The perception of volunteering and our role in maintaining or changing that.
Once a month I stand before a room of new employees. My mission: to talk about a volunteering service and volunteering in general. Before I commence I ask them to close their eyes and in their minds picture a hospital volunteer. Every time (and I’ve done this now for a few years) I get the same general consensus. The same description. And it is this - an elderly lady in a pink pinafore. I then explain that we have valuable volunteers in a certain age bracket (what’s old anyway these day? I think the word itself is outdated and meaningless) and then I go on to explain the diverse nature of volunteering in terms of age and demographics. They are often amazed. “Young “people volunteer? Who knew? And no pink pinafore?? Thank heavens for small mercies.
I talk a great deal about echo chambers in my blogs. We talk amongst ourselves about new and emerging trends in volunteering. We marvel at the kaleidoscope of colour that is volunteering. We love the diversity of volunteering. But I still wonder if the general public gets the true picture of volunteering. Despite some articles in the odd paper about volunteering, work being done by peak bodies to promote volunteering through National weeks etc I still sense the general public have a traditional view of the makeup of volunteering.
I am not sure that the volunteering sector helps itself sometimes by the public messages they send. Take IYV+10 for example. Stand on a street corner tomorrow and poll passersby on what it means to them? Perhaps they would venture a guess that it’s a new type of IPad or IPhone.
We get it. We know what it means. Well most of us. Do we really believe that the general public even recalls IYV in 2001?
If the general public is interested in doing some volunteering for the first time, perhaps in a hospital, I hope they don’t go to the Wikipedia entry on Hospital Volunteer.
Here are some gems from that entry.
“Hospital volunteers work without regular pay in a variety of health care settings, usually under the supervision of a nurse.”
Yikes! Volunteers work without regular pay? And busy nurses just got a lot busier.
“A few hospitals ask their volunteers to help out with janitorial duties, like cleaning beds. Other "advanced volunteers" include patient-care liaisons and volunteer orderlies. These volunteers must operate on the orders of a nurse or a physician and are given special training to permit them to work with patients.”
Advanced volunteers? Orders?
“Some hospitals keep all their volunteers in one place (a dispersal unit)”
The basement? Fridge?
“Some volunteers (particularly "advanced volunteers" described above) will wear scrubs”
Those Advanced volunteers get all the benefits!
Wikipedia is well read. Are peak bodies for volunteering happy with the image of volunteering as represented on sites such as wikipedia? Are they happy with the article on “Volunteering”? Have they checked out the one on ‘Virtual volunteering”? Is it important that they contribute to these? Is it their role? Is it ours in Volunteer management?