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Volunteering is Evolving


Tuesday, 22nd April 2014 at 10:16 am
Staff Reporter, Journalist
Volunteering is an act of choice – not an act of benevolence, writes Volunteering Australia patron Margaret Bell AM in this Hot Topic that covers the new trends of volunteering.

Tuesday, 22nd April 2014
at 10:16 am
Staff Reporter, Journalist


3 Comments


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Volunteering is Evolving
Tuesday, 22nd April 2014 at 10:16 am

Volunteering is an act of choice – not an act of benevolence, writes Volunteering Australia patron Margaret Bell AM in this Hot Topic that covers the new trends of volunteering.

People choose to volunteer today for many and very diverse reasons. Perhaps to meet others, to use skills we don’t want to lose, to try new skills, to gain experience leading to a paid job, or to build self-confidence.

Sometimes we volunteer to mix with people we wouldn’t normally meet, to improve speaking English of to fill spaces created by a major life change like moving house, coming to a new country, to recover from grief and loss, to feel worthwhile, to remain healthy, alert, and engaged and in addition to all or any of the above to put something back into the community.

Volunteers learn more than they think they will and high on the list of learning is the fact that we are going to get more out of it than we find we are able to give, sometimes this is quite a surprise.

Not patronising now, but we are fast moving away from the sense of “doing good to” and more readily embrace the idea of “doing something with” recognising more truthfully that in volunteering there is something in it for me and something in it for you.

This is a healthier and more sustainable position. A model that offers a sense of belonging, and builds on one’s sense of self-esteem. It offers multi-identity opportunities that would otherwise never come our way. There can be seen a new model of reciprocity emerging wherein there is room for all.

Recruitment requires much more creativity. Days are numbered when people want to volunteer every Tuesday and stay with the same organisation for 20 years.

Recruitment and training has to be flexible, available, sometimes exciting and always on going, new types of training are needed all the time.

Training may no longer be applicable only on-site, some online training is needed and extensive use of social media is vital to attract the new age volunteer.

Commitment happens when people feel moved to take action and when they are witnessing commitment in others. Talk about successes.

People choose to volunteer from their own value base, they don’t do it for money, and usually not for power or recognition, they do it because something resonates within. When personal values align with the goals of a project or organisation action  takes place and social cohesion is possible.

Exploitation is not on! Volunteers have needs to be met. Travel costs, insurance, meal allowance, uniforms and equipment when used on the job. The same considerations that are being given to paid staff other than receiving a salary. Leaving these things undone causes many people to become unable to volunteer because of out-of-pocket expenses incurred.

People shortages are serious in some areas and for some projects. Voluntary organisations express dissatisfaction in not being able to recruit the right volunteers but keep going back to the same tired sources instead of trying somewhere new. Pubs, clubs, hairdressers, in addition to all manner of social media are good starting points.

Quality campaigns need to be considered, talking to local business and other employers one on one is important, seeking an arrangement for time release in down time, or to attract different age groups of volunteers. Information evenings associated with fun and well-being need to be planned ahead. Events need to be age appropriate.

Use of local adds, letterbox drops, and  fresh posters positioned in prominent places where people are constantly reminded of the need for volunteers and the personal benefits to themselves and to the community are a good idea too.  Use of multicultural photography demonstrating that all are welcome is important, we all ask, what about me?  

In other words make the community needs visible together with a consistent message of who can help.

Connection is important to modern volunteers, we like to see we are part of something worthwhile and frequently use mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, to connect  with individuals groups and organisations we want to know about, we use volunteer recruitment sites, they often offer jobs one may need and haven’t even thought of seeking without such a guide.

Social media travels fast, voluntary organisations seeking support need to travel with it and to use it to say please and thank you. Opportunities to pay attention to especially are the designated National Volunteer Week, when we can plan ahead for recruitment and training in second week in May.

Utilising International Volunteer Day on December 5  is also a good day to say thank you to volunteers and to make recognition awards available.

No false praise – don’t patronise volunteers, we don’t need false praise and pampering. Volunteers must exercise the same responsibilities as paid staff in terms of reliability adherence to regulations and conduct on the job. The only difference between paid staff and volunteers should be the negotiated hours of work and agreed levels of responsibility.

New connections are valuable and connections today can be global and local. New partnerships and new technology can make all the difference as governments business and Not for Profit organisations work together with volunteers to save, support and repair whole communities. Such new partnerships will be a key focus of the 23rd International Association for Volunteer Effort World Volunteer Conference on the Gold Coast in September.

The Conference will be hosted by Volunteering Australia in partnership with The National Congress of Australia’s First People, Chain Reaction Foundation, Foundation for Young Australians and Philanthropy Australia. See the Conference website www.iave2014.org.

Volunteering is Today’s Imperative it is a tool at our disposal to use against exclusion and inhumanity, it fosters relationships, goodwill,  social justice, social cohesion and a more peace achieving world.

About the Author: Margaret Bell AM is currently the Patron of Volunteering Australia and Chairperson for the 23rd International Association for Volunteer Effort World Volunteer Conference to be held in Australia in 2014. She is also founding Chairperson of Chain Reaction Foundation working for social cohesion in Australia.


Staff Reporter  |  Journalist |  @ProBonoNews


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3 Comments

  • Most excellent article, Margaret Bell. I especially enjoyed the concept of visually representing a multicultural base of volunteers. Having just studied volunteering in depth (writing Unsung Heroes Cambodia book) I find that after the first hurdle of attracting people to volunteer, that it is imperative to educate them, to raise their awareness of the ethical considerations, even of how their good intentions may innocently be doing more harm than good. Many high schools ascribe to volunteer awareness and education, but there are so many more people of all ages that need awakening and guidance. The upcoming Conference in September looks to be an excellent resource. Much like the book we've just written, it's another drop in the bucket that will hopefully cumulatively join to make a tidal wave of change.

  • Tom O'Meara Tom O'Meara says:

    I am pleased that Margaret expands the traditional volunteer 'profile' beyond the 'do-gooder' category. Yes there is a 'something in it for me' dimension that is acceptable as long it matches the 'something in it for you'. In effect, that the ends justify the means. However, there is yet another dimension to this equation which can literally destroy a volunteer-based organisation. The 'control freak' with talent and a sense of failure unwarranted generally) in his/her paid working life can use extreme means to maintain the self -identity afforded by the volunteering environment. Unlike other working environments, the volunteer environment is typically characterised by giving the volunteeraholics considerable freedom and thus power because of the breadth of their contributions.In other words, how can I criticise or question someone who does so much while I do so little. Of course, the 'control freak's' achievements may coincide with positive outcomes for the organisation but the means taken to achieve such outcomes will alienate many genuine community-minded volunteers.Stories of such tensions and ultimate disillusionment abound among smaller cultural groups who now fall within the Charity definition. Ultimately also, these personalities become blind to selfless volunteering because these volunteers do not meet the dominant member's expectations. All the reasons which Margaret listed at the start of her piece about why people volunteer are crushed in the power plays which inevitable unfold. Volunteering then seems like the sweat shop many thought they had left behind as well as the associated bullying.Long live the 'true-blue' volunteer!

  • Robert Slatery Robert Slatery says:

    I agree with what you said "Exploitation is not on! Volunteers have needs to be met. Travel costs, insurance, meal allowance, uniforms and equipment when used on the job. The same considerations that are being given to paid staff other than receiving a salary. Leaving these things undone causes many people to become unable to volunteer because of out-of-pocket expenses incurred. I once tried volunteering for a charity company (I wont say the name of the charity) and the resources I had were incredibly limited, I left as I was struggling with it all and tried again through Letz Live and it was the best time of my life 🙂 Cheers

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