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

ivday-sun

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:

ivdayvolwaik

“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!

gisvc

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.

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February 7, 2015

A Question of ‘Work’

Posted in Language of Volunteering, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Trends in Volunteering, Volunteer Centres tagged , , , at 10:49 pm by Sue Hine

Work

 

 

Technically, all unpaid work is illegal, unless an employer can show it is a training opportunity.

This sentence leapt out at me recently when reading a columnist’s critique of internships.  The writer was having a go at the dearth of jobs for new graduates, and the creeping elitism of tertiary education when being an unpaid intern is affordable only to children of the rich.

If unpaid work is illegal where does that put volunteering?  Should we be nervous?  And would we ever say ‘volunteering is not working’?

Of course not, except the question exposes – yet again – the looseness of English language.  Have a go at writing synonyms for ‘work’ and I’ll bet in short order you’ll have a list of ten words, without even including ‘employment’.

Trouble is, ‘work’ gets conflated into ‘having a job’, ‘being employed’, ‘being paid for what you do’, and ‘work status’ is a defining personal concept in many contexts.  To admit to being unemployed is not usually something to shout about.  And all the while there are plenty of examples of ‘unpaid work’ that we undertake without question: mowing lawns and gardening, raising kids, ‘housework’, caring for aged parents – though we may not call these tasks ‘volunteering’.

Volunteering is work, no question.  We have job descriptions and tasks to perform.  We put much effort into our endeavours.  The organisation will have policies which support our ‘work’ and recognise our rights, similar to employee conditions.  We like to be included as ‘staff’ of the organisation, and sometimes we are happy to be referred to as ‘staff’, even if we are not paid.  We are not too keen on situations where professional staff regard us as amateurs – that suggests our volunteer work is of lesser value to the organisation.

I am not hearing mumbles about volunteers encroaching on paid staff roles, nor of volunteers being seen as a threat.  (Though there are concerns expressed in this nfpSynergy report, p12.)  How far can we promote volunteering in the non-profit sector before there is a backlash?

But back to taking on an internship.  “Whatever happened to the idea of paying for honest toil?” asks the columnist.  Entry level career opportunities seem to have disappeared: it’s either a volunteer internship or flipping burgers and night-shift office cleaning.  The struggle to get a foot on the employment ladder makes me wonder if gaining university qualifications are worth the effort.  So it is good to see Student Job Search developing proactive partnerships with corporate groups, offering part-time permanent – and paid – positions for graduate students.

There are other anomalies related to ‘work’.  New Zealand’s government office for welfare benefits is called Work & Income.  A programme to get unemployed people into jobs is called Workfare.  Mandatory ‘work for the dole’ is not formalised in New Zealand, and volunteering is a recommended option.  We could not call compulsory ‘work experience’ volunteering, yet Volunteer Centres report growing numbers of unemployed people independently seeking volunteer positions for that purpose.

Internships and work experience placements are just a couple of indicators of changes in the employment market and job opportunities.  The level of required skill has been raised; unskilled paid work is becoming hard to find.  There is no longer a life-long certainty of employment; demand for technological expertise is increasing.  Businesses and organisations get restructured at regular intervals.  Businesses are bought and sold, and down-sized, and reports of staff lay-offs are reported frequently.  So volunteering has become a popular occupation while waiting for the next spell of employment.

Volunteering will never be deemed illegal, yet with the way the world is going we might just see volunteering become an honourable profession.

May 4, 2014

Volunteer Centre Realities

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Civil Society, Community Development, Politics of volunteering, Volunteer Centres tagged , , , , at 5:00 am by Sue Hine

partnership-trees[1]In continuing the vein of last week’s blog, I am picking up on the distinction between formal and informal volunteer organisations. Because this is where Volunteer Centres might have got a bit stuck between the rock of government-funding obligations and the hard-place needs of organisations and communities, and the wider net of volunteering and community-led development.

Trends of recent decades have drawn the ‘formal volunteering sector’ into the market economy, into competition for services and project funding, has shaped activities to meet performance criteria, and has notched up business practice standards. Read the history of global developments in ‘volunteering infrastructure’ in this e-volunteerism article.

As we know, 90% of ‘voluntary organisations’ in New Zealand are not formally registered charities, and though most of them will have formal structures and purposes many fall outside the purview of government funding contracts. Thus we get a division in the community and voluntary sector, between NGOs and NFPs, even if the former are still non-profit organisations. In this broad-brush and diverse context the question is where best to place Volunteer Centre energies. Are they here for ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ organisations, or for volunteers? Of course in practice all three are important.

Volunteer Centres in New Zealand emerged independently around the country from the mid-1980s. Each one has a slightly different take on their vision and purpose which can be summarised as To promote, support and advocate for volunteering. In practice this allows for working and liaising with community organisations and local government. Supporting managers of volunteers comes with the territory, to ensure volunteers get a good experience and organisations understand and appreciate the work of volunteers. So the infrastructure is there, as a sound base to support volunteering. To offer a rounded ecosystem we should add in the work of engaging with business interests around employee volunteering (and sponsorship), and with philanthropic funders (for Centre funding as well as promoting volunteer causes).

It’s a huge mandate to cover all those interests, indicating Volunteer Centres are running a sophisticated consultancy business. But there are some questions a hard-headed auditor might want to ask:

  • Why should funds be allocated for volunteer brokerage when there is potential for it to be adequately managed through an on-line programme?
  • When national awards for volunteering are handed out how many of them go to individuals or organisations that have been supported by Volunteer Centres?
  • How good are you (or other statistical surveys) at counting voluntary effort? Isn’t it time to get beyond counting to evaluating quality of the effort, and to capture the extent of ‘informal’ volunteering?
  • If 34% of New Zealand’s population are engaged in volunteering, what would it take to raise that proportion to 40% or higher?
  • Advocacy is specialist work – what successes can be reported on promoting volunteering with government (local and central) and philanthropists?

These are the questions Volunteer Centres could be addressing.  See how Centres around the world are adapting to new environments in another article in e-volunteerism.

April 28, 2014

The Volunteer Centre Experience

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Civil Society, Community Development, Managing Change, Politics of volunteering, Volunteer Centres tagged , , , at 12:01 am by Sue Hine

 

Vwgtn

 

The current issue of e-volunteerism is devoted to the purpose and futures of Volunteer Centres.  I’ve been reading the critiques and the caveats, and the challenges for a sustainable future, drawn from all around the (western) world.

 

There’s a tension between Volunteer Centres and managers of volunteers, say Susan J Ellis and Rob Jackson.  VCs are competing with community organisations for funding; they are not working with basic community needs as much as they could; and they are slow to take up on-line technology that could cut across their traditional brokerage role.  Changing times means VCs need to adapt to shifts in the way the world of the community and voluntary sector (and government policy) works.

For volunteering and Volunteer Centres the discussion is more than interesting reading.  It has spurred me to reflect on my own connections and experiences with Volunteer Centres in New Zealand.

I get to read newsletters from around the country and to keep up with their Facebook posts.  My direct experience is mostly with Volunteer Wellington.  (It is their logo at the top of this post.)  In my early days as a manager of volunteers their lunchtime training sessions were a life-saver, an opportunity to connect with other organisations and to share common experiences – and to learn from each other.  More recently I have facilitated a few training sessions, still seeing managers of volunteers hungry for knowledge and skill development.  Volunteer Wellington’s Employees in the Community programme is a boon for community organisations, not just for the work corporate businesses can offer.  Their brokerage process avoids the embarrassment for managers of volunteers when unsolicited offers of assistance have to be declined – because you don’t have a job for them, and certainly not for large numbers at a time, or the request is to do something next week, if not tomorrow.

I have worked alongside VC managers on the Volunteering NZ project which produced the Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations and Competencies for Managers of Volunteers.  They know their stuff, the organisations they work with, and they whole-heartedly support the role and practice of managers of volunteers.

But how does the performance of Volunteer Centres in New Zealand stack up against the questions raised in e-volunteerism commentaries?

I have heard wary comments about engaging with on-line technology.  The traditional process of brokerage based on face-to-face interviews and phone-call liaison with organisations risks getting side-stepped if there is ready access to an on-line database of volunteer opportunities.  Yet local evidence suggests personal contact and meetings are highly productive for both prospective volunteers and for organisations.

Centres may not be taking full advantage of social media yet, and micro-volunteering appears to be a step too far at this stage.  That’s begging the question of whether they are keeping up with other trends in volunteering, related to generational differences for example.

I have been impressed with Volunteer Wellington’s good relations with local government and their efforts to promote community engagement.  They work hard to build on existing relationships with their members.  But is this enough?  Are they working on behalf of volunteers and volunteering, or for their member organisations?  This is where I refer to the e-volunteerism commentary by Cees M. van den Bos (Netherlands).  He describes the difference between formal and informal volunteering as ‘system world’ and ‘life world’, and makes a case for a broader outlook and strategic development to incorporate both.  Here is the challenge for Volunteer Centres, to extend collaboration and make a shift to ‘community development’ practice models.

Volunteer Wellington’s statistics show they work with a wide age range and a variety of cultures which mirror the region’s ethnic population distribution.  But it seems people of the 60+ age cohort go elsewhere to find volunteer opportunities, or they are failing to get engaged.  It’s a pity the Centre’s record of working with disabled people is not publicly available.

My reflections draw on examples from Volunteer Wellington, though my comments are generalised.  New Zealand’s contribution to the e-volunteerism article from Cheryll Martin extols Volunteer Centre achievements, and their range of activities.  There is much to ponder from other commentators in the article, and nothing is more certain than significant change is imminent.

The e-volunteerism article opens with this statement: “Volunteer Centres are vital to build and sustain local and regional volunteer ecosystems”.   I would like to think our small population and social interconnectedness creates advantages that will sustain volunteer ecosystems into the future.

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

instruments-ochestra[1]

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”.

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.

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.