Support Services At The Core of Volunteering
22 June 2018 at 6:08 pm
Place-based services, such as Volunteering Support Services, provide the critical infrastructure required for safe, effective and sustainable volunteering, according to a new report.
The Value of Volunteering Support Services research project, was released by Volunteering Australia at the conclusion of the National Volunteering Conference 2018 on Friday.
The report, which provides a socio-economic analysis and evaluation of the value of Commonwealth funded Volunteering Support Services, found the services enabled nearly 12.3 million volunteer hours in 2017, worth $477.5 million.
However, the analysis also provided evidence that despite an increasing demand for the services of Volunteering Support Services, government contribution has remained static.
According to the report, the challenge for Volunteering Support Services will be to demonstrate the collective contribution they make to the wider community.
Volunteering Australia CEO, Adrienne Picone told Pro Bono News a recurring theme throughout the conference was how safe and effective volunteering was not free and did not happen by accident, rather it required planning, resources, training and investment as well as strong and well supported leadership and guidance.
“We have had a really great inspiring invigorating [few days], that I think cut to the core of what it is to be a volunteer in our community. But also what it means to have really good effective, strong well-thought, resourced leadership wrapped around that volunteering,” Picone said.
As part of the conference Rob Jackson facilitated a Volunteering Support Services Workshop where representatives of Volunteering Support Services from across the country came together to discuss key questions including the biggest challenges and opportunities.
Volunteering Australia said they saw the research and workshop as “the start of an ongoing conversation” with Volunteering Support Services.
The conference, held in Sydney over three days, also saw the signing of an accord between Volunteering Australia and the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples to recognise and support the First Peoples of Australia.
Picone said they were proud to sign the accord of support, which marked the culmination of a number of conversations held since the beginning of the year.
“Really it recognises an alignment of values between us and the National Congress and a willingness to collaborate and work together in the future. So we’re really excited about the accord and what that could mean,” she said.
“This is the beginning of a partnership.
“In many ways I feel like it’s a handshake, it’s almost like an opening of the door and recognising that there is an alignment of values between our two organisations and a real willingness to collaborate.”
The overall theme for the National Volunteering Conference 2018, attended by more than 650 delegates, was ignite, invigorate and inspire.
Among the other conference highlights, Susan Alberti AC set the scene with a keynote address that told a story of action in the face of adversity through her life journey and passions, resulting in a standing ovation from the crowd.
Picone also highlighted a panel about the role of charities and advocacy.
“[It] really highlighted the tension of volunteering involving organisations which simultaneously deliver programs and also act as advocates for the people and causes they support, and that challenge and conflict that a lot of organisations have,” she said.
“Our panelists spoke about the importance of charities to lead with purpose and put their values at the absolute forefront of their work.
“For me the absolute takeaway message was that if you’re not driven by mission then you’re actually vulnerable to disruption, so don’t forget the social purpose and beware the tyranny of the KPI was one of the messages from one of the panelists.”
The theme of putting purpose first also emerged in a panel discussion with Mission Australia CEO James Toomey on the future of volunteering.
He told Pro Bono News particularly when considering what matters to young people, an alignment of principle and purpose was very significant.
“The things young people are concerned about, which are mental health and wellbeing, drugs and alcohol, those sorts of social problems, translate to a general concern for what’s happening in society as opposed to just what’s happening for them and I think they will be attracted towards organisations that also express concern for society,” Toomey said.
“I have seen in the last few weeks questions of ‘will millennials want to go work for banks’. How do you tell your friends that you have gone to work in a sector which at the moment has got quite a poor reputation, and it matters to people.
“I think there is an opportunity for the kind of volunteering opportunities that are to be made available to young people for the connection between the nature of the volunteering and the social problem that you are helping to resolve, to be a bit more explicitly made.”
Toomey said it was important to break away from stereotypes of volunteers as people “who might be at or close to retirement or a person who for other reasons doesn’t need to work and who is giving their time in perhaps not a particularly skilled way”.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities to be presenting the value that skilled volunteers can provide and people taking their skills into the volunteering workforce and adding value to organisations in that way and being recognised for the skills they bring,” he said.
“It’s about trying to move it into the mainstream and for people to be able to be tell their story and get recognition for the value of the work they do as opposed to it being something they do but they don’t really tell anybody about.”
He said there was also an onus on employers to better recognise the value of volunteering.
“Some people do quite incredible things but because it doesn’t fit into someone’s frame of reference when they’re carrying out an interview [it is dismissed],” Toomey said.
“But there’s so much evidence that people who volunteer actually are also more connected and more productive employees so there is a huge value to creating volunteering opportunities to employers as well.
“I think [it would be good] to be able to describe or maybe even get some certification from employers that provides some accreditation of activities that says ‘I’ve done this amount of hours for this organisation’ and it gets valued, and then has an employment value.”
He said language was crucial in presenting the value of volunteers.
“More and more [at Mission Australia] I’m trying to reinforce this sense that volunteers and employees are part of a big number,” he said.
“Whilst it’s important at one level to distinguish between people you pay and people that you don’t pay, because you want to know how many people you have got on your payroll, I think at another level when you are talking about an organisation’s human effort, the human effort of Mission Australia is 5,000 people and I don’t make a distinction about whether I paid for that effort or whether I got that effort because of someone’s goodwill and contribution, it is still of huge value to the organisation. I think some of those language changes are really important.”