05 Oct It’s time to take Volunteering Seriously
It is high time Trinidad and Tobago started to value the importance of volunteering to our society and the benefits derived from it.
I get it, I do. You have bills to pay, a net worth to increase and a life to enjoy. Plus you could be making extra money on the side instead of the 10 hours a month devoted to volunteering. Plus who wants to work for free? Or accept responsibility for free?
As someone who has worked for and led non-profit projects over the past 9 years, it is tough to get respect for the work which I have done. Getting a group of people to work together for no other purpose than the vision and the cause is no easy task. Managing volunteers is vastly different to managing paid staff. In fact, getting people to volunteer in the first place is quite the challenge.
During past job interviews, my volunteer experience was constantly overlooked as nothing more than a hobby. If I cited life lessons or valuable skills I gained from my numerous volunteer experiences, it was easily dismissed and a curt reply asking for a similar experience in a corporate environment was given.
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
On the flip side, non-profit organisations need to value their volunteers more than just people who can help them achieve their goals. They need to understand that while yes, volunteers are being of service, they also need to be nurtured. Even more critically, this is an excellent way for your organisation to help mould future leaders of our society. Non-profit organisations need to validate the tasks and skills that volunteers get on the job and openly offer to act as references for job openings or academic applications.
It is unacceptable to complain that there are not enough people volunteering. Non-profit organisations need to understand that spending time in your organisation should reap something of value for all stakeholders. But you may ask just by the very nature that they are volunteering shouldn’t they just do it out of the goodness of their hearts? Shouldn’t the joy of helping your fellow human being or environment be enough?
I say no.
Does your non-profit offer to give references? The organisation I co-Founded, The Backpack Project is a small organisation but in no way do we discredit the work which we do. I am proud to say that our organisation has recommended past volunteers to international leadership programmes, graduate schools and have given job recommendations.
Do you have an approach for engaging volunteers in a ‘fast-paced’ world? One time I was appointed the Head of Communications for a project and at that time I didn’t have the slightest clue of how to organise a communications team. But what I did know, is that I had a team of competent, intelligent and crazy busy individuals on my team. So I hatched a plan that focused on getting the best work from each member without causing burn out.
I divided up the overall function into specific tasks and charged each member with a specific responsibility. My goal was not to overwhelm any one member of the team and if back up was ever needed I had enough free time to assist anyone in need of it.
Is your nonprofit overwhelming well-intentioned volunteers who get the job done? Is management using an operational or project management approach to execute its work?
Do you have a policy in place for developing your volunteers? When I first wanted a taste at project managing an event, I volunteered to organise a local community talent competition. That turned into me organising a Christmas tour at the malls nationwide, and then being Project Lead for a nationwide talent search competition. While the organisation didn’t have an official policy for developing volunteers, I was given the opportunity to challenge and stretch my project management skills. It is important that each non-profit organisation, not only think about sponsors and benefactors of their programme, but to think of themselves as a petri dish for the germination of leadership, team cohesiveness, and communication skills.
Does your non-profit actively record the quantity and quality of volunteer involvement each year? For too long we have allowed accountants to dictate this whole issue, as if the only meaningful way to “account” for volunteers is the dollar value of their service. This is a red herring. It ought to be possible for organizations do provide some basic numbers: how many people volunteered this year? the number of hours? what is the average price per hour? what were their ages, gender, race, etc.? If the argument is that this information is too difficult to collect, we ought to respond that maybe the problem is no one cares.
Volunteering is an overall great experience. It gives us the opportunity to learn about ourselves, to learn about those around us and to build new relationships. But volunteer organisations need to recognise that in order to get more people involved and not to burn out those who give freely, how volunteers are viewed and a new talent management strategy is required.