Volunteers – The Glue Keeping Australia Together
Tuesday, 15th May 2012 at 10:01 am
It is the generosity of spirit that makes me delight in and appreciate the estimated 6.5 Million people who volunteer in Australia each year, says David Zerman who describes himself as a Fundraising Epidemiologist and CEO at Possibility International.
Without volunteers I would not have been able to work with other professional staff to raise and disperse more than $202Million for very worthwhile Not for Profits in my 22 year professional fundraising career.
But that’s not why I enjoy engaging (and working) with volunteers. In my three sector career work life (journalism, public relations and NFP organisations) I have seen the sensational impact volunteers have made across Australia from Zeehan (TAS) to Broome (WA) and Denmark (WA) to Cook Town (QLD) and all States and Territories in-between.
The same applies to volunteers I have met when I have volunteered and shared my professional Not for Profit experience in New Zealand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Iceland. In those cases I feel I learnt more from those I was “teaching” than I shared with them.
Volunteering is a universal activity that people of all ages undertake because they want to. They support the values of a particular organisation, they enjoy it. It could be a family tradition or it just seems the right thing to do at a particular time.
When conducting volunteer and fundraising workshops I often ask people to discuss their first volunteer experience. Most people relate it to some activities in their 20s, 30s or later. When I ask them about their childhood, youth and teens they generally say they didn’t. But in further discussion when I ask for more information about school, youth, sport, community, political and religious groups they might have been involved in, I can actually see “the light globe go on above their head” when many realise this or that activity at that stage of their life was, in fact, volunteering.
My personal volunteering activities started helping my parents in their community activities. Along the way I’ve collected for many charities (Royal Children’s Hospital, Legacy, Heart Foundation) in Melbourne, I have been on committees and served in office bearing positions across Australia and undertaken unusual activities (purchasing and taking 100 blood pressure measuring devices as my personal luggage to Sri Lanka).
As a football tragic who supports Coburg in the VFL (it should be the VFA as far as I’m concerned, but that’s another story) I have seen “George” volunteer his time for the club selling the VFL Record near the entry gate for 30 years. Each week he tries to sell all the copies before the game starts so he can undertake other volunteer activities around the ground. That type of grass root volunteering is exceptional. I know it is replicated across Australia in so many different community organisations. I believe all the “George” and “Georgettes” across Australia need to be recognised every week not just this week.
My volunteering activities are no different from any of the other millions of volunteers in Australia, but mine give me an insight into working with volunteers in my professional fundraising work.
As CEO of the Victorian Section of the Royal Flying Doctor Service I once explained to a group of 80 volunteers why I’d like them to consider hand addressing 28,000 envelopes four times over 18 months for a series of special appeals to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the RFDS. They embraced that activity with exceptional enthusiasm and gusto. Surprisingly the time planned for each session (to be completed over 10 weeks) was generally completed in 7-8 weeks.
Not only did they get tremendous satisfaction in completing that job they loved seeing daily reports of the donor response to their massive volunteering activity.
Some mail houses complained when they heard about this activity (I don’t use them anymore!!!) but the volunteers relished the challenge and asked for more challenges like this. They showed a wonderful and ongoing generosity of spirit.
“Volunteers – Every One Counts” is the theme for this year’s National Volunteer Week. I enjoy speaking to volunteers whenever I see them and thanking them for their contribution to the organisation. Collectively the generosity of spirit of all volunteers is the glue that keeps the Australian community together each year.
David Zerman is a Fundraising Epidemiologist and CEO of Possibility International. He can be contacted on 0418 346 999. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org