Thursday, December 24, 2015

Brisbane, Shrone, Melbourne: A 2015 Reflection

So how was 2015 for you? Did you lead? Inspire? Volunteer?

It was certainly a big year for me. Leaving one job after 9 wonderful years. Taking up another role with the largest humanitarian organisation in the world. Moving to another city to take up that job.  

Melbourne is a beautiful City but only being here 12 months I have much to discover. Some of things I love:

The Trams: They are such a great way of getting around. I always feel like a child when I get on one. It’s like I’m on a ride in a huge amusement park. Some cities let their tram systems go and that’s a pity I think.

The Weather: Ok, so Melbourne has got some crazy weather. One day I was suffering in 42 degree Celsius. Two days later there was a chilly wind blowing and 19 degrees was the top. You can get four seasons in the one day in Melbourne.  But I have decided that I am very happy without the humidity. Humidity and I have never been friends. Nothing worse than getting out of a cold shower only to perspire again while dressing. Nothing worse than tossing and turning in bed at night as the humidity envelopes you and the fan blows a heavy hot wind upon your body! I like the cold. With cold you can rug up. People are warning me about the winter. They forget I had 25 winters in Ireland so bring it on!

The buildings and architecture: Sometimes I walk around Melbourne and feel like I am in an European city. Their buildings are beautifully designed. I especially like the ones with a Greek or Italian influence:

The food: There are so many options for all sorts of taste buds. I’ve tasted sensational Souvlakis to perfect Pizza.

The Pubs: Some awesome bars can be found. The locals are friendly and the pints are cold. Favourites are The Snug on Sydney Rd and the Turf in north Melbourne.

The people: Friendly, multicultural, diverse and vibrant.

I’ve done a training course and am now a Team Leader for the Red Cross State Inquiry Centre which is activated during any disaster such as bushfire. Here I will wear my volunteering hat with pride.

I’ve also put in place plans to set up an Irish Theatre Company in Melbourne. The idea would be to present plays by Irish playwrights to the Melbourne public.  Our first meeting will take place early in the new year. A bunch of volunteers getting together to see if we can do this!

This year I spent a few weeks in Ireland. It was great catching up with family and friends. I met some wonderful class mates that I had not seen for 20 years! We even spent a night in a pub watching old plays that we were involved in 20 years ago! The following morning there was a beautiful sun rise as some of us left the pub! Ireland will always be my spiritual home. There is no better inner peaceful feeling than there is when standing next to Shrone lake on a cloudless fine day with the Pap mountains towering above you.  It is a timeless place. Many a day was spent in childhood exploring the area. It never changes. I hope it never does.

Now I am back in Brisbane for the holiday season. With those I love. My family. Those I cherish.

Its lovely to see the city again. It seems to get bigger and taller every time I come back!

2015 has been good to me. Were there challenges and tough moments? You bet there were. But through it all the support of family, friends and the best volunteers in the galaxy was amazing.  People are good. As one volunteer used to always say to me “It’s nice to know nice people!”

I am grateful for all that I have.  I’ve gotten into the habit of waking up and just saying “Thank you” each morning.  I was inspired to do that by a movie with Wayne Dyer. ‘If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

I’ve been inspired by Alan Watts – “This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

I continue to be genuinely inspired by volunteers. The world would be a darker place without them.

And that’s just my little reflection.

I wish you and yours a peaceful holiday season and may 2016 bring you much joy!

“Peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love. No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”  - Alan Watts

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The journey continues

New city. New job. I have not blogged for a few months now. Challenging times. But I have risen above them, learnt and moved on. I do believe in the adage of one door closing and others opening. Someone once said " wherever you go, there you are". Took me awhile to get that. I've also learnt that the now is a powerful place. The only place we abide in really. More of that later. In all of my blogs it has been about sharing the things that have helped me. And do I have much sharing to do with you in future blogs.

So now I find myself in Melbourne with one of the biggest humanitarian organisations in the world. I feel it's meant to be. I've been here three days. The information overload begins. I'm intrigued by this city. I miss my family. Conflicting emotions abide. So please, I invite you to come on this journey with me. I'd like your company. I have much to share. Hanging on to wisdom and insights is selfish! I will not be selfish.

DJs back! With a bang! Watch this space!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Leaders of Volunteers. Stop Work!

“Dear Boss. I need to take a day’s leave. Why? Its International Volunteer Management Stoppage Day.” No no no..It’s not a strike. In fact it’s an annual leave day but I’m taking it in conjunction with hundreds of Volunteer Managers across the globe at my own expense because we feel our sector is unseen, unrecognised, poorly compensated and quite simply it’s a day to demonstrate our frustration after years of attempts to get noticed and to gain respect.  We hope that by taking this action that we can respectfully send a message that may even garner some media attention about our role in society. What was that? Oh yes – of course everything is fine in my organisation but I’m doing this in solidarity with the volunteer leaders around the world:

·         Who Have little or no Executive Support

·         Who are seen as second rate managers or leaders just because they lead volunteers

·         Whose pay is not equivalent to other senior managers

·         Whose value is “devalued” because they “just manage the Vollies”

·         Who don’t have a say when critical organisational decisions are made that effect the volunteers

·         Etc. etc. ad nauseam

No no…It’s not an annual event. It’s just a once off. It goes to the mind boggling frustration evident in our sector. It will be a day when the sector light up Twitter and Facebook internationally and our community gets to talk about the value of effective Volunteer Management. Who knows? We might get the attention of some leaders in other sectors. We will be open to tips and advice from sectors that are valued and recognised. During our day we will actually be working – we will be networking, sharing ideas, debriefing, innovating and maybe coming up with some action plans and Key Performance Indicators moving forward. Yeah – any every time we send a message using #IVMSD we will copy in our local and national media outlets, our politicians and maybe get a slot on a radio or TV show and make some people sit up and take a bit of notice. Because you know what? We have been going around in circles for many years and now we are getting a bit too dizzy. Thanks Boss, I’ll see you the day after.”

The above is a conversation cloaked in satire. Luckily I write from a place where I feel my program and position is currently recognised and appropriately supported. But having a look at some of the current narrative in our sector is disheartening.

Susan J Ellis wrote a June Hot Topic recently that is simply a must read for anyone in our sector

Ellis opens with “I’ve been writing these Hot Topics monthly since 1997 – which means this is the 217th essay I have tried to say something fresh every month, although some issues circle back around over and over again. One of those recurring themes has been, “Why are so many executives clueless about volunteer involvement…and therefore do stupid things that limit volunteer participation?”

Ellis then lists some great examples and goes on to explore the lack of knowledge, thoughtlessness and arrogance that has severe ramifications for those of us who lead volunteer teams. She goes on to ask some pertinent questions with one of my favorites being:

 “What have our professional associations/networks done to educate others about volunteer management? What might they do moving forward?”

What indeed? And therein lies the crux of the problem – are we not educating the right people about Volunteer Management? It’s not an association’s duty to educate Volunteer Managers about Volunteer Management. When did you last see a fish at a swimming class? Where is the effort from our associations to get other management and executive attention? I’m happy to stand corrected if I am wrong.

 The responses on Ellis’ website to her post speak for themselves:

 “I have not been allowed to educate staff in how volunteers should be processed into our organization”

 “I share your frustration with Senior Management”

 “As a one person department in an office isolated from my supervisor and other administrators, nobody really knows what I do.”

 “They pay "lip service" to the importance of volunteers”

 It’s also interesting to note the amount of people posting their thoughts anonymously. And who can blame them? Some people won’t rock the boat in our sector for fear of been thrown overboard.

Now let’s travel from a post in the United States to a post from New Zealand. Sue Hine has written a brilliant blog post called “Out of Sight Out of Mind”

 In it Hine states

 “There’s the metaphoric symbolism of locating the volunteer office, and the manager’s desk, in the basement or down the end of a long corridor. That could really put volunteers out of sight and out of mind.
  • The lowly status of a manager of volunteers becomes clear in the job title (‘Volunteer’ manager / coordinator) and a pay scale that can be 20% below other managers in the organisation – though the numbers of volunteers could be ten times the number of paid staff. And too often the manager misses out on strategic planning meetings or management training sessions because “you don’t manage staff”.
  • We all know how volunteers do not come for free, yet too often there is no budget allocation for programme costs.”

Hine goes on to talk about the Susan J Ellis topic as well but expresses eloquently her own frustration that “the social and cultural benefits of volunteering and its critical function for a healthy Civil Society are totally ignored.”

These bloggers are brave as they bring these matters to our attention. I still meet leaders of volunteers who share the exact same sentiments as shared here but they feel unable, for whatever reason, to voice their much needed opinion.

So where do we go from here? What can we do to ensure bloggers are not having this discussion in five years’ time? Can our Associations pick up on this frustration and articulate a cohesive narrative on it? As Sue Hine has noted we must put a bigger emphasis on our National Standards or Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer Involvement. We must aim for the goal of having organisations that involve volunteers being accredited. We need to give a national tick of approval to organisations doing the right thing and encourage and educate other organisations to do the same thing. For that to happen successfully our National bodies on volunteering need encouragement and funding. They need the support of the Volunteer Management sector and the associations that represent them. Its time to work together more closely.

In 2015 watching volunteer managers struggle because of lack of organisational support or watching volunteers only receive lip service is simply not good enough anymore. It needs to be called out! It needs to stop! Because it is not right! Volunteers, Volunteer Managers, Peak bodies for volunteering, volunteer involving organisations and Associations representing the interest of volunteer leaders must work together on this. Corporates and Government should also support the national implementation of standards. From lip service to action, from aloofness to interest, from devaluing to recognising how volunteers contribute and how those who lead volunteers are an integral part of the equation.

Failure to do so may lead to International Volunteer Management Stoppage Day. I nominate April 1st as some in the sector feel treated that way!

Over to you.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Current definition of Volunteering in Australia

The Current definition of volunteering is outdated because it excludes large numbers of volunteers around the nation who do not fit into the current one.

I have had the privilege and honor of managing volunteer programs for the past 18 years and have done so in both not for profit and private organizations. So I believe I can speak with a certain knowledge of how volunteering works on many levels in various settings. I am passionate about volunteering and effective Volunteer Management and fear that if the definition of volunteering remains as it is that we will have too many tiers of volunteering. Of course I understand the fears too that volunteers could be “used” by privately owned organizations and not used appropriately or to save staffing costs. This is where effective Volunteer Management comes into place.

I believe that not only do we need a broader and clearer definition of volunteering but we need some type of accreditation body that can set standards for all organizations that engage volunteers. This would be similar to the current national standards but could go one step further in giving marks of approval to organizations meeting these standards.
 I am in favor of the definition being along the lines of those in the UK, Canada and the United Nations.

The “Compact Code of Good Practice on volunteering” (2008) cited at contains a short definition of volunteering as:

“an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or individuals or groups other than (or in addition to) close relatives…and  includes formal activity undertaken through public, private and voluntary organisations as well as informal community participation and campaigning.”

I have written more about the topic on this blog.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Barriers to Volunteering

Sometimes I come across signs on shop windows or ads in papers stating “Volunteers Urgently required”! It’s a dramatic statement. Sometimes I see organizations bemoan the lack of volunteers. In some countries, and probably your own, volunteering numbers are declining.

One of the best ways that I can keep up with what’s happening in the volunteering world is having a good chat at the interview with potential volunteers. You can learn so much if you are doing your interviews right. Where I work we have the orientation and information session first. Thus prospective volunteers get a chance to look at the program and learn about it while not having to commit. Then if they are interested they come to our group interviews. There are wonderful dynamics to group interviews but that’s another blog for another day.

A couple of questions I like to ask are “what is your motivation for volunteering?” and “why did you choose this organization?” .There are many important questions that you should be asking at Volunteer interviews and these two are very important. Before I ask the motivation question I state that “ There are many motivations behind why volunteers volunteer here. Volunteers come here for a number of reasons and each reason is as legitimate as the other” And Wow! – that statement really seems to put people at ease. It’s as if they sigh with relief. Before I used to make that statement I would get over 90% of prospective volunteers saying “To give back to the community”. Now whilst giving back to the community is still a very strong factor behind motivation for volunteering for a lot of people the reality is that people volunteer for a myriad of reasons. My statement before my question now allows people to open up and state other reasons for volunteering such as meeting new people, gaining new skills, giving me an insight to my chosen career and or field of study, to have on my resume, to get a reference, to simply do something with my time or to gain confidence.

Basically I allow people to have a safe space for their motivation to volunteering. As long as there is a good outcome for the people they are there to help then their volunteering motivation is just a legitimate as any other.

So when you advertise with a message that says – “Do good for your community – volunteer with us today!” could you potentially be putting up a barrier to some people in the community who would make the most excellent of volunteers?

When you advertise that you are “Desperate for volunteers” is there not a fear that this might alienate a few who wonder why you are “desperate” to begin with.

One of the most amazing yet disheartening things I learn at interviews I conduct is the fact that so many volunteers try to volunteer at organizations but no one answers their query. Last week I asked a potential volunteer why she had picked our organization. She stated she had picked another close to her home but that after 3 emails and a telephone call where she had been informed that someone would get back to her, no one did and then she decided to try another.

Look, I’m a Volunteer Manager. I know the paperwork we can be buried under. I know the pressures of the job and I know that the odd applicant can go missed or unnoticed and then you come across the form or telephone or email message and go into “Service recovery” mode. But three emails and one call from a volunteer and no response?!!!

It’s not an isolated incident. Back to my question at interviews “Why did you pick this organization?” Over and over again…..”You were the only one to respond.”

Really? In 2015. When we have so many tools of communication at our disposal?

And I don’t gloat at interviews. The opposite in fact. I state that this is poor for all of us in the volunteering sector. And I usually have great conversations with the person about volunteerism!

Another huge barrier is lack of flexibility. I can’t count the number of university students who have told me at interviews that they didn't pursue volunteering at their first choice organization because they were told that they had to commit to 6 or 12 months of volunteering before been taken on.

Really? A commitment? A legal binding? On Volunteering? Interesting. Contracts? Please enlighten me folks if I am missing something here. What happens if a volunteer commits for 12 months and leaves after 3? Are they taken to court and sued? Fined? What?

These are just a couple of major barriers to volunteering. There are more and I will talk about them in part 2 of this post at a later date. But I have heard:

·         They are students and or young people and they can’t be relied upon!
·         They are unemployed and therefore will up and go when they get a job!
·         Their reasons are selfish!

So have you come across these or other types of barriers to volunteering? Share your experience here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Volunteering Definitions?

Volunteering Australia is currently reviewing the definition of volunteering.

On her blog page "Abundant Contibutioon" Adrienne Picone writes: " VA’s commitment to reviewing the definition of volunteering is being project managed by Volunteering Tasmania in partnership with all of the volunteering State and Territory Peaks and is both timely and reassuring. It may be that after we have the review that the end result will be similar or even the same as what we have now."

Who is in the Volunteering Family and who is out?

The following is an article I wrote for a Volunteering England Newsletter a few years back. I have edited it slightly and am reposting here to stimulate discussion

As manager of a volunteer service in the largest private hospital in Australia this current hot topic obviously holds a great interest to me. At the same time I have viewed it objectively.


I have a huge passion for volunteerism. I have been a volunteer for many years as well as managing volunteers for close on 18 years. I continue to donate my time to address various community groups about the powerful movement that I believe volunteering to be and frequently research the area.  In this way I keep abreast of emerging trends.


There was a time I considered leaving the sector due to what I perceived as a lack of recognition for volunteer managers and paucity of resources.  Happily for me I attended the “Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management” in Canberra and met a group of like minded people who saw themselves as professionals, and it was here that I discovered that Volunteer Managers had their own professional association!  So rather than quit the sector I returned to my job revitalised and with a new and positive vision for my career. I joined our professional association, AAVA (Now AAMOV) and in fact become its president in 2006. I continue to advocate for Volunteer Managers in many settings and genuinely hope that in some way I am contributing to the advancement of our sector.


I mention the above to emphasise that my argument here is not solely based on the fact that I am employed in the private sector. I am convinced that my argument would be the same had my career journey taken a different route and I had stayed in the not for profit sector.  Due to my experience in both, I am able I think, to add a unique perspective to what has become an ongoing debate. After all, you will not find many Volunteer Managers in private settings…yet!


I believe that volunteering in a private setting is ok provided it is aptly defined.  It seems that definition has added complexity to the private/public discussion and that clarification is needed.  Some countries have adopted their own definition of volunteering for example, Volunteering England once stated;


“any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives. Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual. This can include formal activity undertaken through public, private and voluntary organisations as well as informal community participation.”


The ‘Compact Code of Good Practice on Volunteering’ (2008) cited at contains a short definition of volunteering as


“an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or individuals or groups other than (or in addition to) close relatives…and  includes formal activity undertaken through public, private and voluntary organisations as well as informal community participation and campaigning.”


In 2001, The United Nations (UN) adopted specific criteria to distinguish volunteering from other forms of behaviour that may superficially resemble it. According to the UN volunteering:


·         Is not to be undertaken primarily for financial gain

·         Is undertaken of one’s own free will; and

·         Brings benefit to a third party as well as to the people who volunteer .


Whereas Volunteering Australia (VA) states that formal volunteering is an activity which takes place in not-for-profit organisations or projects. It goes on to state in its definitions and principles of volunteering that “Volunteering is an activity performed in the not for profit sector only.”  I submit that this is incongruent with another of its principles, that Volunteering is always a matter of choice.


Clearly the positions quoted above are at odds and I intend to address them further in this article. However I am now happy to say that VA is at least actively looking at this definition and opening it up for discussion.


With respect to private sector volunteering, my organisation’s history is interesting.  Built in 1942, the hospital where I work was a public hospital until it was privatised in 1995. The existing volunteer team were initially worried that such a takeover may lead to disbandment. However, the new management enthusiastically embraced the work of the volunteers and continues to encourage and support their valuable contribution.


The Program  


Due to many factors including more calls for volunteering opportunities, the expansion of the hospital and to ensure proper systems were in place to support the 50 volunteers, the hospital engaged a full time paid Volunteer Manager for the first time in 2006. Volunteer Services at the Hospital have grown enormously and now utilizes the skills of 2 full time staff and close on 400 volunteers.


In my job interview for this position I was impressed by the organisation’s rationale for utilising volunteers. Extending care to the patient was a big theme. In turn they trusted me to set up a program that ensured volunteers were a recognised and important part of the team at the hospital. This reflects the philosophy of all ethical volunteering organisations that volunteers must be valued to the same degree as salaried staff. With my own department I am part of the management team at the hospital. I am also seen as the “expert’ on volunteering matters.


  •  As the program has grown, management has supported that growth with extra resources and support. My professional development in volunteer management has also been supported and encouraged by the hospital. Executive met with a representative body of volunteers monthly and they also are consulted on the development of our programs.. Staff/Volunteer relationships are excellent according to evaluation data and reports. Of course we ensure that there are clear demarcation lines between volunteer activities and paid positions and as a result our relationship with the union representatives is exemplary. The central aim of the program at our organisation is that volunteers are committed to the good of the patient. 

 Volunteer activities

Our high retention rate for volunteers is due primarily to the interesting and meaningful activities they are given, combined with the recognition they receive from the hospital.  I have selected a few points from our programme to give a flavour of our setting:


  • all requests for volunteering activity are approved and distributed only by the volunteer management team.

  • volunteers provide companionship and support to patients, their families and friends.

  • volunteers visit patients daily, escort people around the hospital, give hand and foot massage and provide information desk services as well as a JP service.

  •  specially trained volunteers work


    • in our dementia unit assisting patients through therapy activities

    • as Cancer Care Volunteers who provide great empathy and understanding to our cancer patients.

    • as Chaplains providing for the spiritual needs of our patients.
The above is only a brief account of what the volunteers do.

Our programme has been so successful that we have been contacted by public and private hospitals seeking assistance with the setting up of their volunteer programmes. We have also achieved state and national awards for our innovative volunteer programs.

As I have said, I don’t discriminate when it comes to the private or public sector and I can’t help but wonder why the issue arises in the definition of volunteering.  The current VA definition by Volunteering Australia for instance, is adamant in its claim that

“volunteering is an activity performed in the not-for-profit  sector only.” That is to say it does not exist in the private sector.  This is clearly incorrect. The close on 400 volunteers in my organisation are no figment of my imagination. Nor can that be said of several private hospitals throughout Australia and for example the Brisbane International Airport which is privately managed and whose volunteers:


  • Meet and greet people

  • Give directions and answer queries

  • Give visitors a warm welcome to our beautiful city
Many people also see the value in volunteers in private settings such as hospitals and nursing homes where they appreciate their empathy, their caring and their ability to spend quality time with patients easing their isolation and reassuring them at a time of anxiety.

Those who oppose volunteers in the private sector seem to think that these activities and services should only be available  patients in a public setting. I don’t agree for to do so would be to fly in the face of the existence of altruism.  All of our volunteers came to us because they do not discriminate between private and public patients.  Most only see people in need of their services.

Another important point to raise is the volunteers themselves and their views on volunteering in a private setting. When I commenced working for this organisation one of the first decisions I made was to include the history of the hospital in the interview process and to inform all applicants that this was a privately owned hospital.  We have conducted roughly 700 volunteer interviews since we commenced the program. Of that number, one person decided not to proceed with volunteering on the basis that it was in a private setting. One! And that person had every right not to proceed if that was their individual philosophy. How can we even begin to contemplate denying the other 399 people their right to volunteer at this organisation or to say to them that volunteering takes place only in not for profit organisations.

People may up to now agree with my argument that volunteering in certain private settings may be ok but may be asking where exactly do we draw the line. I believe that discussion is another debate in itself for another day.


Another quick analogy I would like to make is this. Take the nursing profession. These people are in the business of care. Their service is critical to the health and safety of patients. Does society judge them on whether they work for public or private hospitals? Ah, you might say, this is different because they are paid. If we take this viewpoint then I say we demean volunteering itself because we are saying it is OK for volunteers to give service in the not-for-profit area but not the private area when it is their choice.

Finally I issue a warning on what may happen if we continue to ignore that this type of volunteering activity takes place or if we form stringent views that it should never take place. I believe that people will continue to look for volunteering opportunities at their local hospital, nursing home or indeed airport! If we shun or condemn this activity we will discourage good volunteer management practice at these facilities. Good volunteer management practice can ensure that volunteers are treated with respect and receive appropriate insurance training and orientation. Good volunteer management practice can ensure that volunteers are utilised appropriately and not for cost cutting. Professional well trained Volunteer Managers can ensure that everything pertaining to volunteering is done in the right way and for the right reasons.

I was once accused by a colleague of joining “The Dark side”.  I am glad to have had an opportunity to broaden my horizons and to shine a light on the reality of volunteering in a private setting!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Page Views Hit 1/4 of a Million!

Wow! When I started out on this little Blog I never in my widest dreams expected so  many page views!So thanks to all of you that have visited and read my posts whether you have agreed or disagreed!  Thanks for participating and sharing and thanks for your commitment to Volunteering and Volunteer Management!

If you want to touch the past, touch a rock.  If you want to touch the present, touch a flower.  If you want to touch the future, touch a life.  ~Author Unknown

10 quick tips for busy CEOs with Volunteers in their organizations

The life of any CEO is a busy one. If you are reading this then you have taken some time out to think about the volunteers in your organization. If you have mostly volunteers in your organization then you probably champion their effort a lot. If you have many paid staff and volunteers hopefully you champion both! Here are some quick tips for you to ponder.

  1. Resource your program: Do you have Volunteering Services as  a Department in its own right with a budget. If not, consider it. Volunteering doesn't just happen. Effective programs are never for free.
  2. The Volunteer Manager: Have you got a Volunteer Coordinator who is the only person managing your organizations volunteers? Then they need to be your Volunteer Manager or Manager of Volunteers or Director or whatever title that suits most. They are not just coordinating. Is your HR boss the HR Coordinator? 
  3. Hire Expertise: If you want to hire someone to manage your Finance team or Marketing team then you will look for a professional in their field with a proven track record. Volunteer Management is a profession. Treat it accordingly. 
  4. Don’t fall for the “look after the Vollies” syndrome (LAVS): LAVS is when you decide to start a volunteer program or have one for awhile where you approach someone in your organization and ask them to “look after the Vollies”. They may be that lovely PA or that friendly office person or whatever fluffy person you have in mind. I have seen volunteer programs fail or underachieve because of LAVS. Read tip #3 again! 
  5. Avoid the OAYITT speech: The Once A Year I’ll Thank Them Speech usually happens during National Volunteer Week or International Day of the Volunteer. This is where you stand up and ramble for a few minutes about volunteers being “The lifeblood” of your organization and what “lovely” people they are and that you “couldn't do without them”. You don’t realize that this may be the same speech you give every year and that the stitched on smiles sitting in front of you may be a telling sign. And the loud applause may be because you have finished talking. Get rid of OAYITT by engaging with volunteers across the year. In an authentic way. See Tip # 6 The LAVS and OAYITT speech are a deadly cocktail that when drunk can ruin volunteer programs.
  6. Highlight Volunteering: When you write in any of your publications do you mention volunteers? Do you contribute an article to the Volunteers Newsletter/ do you even have a Volunteer Newsletter? In emails to your staff with news or development do you say “Dear staff and volunteers”? Do you turn up at the occasional Volunteer meeting? Do you have volunteer meetings? Are any volunteers serving on any of your organizational committees? When I visit your website and see no mention of or link to volunteers then how seriously are you taking volunteer effort? 
  7. Position your Volunteer Manager (VM): Does your VM sit on management committees and attend management meetings. If your answer is “No – they are a coordinator” see tip # 2 again please. Your VM probably deals with so many parts of your organization if they are utilizing volunteers. Utilize their knowledge and networks!
  8. Training: What type of professional development can your VM access? Do you invite them to leadership workshops with the other managers? Are you sending them to conferences and workshops on volunteering and volunteer management? Are you giving them time to network? 
  9. Research: Allow your VM time to Research the Volunteerism world each week. Accessing  the many sites online that deal with Volunteer Management should be a must  do to keep up with current and emerging trends. 
  10. And finally discover International Volunteer Managers Day: Surprise your VM on the day and tell them you did it after reading these 10 tips.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What I learnt from shooting volunteers!

Ok. So maybe the title got you in. But it’s kind of true. Last year I came up with an idea for National Volunteer Week. Well actually I came up with the idea a few months beforehand after seeing a similar YouTube video and I decided to apply it to Volunteers. The concept was that I would video some volunteers and ask them about volunteering. In fact I would ask them just one question and wondered what might happen. What occurred went beyond my wildest expectations.

But first I asked myself how this plan could work. I have no filming experience. I also thought the project might be too expensive if it were to look right. But thoughts become things according to Mike Dooley so I thought the good ones. Lo and behold a volunteer joined my team who happened to own his own production company. I’ve always believed that if you have a vision and can dream the end result that all you need to succeed is the will and determination. Sometimes things just fall into place when you follow this path.
So one day I sat down with this volunteer and told him of my plan. He loved the idea and offered to volunteer his service and company to make it happen.

The result was ‘Thirty people One Question. Thirty hospital volunteers were asked to be involved. I wanted the diversity of our program to be reflected in the video. So we had young, older and middle aged. We invited men and women and people from different cultural backgrounds. 

Now back to my vision. I wanted to tell a story of what volunteering meant to volunteers. I didn’t want to simply ask what they did and how. I didn’t want to ask what effect they thought that they had on the community around them. I wanted their story. I wanted to see how volunteering had made a difference to their life.

On the day of the shoot we invited some volunteers to come to the lobby to be interviewed by myself about volunteering. They were probably expecting me with a video cam! What they didn't expect were several cameras and lights everywhere. They were not briefed. They were not told what the question would be.

The result was real people, non rehearsed speaking real words.  Authenticity in action! They spoke from the heart and although some didn't say much or nothing at all, a story was told by a smile or a look of contemplation.
So here’s what I learnt from shooting those volunteers on that day:

Happiness: Volunteering can add to that.
Confidence: Volunteering can change a person’s life by instilling self belief and confidence.
Friendship: New and lasting friendships can be made from volunteering.
People Contact: This can be restored after retirement.
Loneliness: Volunteering can be a cure.
Personal Development: A big factor.
The power of Empathy: Comforting and companionship.
Light bulb moments: Volunteering teaches us not to take life for granted.
Career lift while volunteering!
They raise me up!
Just a smile: The power of that sentiment alone. That just a smile can make such a difference!
Volunteers feel part of the community.
Volunteers love volunteering!

I now show this video at our volunteer information and orientation session. It has been shown to staff. It has been shown to politicians so that they can see the powerful act of volunteering.

Yes I know volunteering is very much about helping the community. Volunteers often say that they do it for others and not themselves. But we must tell the whole and true story of volunteering. And if we do then I believe we can encourage more people to volunteer.

So please enjoy the video. Put 4 minutes aside to hear these volunteers and their stories. Like it on Youtube and share with your volunteers, managers, CEO's, staff, boards, associations and colleagues. And most of all your communities. Because as my CEO said to me at the time that if the movie even inspires one person to volunteer then it will have done a great job!

And why not visualize your own plan to do something similar? Not only can it be a recognition tool, it can be an educational one and a promotional one for the movement of volunteering.

I received an email from a teacher who  found this on YouTube and showed it to her year 5 class. She said that she wanted to teach them about volunteering and what a difference it can make to volunteers lives. She told me that after watching it she shed a tear and her class thought she was upset. But she allayed their fears and told them that this little movie had inspired them and they went on to speak about inspiration and volunteering. Show it at your schools!

Finally I would like to dedicate this blogpost to Mark, who tragically passed away since he appeared in this Video. Your beautiful smile lives on forever!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the movie!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

My Michael My Nemesis!

Here’s a little tale for you. A little deviation from the normal blog. Long long ago in a galaxy far away, yours truly here was an actor in Killarney, Ireland. I worked for a Theatre group called Bricriu. I loved it. Had a passion for acting. Still do. We did improv and short one acts in pubs, did serious drama and pantomime in theatres. Imagine waking up each day and going off to a job you truly love and getting paid to do so! Now, granted the pay wasn’t that good but nevertheless we were paid. I had so many memorable experiences. We went on the road travelling around Kerry. We did a play by John B Keane in his own pub in Listowel. John B was a famous playwright who has since passed away. One of his plays, starring Tom Berenger was turned into a mega Hollywood movie called “The Field”. That night John B watched me perform in his play and was kind enough to come up to me and praise my performance afterwards. Funnily enough a few years earlier I was sitting in a pub in County Clare when I thought I recognized a man who just walked in and ordered a drink. We were the only two in the bar. It dawned on me that he was an actor as soon as I heard his American accent. I went up to him as one does and said “You’re that actor from the movie “Witness”! He confirmed that he was and looked a little annoyed perhaps because I couldn’t even name him. When I asked his name he replied that his name was Thomas Moore and he was in Ireland researching his Irish ancestry. Then he stopped talking and I kind of got the hint and went back to having a conversation with my pint of Guinness. Well I found out afterwards that Tom was shooting the movie in Ireland playing the “yank” and it was a fine movie indeed.

But I digress. After a little while at Bricriu we were joined by a young actor called Michael. I remember him having an unusual last name. He would come and see some of our theatre and participated in some activity though he did a lot more after I left. He was a nice enough young fellow but I never truly got to see his acting ability and we knew each other but never had the time to strike up a friendship. Soon a sliding door was opened and I was off to Australia with big dreams in my head and stars in my eyes and I was going to make it as an actor in the land down under. Home and Away beckoned! But reality came and hit me on the head with a hammer. I didn’t act again for over five years. Australia was beautiful but I spent the first few years standing outside banks as a security guard wilting in the 30 degree plus heat. But the acting bug never left. For if one has an active imagination one can be a star in one’s head. I would stand there outside my bank dreaming of movies and Hollywood and Oscars. I was lucky because if balaclava clad people had walked past me, held up the bank and made their getaway in a pink van emblazoned with the words “Bank robbers” I wouldn’t have noticed a thing. You see, I was the Security Guard called Walter Mitty. One day I woke up, called the security firm and told them I was never coming back again. Instead I went to get further education qualifications; commenced volunteering and one day fell into the profession of Volunteer Management. Again I found myself waking up and going to a job that I absolutely loved.

The years went by. I got back into acting joining an Irish Theatre Company in Brisbane. My biggest achievement was winning a best actor award for a one act play in a state competition. Mitty was leading the life! Ever since I've acted for various amateur theatre groups, volunteering, and managing volunteer programs.

One day I heard through the grapevine that Michael meanwhile had achieved a bit of fame by starring in a Guinness Ad (What else!)

Life went on a then one fine humid day I picked up a paper to see film critics raving about a movie called “Hunger”. It starred Michael Fassbender. I was gob smacked. Wow-  he had made it good! Over the years he made it better. Prometheus, the Xmen, Frank,Shame, Twelve years a slave and the list goes on plus he got an Oscar nomination for the latter. I am convinced an Oscar will have his name on it someday soon.
I used to have fun telling my partner that he had made it but that I had made it in Volunteer management so who had really made it!? She laughed her infectious laugh and asked if  he had become a little bit of a nemesis. And more and more articles appeared about him and more and more movies came out with him and friends and family would play with my mind. Friends would ring up and say “hey – Michael is on the Graham Norton Show tonight” or “Did you see Michael at the Oscars”? It even came to the stage where my kids would show me a newspaper with a feature on Michael. Michael this Michael that blah blah blah! Ahem. Excuse me.

An actor friend of mine keeps telling me to contact him! “It could be our break he says! I laugh. I tell him Michael wouldn't know me from a bar of soap.  

So there’s a story of 2 boys from Kerry. One went on to live his dream, meet the most inspiring people in the world and the other went to Hollywood!  One became a Volunteer Manager and amateur actor and the other spends his days making movies.

A couple of years ago I  came up with my own movie pitch. Or maybe a play. It’s called “My Michael, My Nemesis “ ©DJ Cronin

My friends love the idea. Two boys from Kerry. One goes to Hollywood and DJ Does Brisbane! The movie follows the lives of both. Then one day the guy in Brisbane puts together a cast of amateur actors to be in the play called “My Michael my Nemesis”. Fassbender hears about it and decides to play the lead role. The press are amazed, it becomes a big story and Hollywood decide to turn it into a movie (Although it’s already a movie!) It’s a bit Seinfeld really!!! And then and only then do Cronin and Fassbender win Oscars. Me in the lead role of course. Michael can have the best supporting actor Oscar. I mean you cant have it any other way!!!

And then I appear on the Graham Norton Show, The Ellen Show and The Late Late show and I talk about the greatest thing I have ever seen in my life. Volunteering.

Now that’s a tale.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Your thoughts on Volunteering or Volunteer Management!

Happy New Year to all who read this blog around the world. One of my many resolutions is to get to know more people globally that are involved in Volunteerism and Volunteer Management. I’d like to start that process by inviting you to write about your experience. Maybe you have never written before? Maybe you have an inspiring story to tell? Maybe you would like to kick start a debate? Maybe you want to share stories about volunteers in your organizations or a story about your volunteering? Maybe you want to share an inspiring poem you wrote?

Why not share your writing on a blog that has had close on 250,000 page views with the most popular blogs receiving between 25,000 to close on 29,000 reads?

I am happy to volunteer my time to help you review and edit or just hear your suggestions first and help you turn it into an inspiring blog post. Nothing will be published until you are entirely satisfied. It doesn’t matter what experience you have or if you’ve never written before. Because I believe that if it is written from the heart then the story will take care of itself! J

Please get in contact with me by emailing

And don’t forget to like my FB page on Volunteering

Thanks for reading


Follow me on Twitter: @thedjcronin

Featured Post

The simple act of kindness.

How we learn from our children! This post was inspired by an act of my daughter. When her mum arrived at work today she found this...