Volunteer Management: Be careful what you wish for!
Have been watching the Energize Hot Topic with interest this month. Link to the site is on the right hand side of this page. I always encourage readers of this blog to have a look at the Hot Topics both on Energize and the OzVPM sites. For Volunteer Management to move forward we need to engage with these hot topics. By engaging, I mean more than just reading. When I was President of AAVA some years back I used to constantly encourage the board to respond to Hot Topics. I believed then as I believe now that Professional Associations for Volunteer managers should be taking every opportunity to respond to issues of the day.
Anyway, back to the Energize Hot topic. In this months topic Susan J Ellis explores some of the issues of vocabulary and labelling, pointing out that how someone defines the core word of our field often has strong impact on some critical, practical matters.
It was in fact a couple of responses to this Hot Topic that got me in turn responding. I simply had to respond to the people who gave their opinion on what a “True Volunteer” was.
I have come across in the last 12 months some people within our sector talking about “True Volunteering” and “Pure Volunteering”. Some have a view that volunteering should be solely altruistic. Some say there should be absolutely no tangible benefit to the volunteer themselves. I once came across an organisation that wouldn’t take on job seekers as volunteers simply because they would up and go as soon as they got a job! Some people hold the view that if you volunteer for selfish reasons it not volunteering in its truest essence! Humbug!
I worry when people judge the motivation of people who volunteer. Ask their motivation by all means. Plan your program accordingly. Use people’s motivations for research and study but judge it? Please no!
If someone comes to your organisation and they want to volunteer their time simply to have volunteering on their resume or to utilise volunteering as a stepping stone into paid employment do you have a problem with this? I don’t.
Do you see a volunteer as “less true” if they aren’t volunteering for altruistic reasons? I don’t.
I believe that we get into risky territory when we begin to use the language of “True volunteer”. I know plenty of people volunteering who utilise the experience they get as a stepping stone into employment or further study. I see their motivation to be different to other people motivations and I certainly see them as true volunteers. I know people who volunteer to purely escape social isolation. Should we be ever suggesting that they are not ‘True Volunteers”? I know people who are volunteering to add to their resume. I know people who are volunteering for a myriad amount of reasons. To me they are all volunteers. And they are all doing volunteering that, at the end of the day, is of benefit to the community.
What dangerous road do we go down if we start judging peoples motivation for volunteering? Do we hold separate recognition events for our volunteers – one for the “True Volunteers” and the other for the…what do we call them then….the “false Volunteers?” Do we provide a special training course for Volunteer Managers to decipher the “trueness” of volunteer applicants?
This is serious. There is a lot of debate going on about the definitions of volunteering at the moment; on this site, on blogs, at the UN and at the level of peak bodies. I urge caution as we move forward. I ask who do we risk alienating when we come up with our concrete definitions. On what basis do we come up with definitions? Are they guided by tradition, personal viewpoints, religion or morals? Whose?
What about volunteers who are excluded because of concrete definitions. Currently the peak body for volunteering in Australia states that volunteering only exists in the Not for Profit sector. They state this as though it is a fact. It is not. Hundreds if not thousands of people volunteer for private nursing homes and hospitals for example. If ones concrete statements are philosophical beliefs then name them as such. Don’t mistake or confuse them with facts.
There are many people out there in our communities doing work that benefits the communities. They see themselves as volunteers. We have no right, absolutely none, to judge their motivation… period!
So let’s be more careful as we move to define something that is so fluid and open. Let’s be careful what we wish for lest we alienate volunteers in our communities.