Saturday, May 11, 2013

Thank you Volunteers! (All year round!)

What is there left to say about National Volunteer Weeks?

They come and go each year. In various countries at various times of the year. Here in Australia it’s next week. As a manager of volunteers it’s an exciting time for me. I am lucky. I work for an organisation that values volunteers all year round. And they do turn it on for Volunteers week. We have the ceremony, the entertainment, the recognition. The reflection on what a privilege it is to have so many talented and skillful people volunteering their time all year round. It’s a formal recognition.

And volunteers appreciate that! No doubt. But they appreciate it more when they know that their contribution is recognized all year round. After all volunteers just don’t volunteer for National Volunteer Week.

It’s good to see Media getting in on it. Channel Tens the project had a promo on TV tonight talking about their show next week and saying how they would be highlighting volunteering as it is National Volunteer Week. Well done The Project! For we must praise media that highlights the volunteering effort. Even if it is just during National Volunteer Week. Because it will turn the light bulb on in many people’s heads that volunteering happens all year round.

What does the week mean to me? It makes me very proud. Proud that my career involves working with these amazing people all year round. It makes me honoured. Honoured that I am in their company. Inspired – Watching volunteers in action always makes me feel inspired.

But you know what? I feel this way all year round. And this is the challenge for those of us who engage volunteers in our organisations! It is up to us to make every week during the year like National Volunteer Week. Every week, no every day, our organisations and our community should feel proud of our volunteers. Every week, no every day, our organisations and our community should feel honoured that we have volunteers. And every week, no every day, our organisations and our community should feel inspired by our volunteers.

Thank you Volunteers for everything you do! All year round!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

On running out of Volunters!

A recent newstory from ABC News Australia

"Meals on Wheels is warning that it is running out of volunteers to keep up with the demands of a rapidly ageing community.

The service is trying to recruit young people to fill its ranks, and says without new recruits it might not be able to continue in the long term.

Chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels NSW, Les MacDonald, says the organisation's volunteers are getting older.

"Unless we can replace them with younger generations of volunteers, we face the prospect of Meals on Wheels not being around in 10 to 15 years," he said.

"I think that would be a tragedy for the Australian community."

Running out of volunteers is never a nice headline to see. I passed by a charity thrift shop only recently to see a sign plastered on their shop front – “Volunteers needed urgently” Looks like another venture “running out of volunteers”

Sometimes it’s hard to find the answers. But sometimes maybe the right questions are not being asked. Nowhere in the ABC article do I see how this problem can be addressed apart from appealing to a young persons sense of helping out in the community. The CEO said "You've got to think about you're going to be an older person one day, and personally, the last thing I want when I'm older is to be alone,"

You see I am not sure if that is enough to resonate with a young person who wants to volunteer. Or anyone...of any age.

When there is a lack of volunteers I like to ask – what barriers are being put up to people volunteering?

Here are some that I have come across

• No effective Volunteer Management systems. That is to say no professional Volunteer managers in stand alone roles of recruiting, leading and inspiring volunteers.

• Little or no flexibility – i.e. “we want you to do the same shift, same time every week without fail”

• My dreaded “You must commit to volunteering for at least six months” MUST. I come across it so often.

• “This is the way we’ve always done it” So now what’s happening

• We can’t afford to employ Volunteer Managers” can’t afford to “run out” of volunteers either!

• “ We can’t have flexible training times – you have to be there at this time and this date or that’s it”

Now let me be absolutely clear that the above is not about the Meals on Wheels organisation. I have no idea how they recruit volunteers or what type of volunteer management systems they have. And I do hope that this great organisation can find more volunteers.

But the story did give birth to some thinking on what organisations who are finding difficulty in filling volunteer positions should be thinking about.

Here are my tips

• Shine a spotlight on Volunteer Management systems.

• Talk to organisations that effectively engage volunteers.

• Look for some research on youth volunteering

Here’s a great example of what I was involved in. I was honoured to be selected as a Volunteer Manager from 1 of 8 organisations selected to participate because of their effective engagement of young volunteers.

“ In 2010, Volunteering Qld produced the report Youth Leading Youth, which provided an ‘inside’ perspective on practices used by volunteer organisations led by young people. The findings challenged a range of traditional practices in volunteer management and opened up opportunities for organisations to enhance their capacity to engage young volunteers.

The Youth Leading Youth report received interest from a wide range of organisations, from other youth-led organisations to larger, more traditional organisations interested in engaging young volunteers. This report, Young People as Volunteers, seeks to build on the findings of Youth Leading Youth and to offer clear strategies that can be adopted by organisations in their efforts to more effectively work in collaboration with young volunteers aged 18 to 25. While the target demographic is this age group, the definition of “young” changes across industries and the strategies provided are relevant for a wider range of ages.

The development of this report involved a multi-step process, which included:

1. Focus groups with a variety of young people, including international students and university students.

2. A focus group with 23 organisations that wish to engage young volunteers.

3. A focus group with 8 organisations selected to participate because of their effective engagement of young volunteers.

4. A series of one-on-one interviews with representatives from selected organisations across a range of sectors, who demonstrate a high level of effectiveness in engaging young volunteers”

The entire report can be found here

• However, my advice would be to never make it a “no young people are volunteering so therefore we will fail to exist” scenario. Reverse ageism could impact an organisation because I believe that anyone of any age can contribute equally. Just are there many young people out there looking for volunteering opportunities to suit them the same applies to anyone in their fifties, sixties seventies and beyond!

• Form a working party of all ages to explore the challenge.

• Consult with all stakeholders in Volunteerism! This includes the sector of Volunteer Management. We have an association here in Australia. It’s called AAMOV. Its members will be/ should be happy to share tips on volunteer management and recruitment!

The Volunteer Management sector is so often omitted from this narrative. So are those consultants on Volunteer Management! Because God forbid we pay someone to tell us what is wrong with our volunteering systems and culture!

We rarely see media’s attention when volunteering is working. Story of our lives! One would hope that in this case the media attention will at least interest people in volunteering for the organisation.

In the 17 years I have been managing volunteers I have been amazed at how helpful people can be when asked. But they need to be asked, In the right way, and accommodated in the right way, and organisations need to be flexible. And I have also discovered that the best recruitment tool is word of mouth. People enjoying the volunteering experience with your organisation will talk, will Facebook, will Twitter and will help you recruit once you have the basics right!

Meals On Wheels have an ally here and have the potential to gaining many more. A potential tragedy can become a great and inspiring story!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

IAVE - Lets Speak up so that they might speak to us!

An opportunity for Volunteer Management to speak to IAVE

The 23rd IAVE World Volunteer Conference will be held in the Gold Coast, Australia, on September 17-20, 2014

What is the IAVE?

The International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) was founded in 1970 by a group of volunteers from around the world who saw in volunteering a means of making connections across countries and cultures. It has grown into a global network of volunteers, volunteer organisations, national representatives and volunteer centre’s, with members in over 70 countries, and in all world regions. The majority of IAVE members are in developing countries. IAVE is registered as a charity in the USA, in California, with By-Laws which set out the governing principles and procedures. IAVE has special consultative status with the UN ECOSOC Committee, and associate status with the UN Department of Public Information. It is a member of the UN Confederation of NGO’s, and has a strong working relationship with UN Volunteers, underpinned by a Memorandum of Understanding.


IAVE exists to promote, strengthen and celebrate the development of volunteering worldwide. It is the only international organisation for which this is the primary aim.

Governance and Structure

IAVE is governed by an international Board, consisting of the President elected by the Board; and Vice-President elected by the whole membership; Regional Representatives elected by and from the members in each region; and a number of members appointed to bring particular skills or expertise. For reasons of cost, the Board meets once a year for two days. It appoints an Executive Committee to deal with finance and other on-going business, which meets by telephone conference six times a year. The Board also appoints other committees and working groups as necessary, including a Nominating Committee for the conduct of elections.


IAVE is still run almost entirely by volunteers. The President is also the CEO, and there is a network of volunteer national representatives in some 50 of the countries where IAVE has members, who promote IAVE in their country and act as a contact point with members. There is no permanent secretariat.

IAVE's staffed offices include a small President’s office with part-time admin support. The membership is administered through an office in the US. The information service and website are located in Taiwan, staffed by a part-time executive director and a small team of volunteers. In 2006 IAVE launched a Global Corporate Volunteer Council, and engaged a part-time consultant to administer it. We therefore currently have two part-time staff, and have contracts for part-time work with two self-employed consultants.

IAVE’s work programme

IAVE is best known for its biennial World Volunteer Conferences and affiliated Youth Volunteer Conferences. The world conferences have run in an unbroken sequence since 1970. These are major events in the world of volunteering, attracting a global audience, distinguished speakers and skilled and experienced workshop presenters. IAVE members in individual countries bid to run the conference, with the result that the conference moves around the world.

In 2001, the UN International Year of the Volunteer, the IAVE World Volunteer Conference, held in Amsterdam in January 2001, was officially recognised as the opening event of the year. The Universal Declaration on Volunteering was adopted at the Conference. IAVE members all round the world played an important part in the Year’s events in their country, and one of the closing events of the Year was an IAVE International Youth Conference held in Japan. These groundbreaking events were echoed during IYV+10 in 2011, with the IAVE World Conference in Singapore in January, and the IAVE World Youth Summit in Colombia in December.

In recent years IAVE has been responding to changes in the world of volunteering by positioning itself as a key leadership body for the development of volunteering, building a more strategic role, whilst at the same time remaining a membership organisation, connected through its membership to volunteering interests at grassroots, national and global levels.
The theme of the 2014 IAVE World Volunteer Conference is “Volunteering, Today’s Imperative”, which emphasizes the critical role that volunteering plays in responding to urgent human, social and environmental needs. Volunteering helps build strong societies and communities, and helps those who volunteer to lead healthier, more fulfilling and productive lives.

As well as focusing on the "feel good" aspects of volunteering, the theme of "Volunteering, Today's Imperative" will spotlight the more important issue of the future of volunteering. In an age where communication technology promotes global community interaction, volunteer effort is at the forefront of bringing about positive change.

All of the above is taken from their website

Why Volunteer Management (VM) needs a voice here

The website features a call for papers on the sub-themes of "Volunteering in capacity building", "Volunteering – a business and community partnership", "Reciprocity, volunteering – ancient and new" and "Volunteering in philanthropy".

There is no call for papers on Volunteer Management. However VM can be interwoven into all of the conference themes. But Volunteer Management does not appear to be a stand alone topic for this conference as of yet. This should not surprise us. Volunteer Management has never been a key topic of any national conference on Volunteering in any country that I have seen. Unless I have missed it. I will then stand corrected.


The Coordinator of this conference Margaret Bell says that this conference is an opportunity for Volunteering leaders around the world.

So who is going to represent the VM sector? Who is going to talk about our profession? Who indeed will talk about the fact that we are a profession? And maybe argue or debate that fact alone?

Who will state the case that effective Volunteer Management can lead to effective volunteering? Who will talk about the fact that strong VM can be the best advocate for volunteering?

Who will fly the flag for Volunteering Management? The answer is you, the Volunteer Manager

Because don’t expect to see a keynote speaker whose claim to fame is an experienced Volunteer Manager who is at the coal face of volunteering every day. And don’t expect to see a VM consultant who has worked for VMs and volunteers for decades.

How can Volunteer Managers engage young people for the youth conference? Again don’t expect Volunteer Managers who are on the ground doing great work with youth each day every day of the year.

Again - Who will fly the flag for Volunteering Management? The answer is you, the Volunteer Manager!

VMs reading this in Australia and New Zealand and indeed around the globe will hopefully submit papers on Volunteer Management. I certainly hope to do so.

And I hope that AAMOV touches base with IAVE and is involved with the planning of this conference. It makes sense. I wonder though if IAVE has even heard of AAMOV?

What has inspired me to write this blog? IAVE2014 just started following me on Twitter. I have followed back. I have also just liked their Facebook page. IAVE seems to me to be a wonderful organisation. I am looking forward to attending their conference here in Australia. As a sector we have wonderful opportunities to engage with IAVE through Social Media. We need to show IAVE that we can do so if we are to be taken seriously as a sector. To be recognised as a sector takes work! So:

• Follow IAVE2014 on Twitter

• Like IAVE2014 on Facebook

• Submit a paper on Volunteer Management

• Blog about your thoughts on IAVE and Volunteer Management

• Ask AAMOV how they are engaging with IAVE

• Share this BLOG

Here’s to a wonderful IAVE conference on the Gold Coast Australia in 2014. And here’s to Volunteer Management getting its rightful place on its agenda!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Guest Blogger Aileen Pablo asks "why volunteer?"

“Service to a just cause rewards the worker with more real happiness and satisfaction than any other venture of life.” - Carrie Chapman Catt, American Women's Rights Activist

People often tout the altruistic nature of volunteering. It’s because we care for our fellow man. Because we believe in the societal benefits that occur when everyone lifts up those around them.

Forget that. You can be as selfish as you want and still get a lot out of volunteering!

Obviously I’m being a bit facetious, because no one who gives up their time to help others should ever be labeled selfish, but it is absolutely true that oftentimes the people volunteering feel like they are getting as much out of it – if not more – than those they are supposedly helping. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons I’ve heard.

Knowledge. Volunteering can teach you things about the world that you didn’t even know you didn’t know, whether the experience happens on another continent or right in your backyard. You might discover something about a particular group of people that makes you rethink the previous views that you held, or learn how the ostensibly “helpful” systems we have in place are actually keeping certain problems from getting better. And I can’t tell you how many people say they feel like the experience of volunteering taught them a lot of things about themselves – good and bad – and showed them how to be better.

Skills. When you volunteer, you might come away from the experience knowing how to do just about anything – it really just depends on the kind of volunteer work you’re doing. Builders for Habitat for Humanity learn a number of skills related to house-building, including carpentry and teamwork, but those who volunteer in other departments might learn transferable skills in administration, marketing, leadership, and more. Chances are, if you can think of a skill you might need in the workforce, it’s something that you might be expected to do somewhere as a volunteer.

Experience. Knowledge and skills are great, but what’s especially powerful about volunteer work is that, depending on the kind of activities you were engaged in, many employers look at almost as another type of job experience. Cooking in a soup kitchen for a year is great experience for someone looking to make meals in the food industry, especially if you can add to it some formal training in the classroom. In fact, this kind of experience can be incredibly important in times like this where jobs are scarce and it’s difficult to get an entry level position to get the work experience you need.

Joy. How can you beat the smiles of an entire village in Africa after you dig a well that will provide them with drinkable water for the next three generations? Or the tears of happiness shed by a family after you fix their home that was ravaged by a storm? Or the look of relief on the face of a mother as you hand her Christmas gifts so that she doesn’t have to tell her children that they won’t be getting anything that year?

Wait, aren’t those “selfless” things? Not if we’re talking about how they make you feel. It’s great that the people you’re helping are happy, but their feelings can’t help but give you a sense of pride, accomplishment and, yes, joy as you marvel at what you did and how great of a person you are – and that’s not me being facetious!

Perspective.No one has an easy life, but if you ever start feeling like the world is out to get you and sabotage your success or happiness, I recommend volunteering. Nothing puts things in perspective quite like seeing families dig through dumpsters together or be thankful that they have a roof over their heads even though they live in a shantytown in Brazil where each family’s “house” is little more than a metal box. Most volunteers end up heading for home happier than when they arrive if for no other reason than they are thankful for all that they now realize they have.

About the Author:

Aileen Pablo is part of the team behind Open Colleges one of Australia’s leading providers of Open Learning and When not working, Aileen blogs about education and career.She is often invited as a speaker in Personality Development Seminars in the Philippines.If you are interested in featuring her works in your blog, you can find her on Google+.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

National Volunteer WEAK!

National Volunteer Weeks come and go around the globe around this time of year. Particularly in the States, Canada, Ireland, England, Australia and New Zealand.

It’s a week to celebrate and promote volunteering…

To me it seems to be an occasion where we celebrate “our lovely volunteers” and employ the language of paternalism and fluffiness.

Volunteering is not lovely. It is real and important. For Volunteer Managers, this is a week where we promote the service our organisations volunteers provide.

If it is a week where time and thought is given to volunteering and volunteers are simply forgotten about for the rest of the year then it will have served no purpose at all. Great organisations value and recognise volunteering all year round. Great organisations resource Volunteer Management and recognise the vital link between effective Volunteer Management and effective Volunteer Programs.

An effective and articulate Volunteer Management profession recognizes the opportunity to promote its sector during national Volunteers Week. It knows Volunteering is getting attention and seeks to harness that interest in a way that can educates organisations and policy makers on effective Volunteer Management.

Peak bodies for volunteering while recognising and welcoming the media attention that the week brings to the cause of volunteering should be advocating for all stakeholders in volunteering. The Volunteer. The Volunteer Manager. The organisations that effectively engage volunteering effort. Government policies on Volunteering. Their own Mission and philosophy on Volunteerism. Consultants and trainers in Volunteerism.

Jayne Cravens did a great service for International Volunteer Managers day when she stated years ago that she would never support the day if it became a “Pat the Volunteer Manager on the back day” or there were pins and mugs about the day!

I believe we need to say the same thing about National Volunteer Weeks. They are in danger of becoming weeks about Pins and certificates. They are in danger of becoming “pats on the heads of lovely volunteers. “That’s all well and good but unless that is matched by some serious Government and organisational support for volunteering along the resources line and along the recognition line that volunteering matters 24/7 every day of the year and is making a real difference to our society then Volunteers Weeks becomes Volunteers Weak!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Do we inspire people to change their lives, willingly and for good?

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the way organisations advertise for Volunteer Managers. To me Volunteer Management can be an inspiring and dynamic profession and I don’t think this comes across when organisations look for their next Volunteer Manager. It should. When they list the desired qualities for the prospective VM I’ve rarely seen Inspiration or Leadership mentioned. Very often I've read “experience managing volunteers desirable but not necessary”

I recently came across a one page ad in the newspaper for the Shannon Company seeking people. What drew me to the ad was their large headline that read “We inspire people to change their lives, willingly and for good” It made me think about Volunteer Management.

The ad from the specialist behaviour-change consultancy went on to list the qualities they were seeking and I list them all here. Because again, it got me thinking about Volunteer Management. Imagine an ad that listed these qualities in their search for a great VM.

1. An Original Thinker

2. An Inspirer

3. A Curios Soul

4. A Perpetual Optimist

5. An Open Mind

6. A story Teller

7. A persuasive Nature

8. Not Dour

I just loved that list. I warmed to the companies values so it was also inspired advertising. I loved number 8!

The role of Volunteer Manager is an important one for any organisation. In seeking to attract inspiring leaders they could learn a bit about how they demonstrate their values and value of volunteerism and management by more inspiring advertising! The perpetual optimist in me says that they will one day through our own educating and our own inspiring story telling.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Volunteer Management will be defunct in 5 to 7 years!

I agree with the train of thought that exists that states there should be no careerists in the volunteering sector. Put quite simply organisations would save money if they didn’t have to pay volunteer managers. We need to come to the realizations that volunteers, in all cases and settings can manage themselves. The management of volunteers in organisations should be farmed out to HR to take care of the Recruitment and to Staff Development to look after training needs. Technology over the next few years will render Volunteer Management defunct as savvy volunteers manage themselves through technology, Volunteer Managers be gone!

Now please pick your jaw off the floor. The above are statements I used in a debate at the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management held in Sydney over the last weekend. This was part of the “Great Debate “segment. Volunteer Managers were broken into different teams and asked to take on debate argument in the cons and pros! No choice! It was a great experience. I had to argue for the above headline statement and even though the arguments go against ever fiber in my body,I and my colleagues in the debate team did enough to fight for a draw in the debate.

Thus begins my Review of the Retreat 2013. Held at the Sydney Central Mercure it attracted close to 40 people. This year’s theme was “Volunteer Management: a time for leadership”

And about time too. For years my blog has advocated discussion on leadership in our sector.

This year the faculty had the usual good suspects – Andy Fryar and Martin Cowling along with first timer Sue Jones from the UK and Tony Goodrow from Canada as a guest presenter.

On day one Sue Jones set the scene by engaging us in discussion about leadership. She basically challenged us all to ask what exactly leadership was all about? Ive seen a lot about Sue Online. She seems to be doing so much great work in the UK leading the Volunteer Management Sector and her intelligence and humbleness came across to me on day one. Here was a great faculty choice I thought after her first presentation.

Highlights from the Retreat

• And Fryars session titled “Good Grief” was a session about how we deal with real people experiencing real issues every day. It talked about boundaries, Grief and life’s ups and downs. This was the main highlight for me. It should have been a plenary topic! I highly recommend all organisations involving volunteers booking Andy for this session alone!

• The support Circles: I had the most wonderful experience with 3 of my colleagues as we discussed our issues with seriousness and laughter combined!

• Sue Jones: Simply refreshing in her thoughts on leadership in our sector! She started off nervously but grew into her role with her passion for the sector and love of leadership potential!

• The amount of people who asked me if I was DJ Cronin the blogger!! The people who said they were there because of my blog!

• The great debate! Although in my view should have been the last item on the menu!

• The participation of people from Volunteering Tasmania and Volunteering Western Victoria!

• The venue and the food! – 9 out of 10!

• The Cruise – 10 out of 10!

Lowlights from the Retreat

• Some people said to me they would have liked an earlier start on day one and an earlier finish on final day. Wondering if the returnee lunch is a good idea to maintain?

• The fact that Volunteering Australia did not send a rep. Disappointing guys given that you are going through major changes and starting from scratch in so many ways. How about you begin the engage with the Volunteer Management sector? A rep here would have been a good start! Time to start thinking strategically and engage all your stakeholders!

• No mention of AAMOV (apart from a mention in the program). It would have been good to have someone speak about the fact that we have an association. I did talk about AAMOV to those I met!

Wrap up

A well organised Retreat, A great venue and an interesting faculty! What made it for me this year however were the Retreat delegates! They were open minded, keen to learn and open to new ideas. They also seemed to be very creative! I made many new great contacts and I would be interested in their own reviews of the retreat!

DJ Cronin Retreat score:

91 out of 100

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What do you do? I enable happiness!

Anyone who manages or coordinates volunteers will understand what I mean about the “Profession Conversation Stopper” It’s that conversation at a social event or around a barbeque where people ask you what you do for a living. Ive lost count of the blank looks, the befuddled facial expressions and the “right...Let’s quickly move on to the next question” look. Because let’s face it…ours is a profession that is still in 2013 pretty unknown and unheard of. Especially outside of our echo chambers.

It has rarely really bothered me. In fact sometimes I enjoy the reactions. In fact now I tend to have fun with it as in the following exchange which has actually occurred,

“So what do you do?”

“I manage Volunteer programs”

“That’s nice”….(moment of silence)..Do you get paid?”

“No…I have a money tree in my back yard and luckily that produces enough to pay my mortgage and the bills”

Blank look. Slight nervous giggle. Person moves away slowly and latches on to another!

Seriously though Ive often had a calm response and have taken the time to explain my occupation and people are amazed when you can articulate your role.

After all to’s a pretty amazing profession we are involved with. It is a profession that I am passionate about and I hope that passion comes across sometimes.

Have a think about the team and programs you manage. I do. Often. They have never failed to inspire me. To lift me. I see people each day making a real difference to others. I see people each day giving their time to bring a smile to others. I see people everyday offer shoulders to cry on, hands to hold, ears to listen and kind words to offer. Volunteers amaze me. When I observe them from a distance I am humbled by the experience. Truly. I see them bring joy, relief, comfort and happiness.

I am honored to do what I do. I pledge to do it to the best of my ability. And I take my profession seriously. And every year I grow and learn in my job.

The next time someone asks me what I do for a living I would love to say “I enable happiness” Would love to see the look then. I hope I am brave enough to say it someday.

I believe that at the end of the day your role enables some wonderful moments to happen. You bring it all together. And you can lead to inspire too.

May 2013 be great for your wonderful role and for you!

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