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Volunteering: Their Future - Our Prosperity

9 July 2013 at 10:48 am
Staff Reporter
It’s seriously time that we look at the business of volunteering as a national productivity issue – for its own merits, according to the National Executive Officer Girl Guides Australia, Kit McMahon.

Staff Reporter | 9 July 2013 at 10:48 am


Volunteering: Their Future - Our Prosperity
9 July 2013 at 10:48 am

It’s seriously time that we look at the business of volunteering as a national productivity issue – for its own merits, according to the National Executive Officer Girl Guides Australia, Kit McMahon.

Last week, I came across a report by the Third Sector Research Centre, a UK based independent research organisation that is focused on the Not for Profit (NFP) sector.

Most recently the Centre put its attention to understanding the route between employment and volunteering – they asked does volunteering actually increase employment? There is a view that it does. Surely the skills that you develop as a volunteer contributes significantly to employability. The answer? It depends. It depends on your age, your work, your gender and your life stage.

The worth of volunteering is regularly discussed. Much research has gone into assessing its value and impact upon our society – the Productivity Commission themselves acknowledged that while the contribution of volunteering is hard to completely define, the whole of the NFP sector does contribute the now often quoted $14 billion dollars to the economy.

This is not to be trivialised.

What strikes me about these two key points is how volunteering – the skills employed and the value are described in ways that are in relation to something else, that is – paid employment. It is the gaze of the paid workforce and gaze of the for profit measures that seem to be at the heart of issues facing the Not for Profit sector – specifically the productivity of our organisations and the ability of volunteering utilising organisations (VUOs) to adequately plan for their future.

Let’s be clear, a significant majority of skills that Girl Guides Australia uses to achieve its goals and plans is volunteer – and we are not alone in this regard. This presents a range of challenges and issues that I would contend need leadership and healthy debate and discussion.

However, if we are going to improve the performance and capacity of our Not for Profit organisations – something on many a policy makers radar – then we need to develop better ways of working, understanding and supporting its workforce, on its own terms, and not through the gaze of paid employment. This is crucial if our organisations are going to continue to shoulder much of the burden of maintaining community cohesion and building a civil society.

A key issue facing many VUO’s at the moment is the attraction, retention and training of a skilled workforce. Where are these potential workers coming from, how can we attract the best ones for our work, how can we get the best out of them?

I think the harder questions we are yet to tackle is, how can we adapt, understand and change the potential work and jobs that we know need to be done to accommodate the changing needs of the potential unpaid labour force?

At its heart this is actually a debate about best practice workforce planning and development and, as an industry, we need to consider how we can apply this concept – found typically in the paid workforce – to our volunteers and those that support them.

The research tells us that volunteers want their skills to be utilised, they want to feel engaged in their work, they want to have a sense of contribution, they want to be well led, they want to be utilised. Moreover, they want to have a pathway of activity with their beloved sector that will contribute to their personal growth and development and leave their next generation of colleagues with a legacy that can be built upon for the betterment of their community.

Sounds awfully like what we all want from our work.

I am not arguing that we should apply lock stock and barrel the way that paid workforces are managed and developed to volunteering. What I am arguing for is a change of mind for the way that VUO’s plan and develop their workforces.

Julie Sloan – one Australia’s preeminent leaders in this area – identifies that workforce planning and development is a process of making decision about what jobs and skills are needed in the future based on clear evidence. Knowing where your supply of labour and skills is coming from, what types of jobs will be needed in the future and planning for this. This is the best bedrock for development activity to occur – training, coaching, and mentoring.

Can we honestly say that we know where our supply of volunteers is coming from and what they will be looking for in the future? Can we honestly say that we know where the jobs will be, and what they will look like and need to deliver upon, and more importantly, how they will fit into our strategy? It is a significant challenge for the NFP sector when evidence on what our workforce consists of is very hard to gather.

I understand from colleagues in the field that there is a great call for volunteering opportunities with many corporates clambering to offer their organisational skills. This is a wondrous thing which bodes well for a positive future on many levels. I also note with sadness that these same wise colleagues are observing that they “have nowhere to put them” and “the placements are not there.”

On the other hand, VUO colleagues are challenged to find the right people for the right job in their organisations – and want to move on from being happy with someone that will just turn up on the day.

Surely we can do better than this. Surely we can develop a way of planning for our future – our organisations, our volunteers and our communities by bringing great heads together to work out positive practice of planning for our workforce on our own terms. Not for the paid workforce, but for our industries and our communities.

Girl Guides Australia has produced a position statement for the upcoming Federal Election. Aimed at leaders across Australia. It asks policy makers to consider leadership and support to assist VUOs to develop workforce planning and development practices.

It also asks for a skills policy to consider better supporting the development of skills needed for our large, community based, Not for Profits who are crucial to our national future.

For more information on Girl Guides Australia and its position statement “Building Australia and Contributing to a Better Tomorrow” visit

Girl Guides Australia (GGA) is the peak national organisation for girls and women in Australia. GGA is part of the largest organisation for girls and young women in the world – a movement with over 10 million members in 145 countries.

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