Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The usual platitudes on Volunteering

A keen follower of volunteering I’ve been watching how the media. Government and society in general have been reacting to National Volunteer week 2012 in Australia.
I worry a little about the message. If the sectors greatest claim to fame is the fact that we contribute x amount of millions in unpaid labor then I think that we lose the message and   the philosophy of volunteering.
I’ve seen a few speeches on volunteering this week. A few speeches from Politicians. Now folks, whether you like it or not politicians matter! And they have been referring a bit about “unpaid labor’! Now, I know I may stir some debate here but I for one do not equate volunteering to “unpaid labor” For if we do this then we devalue the concept of volunteerism to a method of getting stuff done without a cost hourly value! I put it in those terms even though I believe that effective volunteering does come with a cost. That is to say money for resourcing volunteer programs due to staffing, effective volunteer management, training, orientation, etc etc.
It annoys me that Government can say we save x amount of billions because of volunteers and don’t go on to show us how a few million can be spent resourcing effective volunteer management!
This is just my little “say” during National Volunteer week. The only way I can have this say is because I have my own blog and can say these things. A national organisation on volunteering should have a forum on encouraging feedback. I personally don’t believe we have that in Australia. If National Volunteer Week can gift us something it should be a forum where volunteers, managers of volunteers, resource centers, consultants and the peak body get together and talk about what volunteering means in 2012!
Perhaps we can aim for this in 2013!


  1. Yes! I'm concerned about the message too -- and it's often about the same here in the US. I think it's a challenge for some people to not see things in terms of money. Everything costs something (time, money, etc.), so for volunteers to contribute as "unpaid labor" (ugh!) is something that people in power - like politicians - like to talk about. It's the bottom line that matters.

    It's frustrating that they don't see that volunteers/volunteering are not free! Effective volunteer engagement requires more than just "unpaid labor" and the amount of money "saved" rarely ever includes the costs to run a volunteer program.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, DJ!

  2. Loved your response Liza and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!We need more advocates like you out there spreading the message!

  3. Hey DJ - I worry more than a little re Volunteering = Unpaid Labour + huge $$ savings. Specially when organisations are contracted with government to deliver services which used to be state responsibility. Unpaid labour just cannot foot it with the respectability of "being worthy of your hire", of being employed. As long as the sector accepts this thinking it will continue to be held in low regard (despite the $$ savings).

  4. Thanks for your response Sue.

  5. Unfortunately, this is part of the wider societal trend that measures everything we are and everything we do in strictly financial terms.

    In the UK, we've got an extra Diamond Jubilee bank holiday on Tuesday and, wouldn't you know it, there are 'business leaders' bemoaning the millions of pounds that will be 'lost' to our economy because of it.

    Because the value of well-being, feeling happy etc can't be easily measured (and doesn't translate into lining someone's pocket with money) it therefore isn't relevant/doesn't exist to many decision-makers.

    1. Thansk John for taking the time to respond! I so agree with your last paragraph. Although dont we have a happy living index for countries? I must look into this further!

  6. Well done matey. I dont have a problem equating things into dollar until people say things like volunteers "save us money"!..In full agreement re funding

    Re a forum forNBW2013.- what can we do, apart from pray for decent management at VA who may actually foster something?

  7. Thanks for the response Martin! So with you on your thoughts re VA and please see my response to that situation elsewhere. We live in hope!


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