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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The simple act of kindness.

How we learn from our children! This post was inspired by an act of my daughter. When her mum arrived at work today she found this simple note written on a serviette in her bag. Simple. Real. Kind. Thoughtful. Loving.
It is easy to get disheartened with the world today. There is almost a danger of becoming desensitised to the daily news of turmoil in various countries. Women, children and men are being killed daily by conflict. Hospitals are being bombed.
The internet for all its advanced technology has brought out people who are angry, fearful and bitter. Sometimes loving kindness is mocked, seen as a weakness or laughed at.
And yet simple acts of loving kindness happen every day. You see it through volunteering. You see it through community building. You may have heard the following story before but if not:
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley

I am finding myself smiling at people more. It can’t hurt. Yesterday on leaving the train I said to a random stranger that I hoped they had a great day. And meant it. First she looked surprised but then a smile filled her face.
How can we become more aware of our capacity to show loving kindness? Is it present in your work? It should be. The world needs to change this way. People should make an effort to greet one another. People should ask “are you OK?” every now and then. We spend most of our life at work. Even this needs to be re-examined. Most of us work five days a week. Why? Because that is the way it is. Could we not be just as productive or indeed more productive if we worked four and took the other three to try and slow down a bit, to reenergise, to spend more time with family and friends. Oh but we can’t do that! Says who? We are responsible collectively for our own destiny. Perhaps we could spend our extra day volunteering for our community? Why not?
We need new thinking. Because the thinking of the world is not working.
Russell E. DiCarlo put it well when he said “Our drifting awareness, our tendency to take the path of least resistance by being less than fully awake to the present moment creates a void”
And how our awareness drifts these days! Preoccupied with the latest gadgets, so called reality shows and I wonder if our necks will morph into something else down the evolutionary cycle as many of us are constantly looking down at our IPhone whether we are on a train, bus or walking down the street oblivious to the world around us and the people there.
The Indian philosopher Krishnamurti once said many years ago “We look at conditions prevailing in the world and observe what is happening there – the student’s riots, the class prejudices, the conflict of black against white, the wars, the political confusion, the divisions caused by nationalities and religions. We are also aware of conflict, struggle, anxiety, loneliness, despair, lack of love, and fear. Why do we accept all this? Why do we accept the moral, social environment knowing very well that it is utterly immoral; knowing this for ourselves – not merely emotionally or sentimentally but looking at the world and at ourselves – why do we live this way? Why is it that our educational system does not turn out real human beings but mechanical entities trained to accept certain jobs and finally die?”
So what are we to do? Sometimes I feel that if the world population suddenly lost its memory we would start again. Meeting people in the present we would have no prejudice, bias and conditioned behaviour towards each other. There would be no history to refer to, no memories of the 100 million people we slaughtered in one century alone. It would be a new earth.
All we can do today is try in our own way. Some people will run towards politics to change the world, some people may or have formed movements to change the world for good. But what can I do?
I want the world to change. I want a better world for my children and theirs.
From today, please try a simple act of kindness each day. You never know what your simple act might then inspire. It may be passed forward. It may not change the world but it could change someone’s world. Share it here as it may inspire others.
The mind of a ten year old child today found the awareness to write a note of love. We owe it to the future world to create a world of love.
And we will.

Monday, July 4, 2016

10 ways to lose Volunteers!

Having managed volunteers for close on 19 years I have gained the best knowledge from volunteers themselves. I like to probe, constantly. Why did you volunteer? Why did you chooses this organisation? Have you volunteered before? What was that experience like for you? What keeps you volunteering?

An effective Volunteer Manager has a curious mind. Curiosity may have killed the cat but in our field we can gain great learning from it. Why does John, who volunteers every Thursday morning and has done so for the last 12 years continue to do so? Why does Skye make time for volunteering despite her busy university life and social life?

The Volunteer interview is my favourite place to get valuable information about people, their motivations and their past experiences. It is also the place to get to know their expectations. How many of us forget to ask about their expectations? Does it become a place where we simply “Tell” them what is expected and then prattle on about the many rules and regulations? Then we wonder why they leave after a few weeks. Yes, you can pretty much lose volunteers at the interview itself.

So here’s my list
  1. The interview is too formal and serious. You spend most time talking about your organisation and not the prospective volunteer. You spend too much time on “The Rules”.
  2. Your orientation program is cold. That is to say the process is as formal and boring as the interview was. Yes, critical training and messages must be passed on but for goodness sake lighten it up a bit. Are you inspiring people at this stage? Are you telling stories about what the organisations volunteers are doing? Are you demonstrating their impact? How? Or are you just saying “We have 400 lovely volunteers who are always lovely!” Please. Volunteers want to see the difference you are making and how that is being achieved.
  3. Nobody is too sure what the volunteer should be doing when they commence. Sure it’s a rare enough occurrence but it happens when it shouldn’t. Ever! On site orientation and getting to know everyone is critical. If you haven’t planned professionally for the volunteer starting then you are in trouble.
  4. Volunteers see other volunteers doing nothing or simply not being very nice to each other and no one says anything because “they are volunteers”. Volunteers may not say it but they expect good leadership. If they come into a program and see volunteers who may have been there for years and are stuck in some ways that are troublesome because no one addressed them, then they will soon disappear. Effective Volunteer Management ensures it is a safe and enjoyable volunteering space for everyone and knows how to manage the difficult conversations
  5. A volunteer finishes a few shifts and wonders if they are making a difference at all. They may leave and never tell you why. Volunteers should leave every shift enabled, empowered and inspired. I’ve volunteered for organisations where I’ve felt this at the end of every shift so it can be done. Sometimes stopping a volunteer during the day to say “You know what, what you did today was amazing and I’ll tell you why..” is enough to put a spring into any volunteers step and have them looking forward to the next shift!
  6. Change without consultation. Need I say much more on this? Change is inevitable. A good leader brings their teams along with them in a consultative way.
  7. No ongoing training opportunities. Most volunteers are keen to learn and to try new things with your organisation. Maybe they don’t. But have you asked them?
  8. Nobody says thanks. You will often hear volunteers espousing that they do not do their work for thanks. Yet nobody likes not being appreciated, not being acknowledged and not being validated. Don’t fall into the trap of saying your “Thanks” only during National Volunteer Week or IVD. Do it and do it often.
  9. Lack of communication. Imagine something big happening at your organisation and you share it with your paid staff and no one remembered to share it with the volunteers? Use every means of communication you can. Embrace Social Media! Re read number 6!
  10. Lack of flexibility. Volunteer’s lives like everyone else can change rapidly. Can you help the person who used to volunteer one day a week to one day a month if this is what they want? Can you take back that volunteer who wants to leave for six months to travel or study? Can you make it as easy as possible for people to volunteer and stay volunteering? Ask yourself what are your top 5 barriers to people volunteering with your organisation.

Of course this list could be extended and I am sure you could add a lot more. So please do! :-)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Volunteer Day - The Public Holiday

Next week in Victoria we have Monday as a public holiday to celebrate the Queens Birthday.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens leader Richard Di Natale both support, like Mr Turnbull, an Australian republic with the Labor leader promising to make it happen within a decade.

The South Australian Government  has also proclaimed a special day in volunteers honour. Volunteers Day is now celebrated on the Queen's Birthday public holiday every year.

The matter of whether Australia should become a Republic is a matter for the Australian people to decide. The point of this blog is not to argue for either side but to look at some possibilities.

For example I think what the south Australian government has done is to be commended. And I believe other states and territories should consider the same approach.

Volunteering is vital to our country with over six million people volunteering. But why have a public holiday to mark volunteering?

Labor Day is a day set aside to pay tribute to working men and women. For many countries, "Labor Day" is synonymous with, or linked with, International Workers' Day, which occurs on 1 May.

International Volunteer Day  (December 5) is an international observance designated by the United Nations since 1985. It offers an opportunity for volunteer organizations and individual volunteers to make visible their contributions - at local, national and international levels - to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

We also celebrate National Volunteer Week during the month of May in Australia.

But consider if IVD and National Volunteer Week, as worthy as the days are, are in our public psyche. Do they cause a surge in volunteering? Do they raise the profile of volunteering to the many people who never consider volunteering as an option in their busy lives?

Imagine what a national public holiday called “Volunteer Day” could achieve? Here are a few things that could happen.

What do most people do on the Queens birthday? They have the day off and it’s a long weekend to look forward to. We have barbeques and get together with families.

Imagine a campaign where we ask everyone to volunteer on that day. Especially people who may never have volunteered before. It could just be for a few hours or a day. It would not bind people to commit but rather give people an experience of volunteering. And if they love it, which I am sure many would, they could come back to volunteering. Imagine the impact this could have on the volunteering sector. Imagine the water cooler conversation on the Friday with people asking “So where are you volunteering on Monday?”

The day could also be marked with Volunteer parades in city’s and towns around the country. As a nation we love our marching bands and we could line the streets to celebrate those true hero’s in our communities.

Each year we could have The Volunteers speech on ABC. A volunteer addressing the nation on how their volunteering impacts the community and makes a difference in their own lives. A speech delivered by different and diverse volunteers each year.

A public holiday on volunteering will be a day that truly impacts every Australian. It has the opportunity to galvanize the public into action and its innovation will be recognized around the globe and hopefully copied.

Some day Australia may become a Republic. If that day comes can we consider the Volunteer Day public holiday? The potential is there and the upshot for our sector could be huge!

Enjoy your long weekend!




Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When Volunteer Interviews Go Wrong! - Episode One

The Young Volunteer

Mavis is a Volunteer Coordinator in a hospital and is interviewing for volunteers. Tracey is called in for an interview. Tracey is 21.

Mavis: Well thank you for coming in to see us

Tracey: Thanks for giving me the time

Mavis: You are rather young aren’t you?

Tracey: Er…please don’t hold that against me (Nervous giggle)

Mavis: No it’s just that most of our ladies are retired. So what are you doing at the moment?

Tracey: I’m currently in between jobs

Mavis: Well that could be a problem

Tracey: Why’s that?

Mavis: Well, we find that the young ones only stay for a short time and then leave when they get a job

Tracey: The young ones?

Mavis: That’s right. So you can imagine the frustration for us as the young ones are hard to rely on

Tracey: you don’t take on young people?

Mavis: I am not saying that. We just need people we can rely on. So what is your motivation for volunteering?

Tracey: Well, to be honest I am finding it hard to break into the workforce at the moment and I thought volunteering would be a good way to keep up my skills, to use my time creatively and to give back to the community at the same time!

Mavis: Well we can’t offer you a paid job

Tracey: I wasn’t asking.

Mavis: And how long could you commit to the role?

Tracey: Well obviously finding employment is a priority but I would like to find time to do some volunteering even when employed

Mavis: I see. I’m not too sure that you would like our role

Tracey: Well I saw the role on your website and it sounded interesting.

Mavis: Well, our ladies are great at talking with the patients. As most of our patients are elderly I don’t think you would have anything to talk about with them

Tracey: I beg to differ

Mavis: Look, I think we are after volunteers with more life experience

Tracey: Why don’t you come straight out with it?

Mavis: What?

Tracey: You are not recruiting young people

Mavis: That’s our prerogative

Tracey: Isn’t that discriminatory?

Mavis: Now listen here young lady. Its that type of attitude from young people that gets you nowhere.  I am sorry but this interview is over

Tracey: Well, I shall be contacting your management about this

Mavis: Go right ahead. I’ve being coordinating our ladies for 10 years now and they will back me up!

Tracey: We shall see

Mavis: I suggest you get some manners and then you might get a job!

Tracey: Bye Mavis




Thursday, December 24, 2015

Brisbane, Shrone, Melbourne: A 2015 Reflection

So how was 2015 for you? Did you lead? Inspire? Volunteer?

It was certainly a big year for me. Leaving one job after 9 wonderful years. Taking up another role with the largest humanitarian organisation in the world. Moving to another city to take up that job.  

Melbourne is a beautiful City but only being here 12 months I have much to discover. Some of things I love:

The Trams: They are such a great way of getting around. I always feel like a child when I get on one. It’s like I’m on a ride in a huge amusement park. Some cities let their tram systems go and that’s a pity I think.

The Weather: Ok, so Melbourne has got some crazy weather. One day I was suffering in 42 degree Celsius. Two days later there was a chilly wind blowing and 19 degrees was the top. You can get four seasons in the one day in Melbourne.  But I have decided that I am very happy without the humidity. Humidity and I have never been friends. Nothing worse than getting out of a cold shower only to perspire again while dressing. Nothing worse than tossing and turning in bed at night as the humidity envelopes you and the fan blows a heavy hot wind upon your body! I like the cold. With cold you can rug up. People are warning me about the winter. They forget I had 25 winters in Ireland so bring it on!

The buildings and architecture: Sometimes I walk around Melbourne and feel like I am in an European city. Their buildings are beautifully designed. I especially like the ones with a Greek or Italian influence:

The food: There are so many options for all sorts of taste buds. I’ve tasted sensational Souvlakis to perfect Pizza.

The Pubs: Some awesome bars can be found. The locals are friendly and the pints are cold. Favourites are The Snug on Sydney Rd and the Turf in north Melbourne.

The people: Friendly, multicultural, diverse and vibrant.

I’ve done a training course and am now a Team Leader for the Red Cross State Inquiry Centre which is activated during any disaster such as bushfire. Here I will wear my volunteering hat with pride.

I’ve also put in place plans to set up an Irish Theatre Company in Melbourne. The idea would be to present plays by Irish playwrights to the Melbourne public.  Our first meeting will take place early in the new year. A bunch of volunteers getting together to see if we can do this!

This year I spent a few weeks in Ireland. It was great catching up with family and friends. I met some wonderful class mates that I had not seen for 20 years! We even spent a night in a pub watching old plays that we were involved in 20 years ago! The following morning there was a beautiful sun rise as some of us left the pub! Ireland will always be my spiritual home. There is no better inner peaceful feeling than there is when standing next to Shrone lake on a cloudless fine day with the Pap mountains towering above you.  It is a timeless place. Many a day was spent in childhood exploring the area. It never changes. I hope it never does.

Now I am back in Brisbane for the holiday season. With those I love. My family. Those I cherish.

Its lovely to see the city again. It seems to get bigger and taller every time I come back!

2015 has been good to me. Were there challenges and tough moments? You bet there were. But through it all the support of family, friends and the best volunteers in the galaxy was amazing.  People are good. As one volunteer used to always say to me “It’s nice to know nice people!”

I am grateful for all that I have.  I’ve gotten into the habit of waking up and just saying “Thank you” each morning.  I was inspired to do that by a movie with Wayne Dyer. ‘If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

I’ve been inspired by Alan Watts – “This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

I continue to be genuinely inspired by volunteers. The world would be a darker place without them.

And that’s just my little reflection.

I wish you and yours a peaceful holiday season and may 2016 bring you much joy!

“Peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love. No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”  - Alan Watts


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The journey continues

New city. New job. I have not blogged for a few months now. Challenging times. But I have risen above them, learnt and moved on. I do believe in the adage of one door closing and others opening. Someone once said " wherever you go, there you are". Took me awhile to get that. I've also learnt that the now is a powerful place. The only place we abide in really. More of that later. In all of my blogs it has been about sharing the things that have helped me. And do I have much sharing to do with you in future blogs.

So now I find myself in Melbourne with one of the biggest humanitarian organisations in the world. I feel it's meant to be. I've been here three days. The information overload begins. I'm intrigued by this city. I miss my family. Conflicting emotions abide. So please, I invite you to come on this journey with me. I'd like your company. I have much to share. Hanging on to wisdom and insights is selfish! I will not be selfish.

DJs back! With a bang! Watch this space!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Leaders of Volunteers. Stop Work!

“Dear Boss. I need to take a day’s leave. Why? Its International Volunteer Management Stoppage Day.” No no no..It’s not a strike. In fact it’s an annual leave day but I’m taking it in conjunction with hundreds of Volunteer Managers across the globe at my own expense because we feel our sector is unseen, unrecognised, poorly compensated and quite simply it’s a day to demonstrate our frustration after years of attempts to get noticed and to gain respect.  We hope that by taking this action that we can respectfully send a message that may even garner some media attention about our role in society. What was that? Oh yes – of course everything is fine in my organisation but I’m doing this in solidarity with the volunteer leaders around the world:

·         Who Have little or no Executive Support

·         Who are seen as second rate managers or leaders just because they lead volunteers

·         Whose pay is not equivalent to other senior managers

·         Whose value is “devalued” because they “just manage the Vollies”

·         Who don’t have a say when critical organisational decisions are made that effect the volunteers

·         Etc. etc. ad nauseam

No no…It’s not an annual event. It’s just a once off. It goes to the mind boggling frustration evident in our sector. It will be a day when the sector light up Twitter and Facebook internationally and our community gets to talk about the value of effective Volunteer Management. Who knows? We might get the attention of some leaders in other sectors. We will be open to tips and advice from sectors that are valued and recognised. During our day we will actually be working – we will be networking, sharing ideas, debriefing, innovating and maybe coming up with some action plans and Key Performance Indicators moving forward. Yeah – any every time we send a message using #IVMSD we will copy in our local and national media outlets, our politicians and maybe get a slot on a radio or TV show and make some people sit up and take a bit of notice. Because you know what? We have been going around in circles for many years and now we are getting a bit too dizzy. Thanks Boss, I’ll see you the day after.”

The above is a conversation cloaked in satire. Luckily I write from a place where I feel my program and position is currently recognised and appropriately supported. But having a look at some of the current narrative in our sector is disheartening.

Susan J Ellis wrote a June Hot Topic recently that is simply a must read for anyone in our sector

Ellis opens with “I’ve been writing these Hot Topics monthly since 1997 – which means this is the 217th essay I have tried to say something fresh every month, although some issues circle back around over and over again. One of those recurring themes has been, “Why are so many executives clueless about volunteer involvement…and therefore do stupid things that limit volunteer participation?”

Ellis then lists some great examples and goes on to explore the lack of knowledge, thoughtlessness and arrogance that has severe ramifications for those of us who lead volunteer teams. She goes on to ask some pertinent questions with one of my favorites being:

 “What have our professional associations/networks done to educate others about volunteer management? What might they do moving forward?”

What indeed? And therein lies the crux of the problem – are we not educating the right people about Volunteer Management? It’s not an association’s duty to educate Volunteer Managers about Volunteer Management. When did you last see a fish at a swimming class? Where is the effort from our associations to get other management and executive attention? I’m happy to stand corrected if I am wrong.

 The responses on Ellis’ website to her post speak for themselves:

 “I have not been allowed to educate staff in how volunteers should be processed into our organization”

 “I share your frustration with Senior Management”

 “As a one person department in an office isolated from my supervisor and other administrators, nobody really knows what I do.”

 “They pay "lip service" to the importance of volunteers”

 It’s also interesting to note the amount of people posting their thoughts anonymously. And who can blame them? Some people won’t rock the boat in our sector for fear of been thrown overboard.

Now let’s travel from a post in the United States to a post from New Zealand. Sue Hine has written a brilliant blog post called “Out of Sight Out of Mind”

 In it Hine states

 “There’s the metaphoric symbolism of locating the volunteer office, and the manager’s desk, in the basement or down the end of a long corridor. That could really put volunteers out of sight and out of mind.
  • The lowly status of a manager of volunteers becomes clear in the job title (‘Volunteer’ manager / coordinator) and a pay scale that can be 20% below other managers in the organisation – though the numbers of volunteers could be ten times the number of paid staff. And too often the manager misses out on strategic planning meetings or management training sessions because “you don’t manage staff”.
  • We all know how volunteers do not come for free, yet too often there is no budget allocation for programme costs.”

Hine goes on to talk about the Susan J Ellis topic as well but expresses eloquently her own frustration that “the social and cultural benefits of volunteering and its critical function for a healthy Civil Society are totally ignored.”

These bloggers are brave as they bring these matters to our attention. I still meet leaders of volunteers who share the exact same sentiments as shared here but they feel unable, for whatever reason, to voice their much needed opinion.

So where do we go from here? What can we do to ensure bloggers are not having this discussion in five years’ time? Can our Associations pick up on this frustration and articulate a cohesive narrative on it? As Sue Hine has noted we must put a bigger emphasis on our National Standards or Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer Involvement. We must aim for the goal of having organisations that involve volunteers being accredited. We need to give a national tick of approval to organisations doing the right thing and encourage and educate other organisations to do the same thing. For that to happen successfully our National bodies on volunteering need encouragement and funding. They need the support of the Volunteer Management sector and the associations that represent them. Its time to work together more closely.

In 2015 watching volunteer managers struggle because of lack of organisational support or watching volunteers only receive lip service is simply not good enough anymore. It needs to be called out! It needs to stop! Because it is not right! Volunteers, Volunteer Managers, Peak bodies for volunteering, volunteer involving organisations and Associations representing the interest of volunteer leaders must work together on this. Corporates and Government should also support the national implementation of standards. From lip service to action, from aloofness to interest, from devaluing to recognising how volunteers contribute and how those who lead volunteers are an integral part of the equation.

Failure to do so may lead to International Volunteer Management Stoppage Day. I nominate April 1st as some in the sector feel treated that way!

Over to you.