Framework for Dealing with Spontaneous Volunteers
21 December 2009 at 4:48 pm
Following Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009 in excess of 22,000 potential volunteers offered their help. Only a fraction were utilised. Whilst most did, some received no further information or even an acknowledgement of their offer.
In February 2009 Pro Bono Australia reported that the tragedy had created an unexpected focus for Volunteering Australia which had stretched its resources by taking on the role of coordinating those volunteers wanting to help in bushfire ravaged areas, a role it says it never expected to have.
VA Spokesman, Peters Cocks said at the time that some 7000 people registered as volunteers in the first few days.
Key to the Red Cross plan will be to undertake primary research on recent emergencies where spontaneous volunteers have been utilised, to examine and analyse the motivations and experiences of individuals seeking to volunteer during disasters, and the agencies that work with them.
It will also investigate and adapt, or develop, then trial, spontaneous volunteer management tools (including consideration of a database or web-based portal) as well as a communications strategy about volunteering in disasters, including processes for recruitment, volunteer activities and deployment, and roles and responsibilities.
The Red Cross Draft Project Report found that potential spontaneous volunteers were thought to be a valuable, flexible resource. A ready workforce, who could be used to free up existing volunteers and staff to take a more active role in either responding to the emergency or aiding with the recovery following an emergency.
However the report says working in the emergency context requires an understanding of the disruptive impact of an emergency, the changed emotional state of people affected, the political and media environment. Whilst potential spontaneous volunteers were perceived to possess a vast range of skills between them, mainly these skills were gained outside of the emergency context. Agency training, appropriate levels of briefing and debriefing and buddying spontaneous volunteers with experienced staff or volunteers were perceived as ways of overcoming this issue.
It also found that the frustration of unutilised spontaneous volunteers, which could lead to future disengagement with volunteering, was perceived as a threat.
It says that this may be overcome by an effective communication strategy that would include:
• Educational messages before an emergency;
• Regular communications during an emergency to include information on why offers of help weren’t being taken up i.e. overwhelming number of people coming forward etc.
• Information on future volunteering opportunities within the emergency management sector.
The Red Cross report can be downloaded from Volunteering Victoria’s website at