter (Dec/Jan 2012).

“Volunteer work has to have purpose and be well managed, so that people know where they stand and how they are making a difference.  Then they will be committed.”

“The people and managers at all the places I volunteered gave me a feeling of belonging.  I always felt I was treated as one of the staff – properly equal.”

These are samples of the stories you will hear from volunteers.  They come from different directions, representing different interests and different reasons for volunteering.  They are also the stories about building communities, contributing to that interlocking honeycomb pattern that is our logo for this week.

So the joy of volunteering, the learning, the life path development, the social networks and the individual achievements illustrate the importance of (1) a switched-on manager of volunteers, and (2) an organisation that understands and fully appreciates the true value of volunteer contributions.

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

*  Those who notice the adaptation of a biblical quote will also recognise that Volunteering has biblical dimensions.


May 20, 2012

There’s a New One Every Day

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Celebrations, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , , , , at 1:31 am by Sue Hine

In all the gloom and doom of national and international economics the volunteer industry keeps on keeping on.  Numbers of volunteers continue to increase, now spread across a wider age range than in generations past, and across different sectors.    The range of volunteer activities broadens as organisations raise their expectations and the standards of volunteer programmes, as the manager of volunteers becomes recognised as a leader holding a pivotal role in developing and maintaining volunteer services.

There could be quite a number of people wanting to tell me “it ain’t necessarily so”.  Somebody is bound to point out how volunteer recruitment and retention is so often the most wanted topic on Volunteer Centre training schedules.  There are lots of reasons for this: turnover in people working with volunteers, a lack of specific training on management of volunteers, getting behind the times in new ways to attract volunteers, and the different expectations of volunteers – you know, using social media, getting upbeat in advertising, creating new roles for volunteers.

There will always be room for improvement.  And there are always people out there thinking about volunteering who need a bit of encouragement.

Like a conversation I had last week that went like this:

–          I am asked: Are you working, or retired?

–          I talk a bit about being involved in the Management of Volunteers Project, and why.  Of course it’s a great opportunity to do a bit of a sell, on volunteering and on the importance of good management for volunteers.

–          Oh, she says a little wistfully, I’ve thought about volunteering, and I could ‘cos I work part-time.  I do like shopping, she adds, eyes lighting up at the thought of being a volunteer that got to browse the malls and shopping meccas.

–          Well, I advise, it’s really important that you get a job that you like, and managers try to match your interests.

So then I went on about how to connect, how to find out what volunteer positions were available.  Easy as, I said – you can do it all on the computer.  Or you could go to Facebook – there are regular inserts on volunteer opportunities.  Or go visit a Volunteer Centre.  That’s where you can get registered and get referred to places that could meet your interests and expectations.

I don’t know if I have enabled one more person to join the ranks of volunteers, but at least I have taken the opportunity to offer some good leads and some encouragement to give it a go.

In just four weeks’ time New Zealand will be alive with exhibitions and events to promote and to celebrate volunteering.  Volunteer Awareness Week will have something for everyone.  This annual programme serves to illustrate the breadth and depth of volunteering and all the organisations that go to make our Civil Society.

Volunteers are everywhere.  When I go to catch a bus I walk past the Community Centre which is always alive with people meeting for community purposes.  Around the corner I can find the local Community Garden, and further on is the Citizens Advice Bureau staffed by warm and welcoming volunteers.  When I go walking on one of the many trails around Wellington I see the work of volunteers who have been landscaping a desolate environment, restoring native plants and trees, recovering a waterway to re-introduce native fish.  During the weekend I’ll be watching some kids run around a cold and muddy sports field, and I will be admiring the volunteers who are team coaches, managers and referees, and the ones who organise the rota for half-time oranges and the jersey washing.  My weekly community newspapers tell me more, about op-shops run by volunteers, about food collections for Food Banks, or a meal delivery service for new mums.  Volunteers knock at my door, doing their stuff as collectors for a fund-raising appeal.  Email newsletters turn up in my in-box, crafted by volunteers.

That’s the way of my community, just a small part of it.  This year’s slogan for Volunteer awareness week is Building Communities through Volunteering.  That’s what we do, and you can read more here.