Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Top Ten Moments

The top ten moments for Volunteer management in 2010

Its that time of the year where people review the year gone by. On a personal note I hope that it was a good year for you. If not, I hope that 2011 brings much more to you.

In regards to the sector of volunteer management here’s my list of the top ten highlights. It’s a personal list of course. To me these were the moments where our profession was nudged forward a little. And they are mostly based on my blogging.

The top ten moments for Volunteer management in 2010

10. Volunteering England holds National Conference for Volunteer Management. Other nations still lag behind.

9. Volunteering Tasmania grant scholarships allowing people to attend the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer management in Adelaide.

8. DJ Cronin launches this blog in March. An independent voice for Volunteer management. And still a sleeping tiger. Watch this space.

7. Debate on OZVPM listserv community on definitions of volunteering. In April there were 221 entries or contributions to this listserv on a debate on whether or not volunteering existed outside the not for profit sector. Some people stated that they would compile a synopsis of the debate but we still await that.

6. Jayne Cravens Blog. Continuing to push the envelope. Some people are quick to call themselves “leading international thinkers” This person is the real deal and check out her new look blog.

5. National Australia Bank responds to my open letter to them via my blog. I contacted NAB which does a great job promoting volunteering asking them to consider some support for Volunteer Management. At least they responded. Sad to say, I have no idea if AAVA ever followed up on this or took the lead especially since NAB said in their reply: “We are going to have a look at the AAVA website and investigate what we can further do to celebrate this important day, thanks to bringing it to our attention.”

4. e-volunteerism. New look. New articles every month. Should be on every volunteer managers must read list. Unfortunately it is not.

3. International Volunteer Management Day 2010 – lots of great initiatives. The day officially recognised in some states in the USA. In Australia Senator Ursula Stephens moving a notice of motion in the Australian senate which recognised the sector of Volunteer Management.

2. My message to VA and AAVA on my blog in regards to IVMD 2010. Still waiting for a reply from either side. What does this tell us? A highlight for me because it demonstrates to me why we need a blog like this in the first place. So have a read to recap.

Dear Volunteering Australia

You are the peak body for volunteering in my country. You do some great work. Yet the perception I and others have is that you totally “dissed” this day. As a volunteer Manager who is passionate about my job and volunteering, I was hurt by this. If my perception is wrong please correct me. But I simply appeal to you to drop the politics and embrace the day for the good of unity in volunteerism. One day VA will celebrate the day. Why not now? Please don’t give me material for another blog next year!


My professional association for volunteer management in Australia. A mere mention of IVMD on your website doesn’t cut it. Please see my “Dear Volunteering Australia “ comment above and please be more vocal for my profession! Perhaps you are making strides to support our sector but we need to know this. We need to see some evidence of this. Please be louder in championing our cause AAVA.

1. The work of the Volunteer Management Sector. The difference they made daily in 2010. The many people they inspired. The communities they built. Leading millions of volunteers throughout our globe – activists, companions, healers, agents for change, lifesavers, counselors, builders, dreamers. Artists, advocates for freedom and free speech.
And here’s to a wonderful 2011 for Volunteer Management!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thank you for being part of my blog in 2010

“Deep down inside we know that the best gifts don't come from catalogs
or shopping malls. They don't come in brightly-colored packages
or fancy envelopes and they're not sitting under a tree somewhere...
The best gifts come from the heart. They come when we look at each other
REALLY look at each other and say 'You mean a lot to me' or 'I'm so glad you're a part of my life' A gift like that will never go out of style or be forgotten or be returned for a different size. A gift like that can change the world." - Ron Atchison

Saturday, December 18, 2010




Don J Volau reports from Alturia where a secret underground of volunteering is taking place.

I had never even heard of the island of Alturia until I received the anonymous email last month. Disbelief and suspicion were the only ways to describe my feelings to that email. A hoax surely I thought to myself. A follow on letter with a return ticket to this island got my rapid attention though. If this is a hoax then the last laugh will be for me I thought as I needed a few days away with sun, sea and Saxophone! So I packed my saxophone and boarded Alturia Air and headed for this mysterious island.

Talk about a rough trip. The food was rough. The service was rough. Even the landing was rough. As soon as I landed I sent a report to MJ Cowlings Travel Blog.

I was met by a placard carrying man aged in his sixties. Unfortunately he had gotten my name wrong and I looked nervously at Security as I approached the man with the placard that said “ Bong J”.

My hopes of heading straight to the hotel and having a long hot bath with toasted sanwiches were dashed when my contact, who identified himself as Socrates, informed me that we had to head straight to a meeting of the SVS – the Secret Volunteering Society. I secretly scanned our vehicle for cameras fully expecting to be framed for some reality show but I could spot none. If they were secret and hidden cameras they were doing their job well.

The capitol of Alturia is Alturia. They have a famous song in these parts called Alturia Alturia. Though this has no relevance to this article I thought I would mention it anyway.

We stopped outside an abandoned building. I knew this because the sign on the door said “abandoned building”

My new friend Socrates knocked on this door three times. Then a voice behind the door – “Password” I stifled a giggle but unfortunately with that effort I let off some wind. Socrates frowned at me as he replied ‘SV7”. The door opened and we entered.

Inside was a room.

In it a long table. Gathered around the table were two dozen people. Men and women. Young and old. I was seated at the back of the room and pulled out my tape recorder.

The meeting began.

A tall gentleman without a hair on his head but with a luscious beard began.

“Welcome to our regulars and a warm welcome to our new visitors. I am SV 1. Thank you for volunteering to be here tonight.” With that the room erupted with laughter. I sat there wondering what the joke was and pretended to laugh along. I dared not attempt stifling another giggle.

“We are gathered here tonight to allow our stories to be told and to release our sense of guilt. And although that guilt feels real we support each other because it has no basis in reality. I continue to volunteer at my local homeless hostel because it makes me feel good, it will help me get a job in my chosen field, it looks great on my resume and my volunteering story is a great hit with the chicks”

More laughter. More stifling.

“I am a selfish volunteer” – and yet I dare not reveal my motivation for volunteering. As you are well aware some people have hijacked the definition of volunteering over the years. Now peope are saying that volunteering on our island can only be altruistic. There can be no tangible return for volunteers. There can be no other motivation for volunteering other than being a good and loving citizen who wants to give a helping hand to others”

He had my attention

“All of us have become experts at lying at volunteer interviews and we help others do the same. We are misunderstood. We are banished because of ignorance. And yet we provide the same benefit to the community as those Pure Volunteers.”

Mumbles all around.

And then individuals spoke

“Hi I am SV 411”

The room responds- “Hi SV 411”

“Last week I went for a volunteer interview and didn’t tell them I was a job seeker”

Oohs and aahs reverberated around the room. I looked puzzled at Socrates who was seated beside me. He whispered in my ear – “last year job seekers were barred from applying for volunteer positions in society because they were deemed a flight risk if they got jobs. They were also deemed to be users of volunteering..tsk..tsk..”

“Hi I am SV 526 and I volunteer at a NNFP”

The room took a collective gasp of breath and people approached this lady giving her hugs and shaking her hands.

Again I looked towards Socrates for guidance.

“She volunteers at a nursing home that is privately owned. So she volunteers at a non not for profit. Her type is frowned at by the peak body for volunteering here. In fact in their literature they say she doesn’t exist”

I looked at this lady with concerned eyes now.

“Don’t worry Bong; we have secret social workers to assist her with her volunteering identity crisis”

‘It’s Don actually”

And I heard more stories from Secret Volunteers or SVS as they are known. The night ended with everyone linking arms and singing “My way” by Frank Sinatra.

The next morning I flew out of Alturia with that dreadful airline. On their in flight magazine I was bemused by the printing of their national anthem on the back page

“Have Alturia always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Alturia to give you wealth.
Alturia gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.”

By the way – I never got time to play the saxophone. I thought I should mention this. I thought you might find this detail important.

Don J Volau

December 18, 2010

With apologies to Constantine P Cavafy

Thank you speech to Volunteers 2 - Guest Post

One of my favorite quotes is “To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world.”

You may never know the profound effect that you may have made on a person’s life. A kind word, a gentle touch or a listening ear can mean so much to someone who is sick, in pain or lonely. You generously give your gift of time to make contact, provide support and encouragement and perhaps provide humor to make someone’s day a bit more bearable because you have taken the time to care and to listen.

You give of yourself and bring with you your life experiences, skills, abilities, compassion, intellect and humor and ask for nothing in return yet you receive friendship, appreciation and satisfaction. You volunteer for many different reasons but for whatever reason you volunteer , you provide support, skills, talents and abilities to give someone hope and strength and the courage to face another day. You do not ask for accolades. You give your time generously without any expectation of reward. Yet you receive the reward of comradeship with other volunteers who you may never have met otherwise. Lasting friendships, social activities and fun may be just some of the unexpected rewards that you gain from your volunteering experience.

Please know that we genuinely appreciate and value your commitment of time to volunteering with our organization and for this we thank you.

Wendy Moore

Wendy Moore is a Volunteer Coordinator from Brisbane Australia, a member of AAVA and a graduate of the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

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.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Leadership in Volunteer Management

“One of the signs of a great leader is the ability to describe, in detail, the unique talents of each of their people – what drives each one, how each one thinks, how each one builds relationships. I deliberately look for something to like about each of my people. Not spending most of the time talking about peoples few areas of non-talent and how to eradicate them. No matter how well intended, relationships preoccupied with weaknesses never end well” – Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.

The above quote really resonated with me in terms of looking at leadership styles that sit well in Volunteer Management. I am sure that we all have our own unique type of styles but I question if some sit better with managing volunteers.

Let’s break the above quote down and analyze how we might apply the theory.

How do you describe, in detail, the unique talents of each of your people what drives each one, how each one thinks, how each one builds relationships?

Do we currently do this and if so how? If not how do we begin to achieve this? Is there a narrative on their achievements? The question I often ask is whether or not organisations management and staff know about the talents and achievements of their volunteers. Are we educating up enough? I don’t believe it is enough for Volunteer Management just to know this about their own teams. When was the last time you did a presentation to staff or management on the unique talents of your people? When have you last taken this narrative to your community and utilized it as both a recognition and recruitment tool? I believe we should also be talking more on what motivates our people to volunteer. The reasons for this are many and some include our ability to match volunteers to the right task, our planning for the future and again creating a narrative on the culture of volunteering at our organizations. Furthermore I often argue that Volunteer management becomes aware of emerging trends before peak bodies do through surveys especially if we are networking effectively with other leaders of volunteers. This is one of the reasons I continually get frustrated at the exclusion of Volunteer Management at the table when it comes to discussions on the future of volunteerism. Volunteers are relationship builders, within their own teams, with staff, with clients and the general community. Do we focus on this aspect when selling our program, or looking for extra resources for our programs? Do we miss some key selling points like this?

Do we deliberately look for something to like about each of our people? Not spending most of the time talking about peoples few areas of non-talent and how to eradicate them?

How can this apply to volunteers some may ask? Don’t we like all of our volunteers? Very often we don’t exist in a Utopian Volunteering world. We may be challenged by some volunteers at times. I often see workshops on “How to deal with difficult volunteers”. I still hear in Volunteer Management circles “Can you sack a volunteer”? The above quote points us in another direction. It goes to how we deal with these situations. It reminds us how we can be truly professional in our dealings with volunteers. When I first commenced in Volunteer Management I was startled by how some groups that got together spent a lot of time “bagging” some of their volunteer team. And while I understand the need for letting off steam in confidential and safe spaces I do believe how we talk about our people says a lot about our professionalism. I’ve cringed at some of the titles of workshops on the topic of dealing with difficult volunteers and while our issues and challenges must be addressed we must find a more positive narrative in doing so. Deliberately looking for something to like in someone you have difficulty with can apply anywhere in our lives, whether it be through various relationships, with staff, management or colleagues. It is another way of demonstrating leadership. It can loosen steadfast and hard views on people and shine a little light where there might be perceived darkness.

Buckingham’s and Coffman’s quote can guide us to lead in certain situations rather than manage. What do you think?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

International Volunteer Day December 2010


Building community

Social capitol

Connecting people

Involving people

Sue Hine in her blog today (address on links) states “Volunteering is an expression of active citizenship, giving, and value to community wellbeing” and then goes on to state:

“Note it is a description, not a definition.”

I kept coming back to that one line today. “Note it is a description, not a definition.”

Why did it resonate so much? Perhaps we can only attempt to describe volunteering. Perhaps it is a fallacy to attempt to define it. Perhaps we cannot define something as ever changing and fluid as volunteering.

Happy International Volunteer Day to volunteers all around our globe!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Professional and effective Volunteer Management will not threaten jobs !

"In your mind you have capacities you know

To telepath messages through the vast unknown

Please close your eyes and concentrate

With every thought you think

Upon the recitation we’re about to sing

(*) calling occupants of interplanetary craft

Calling occupants of interplanetary most extraordinary craft

Repeat (*)

You’ve been observing our earth

And we’d like to make a contact with you

We are your friends" Copyright The Carpenters

Jayne Cravens has a fantastic article on her blog at the moment. Please check it out for yourselves and you’ll find her blog address here. This is what Jayne is saying on Facebook:

“The firefighters union in the USA (IAFF) is against volunteer firefighters. I've blogged today about this incredibly misguided stance, and hope that state and local volunteer management associations all over the USA will also take a public stand on this issue. I encourage others to blog about it, to say something in your Facebook about it, to tweet about it, to put something in your newsletter about it!”

Here is what I posted in response to Jayne’s blog

"Professional and effective volunteer managers simply will not tolerate, at their organisations, any attempt to use volunteers as a replacement for paid labor. It’s almost a given among the colleagues I know. It has become so ethically ingrained into the volunteer management ethos that it begs the question whether the union had any semblance of dialogue with the Volunteer Management sector. Maybe they should if they haven’t.
Here is an issue that a national association for volunteer management can get its teeth stuck into. I am still a little unclear on who that organisation might be in the USA.

I have, throughout my career, talked with unions on the matter of volunteerism with positive outcomes. So have colleagues of mine. It’s amazing what honest dialogue and transparency can achieve.

An effective and professional volunteer management sector need not be enemies with any union movement. Au contraire – they can be their best allies ensuring volunteers are never used inappropriately. After all that is the lifeblood of ethical volunteer management! So, in reality, we need not be alien towards each other. “We are your friends”

Thanks Jayne for raising an important issue – although for me the worrying underlying issue is the lack of action on the part of our the volunteer management sector in combating misperceptions on volunteering as well as the lack of the “recognition factor” in terms of been engaged in dialogue when it comes to these matters.

Too often Volunteer Management is excluded from the narrative. For that we only have ourselves to blame. I would make a fairly safe bet that unions don’t even know that a volunteer management sector exists not to mind a professional body for same!

A first step in addressing this will be professional volunteer management associations around the world taking heed of your call to make a stand on this issue. Let us know when this happens!"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Amazing professionalism and resilience from Volunteering England!

I have never met Justin Davis Smith.

Justin is the CEO at Volunteering England. I think that the only engagement I have had with him was a brief exchange at the online Service Jam recently. But I’ve been a fan of Volunteering England for awhile now. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Rob Jackson who works at VE and we have both been on the same faculty one year for the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management – a great guy with a great passion for volunteerism. Passionate people. Leaders. And its really a test of character when one is faced with such a challenge as cuts and loss of funding and staff losses.

Justin Davis Smith wrote recently to VEs membership and one paragraph stood out for me:

“I should like to sign off with two heartfelt thanks. First, to my staff team at Volunteering England who have borne the difficult news this week with amazing professionalism and resilience. They are an amazing group of people who have been responsible for some fantastic work over the years in the support of volunteering and I thank them publicly for their commitment, energy and passion. Secondly, I would like to thank all of you who have taken the time to email, write, tweet and blog (from all over the world) to express sympathy with the situation we find ourselves in and to say how much you value the work we do. It is hugely appreciated.”

That’s the type of leadership I talk about in several of my blogs. Despite current challenges facing his organisation, Here is a CEO being transparent, explaining the situation and as the above paragraph demonstrates encouraging and acknowledging his team. Some people globally who have followed VE have written their support on forums and blogs. And despite the challenges that must be occupying his mind – Mr Davis Smith finds time to acknowledge these people. Leadership !

If I were a volunteer Manager in England I’d probably be writing a placard and getting some other volunteer managers on the street with me to protest these cuts !

And hey – imagine this scenario? A volunteer boycott. “Hey Government – if you are not going to support our peak body for volunteering more then perhaps we won’t volunteer for the Olympics? "

I am sure VE would never even entertain the thought and I know they will work as hard as ever to build volunteering infrastructure in their state and to ensure events like the Olympics are a great success for the nation.

While I jest with the above scenarios I do try and make a point that says – “how long can we tolerate a general governmental lazy attitude to volunteering, no matter what country we reside in?”

Another Random thought: any chance McDonalds could come to the rescue by some corporate sponsorship to keep these staff on? It would tie in nicely with their recruitment and management of Olympic volunteers after all.

Hey – I’m an independent blogger. I can say these things!

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