Are we "Just" Volunteers?

16 May 2016 | Articles

Are we "Just" Volunteers?

“I’m ‘just’ or s/he is ‘just’ a volunteer?” Who is 'just' a volunteer? It always surprises me when I hear this term. Whether from the volunteer themselves or from those that work and engage with volunteers.

Is ‘just’ a qualifier of what they do or not do? If I’m ‘just’ a volunteer do I need to take any responsibility? If I’m ‘just’ a volunteer do I need to show up today? If they are ‘just’ a volunteer can we expect anything from them? If we expect volunteers to be unreliable, will they be unreliable? If we expect volunteers to show no commitment, will we get commitment from them?

The term ‘professional’ is also rarely heard attributed to a volunteer, however many ‘professionals’ volunteer. The term ‘professional’ is not only for paid staff with ‘professional’ being synonymous to hiring paid staff. When someone becomes a volunteer does that mean they suddenly become unprofessional and therefore ‘just’ a volunteer?

If we see volunteers as being at the core of our operations how do we ensure they are also aware of this? How do we ensure they have what they need to be able to be knowledgeable, reliable and that expectations are met for both sides of the relationship?

Because its not a one-way relationship, the one between the volunteer and the place where they volunteer.

Do you say or have you heard these?

  • Volunteers are the lifeblood of our community/organisation/sector/industry.
  • Volunteers make an important/valuable/significant contribution to society.
  • Volunteers play a central role.
  • Without volunteers, our organisation would fail to function effectively.
  • Volunteers are extremely valuable/very special people

Is it a case of hearing a consistent message being spread (phrases praising volunteers) yet seeing consistent opposition to this message through inaction (approaches taken towards involving volunteers). Are volunteers being considered as the "gravy" and not part of the "meat" of our staff and organisation? Until governance and management, from the highest level, regards an organisation's volunteers as indispensable, the volunteers won't see themselves as such either, which will undermine their commitment.

Volunteers have the right to be informed, to have the resources necessary to do the job, to know where they fit within your vision and mission. If our view is ‘we get what we pay for’ then what we put into the volunteers - time, training, supervision, resources – is vital to ensuring that the culture of ‘just’ a volunteer is eroded. If, however, we don’t put the effort, time, resources, supervision, into the relationship – we definitely ‘get what we pay for’!

‘I’m just a volunteer’ or ‘I am a VOLUNTEER!”

We are, simultaneously, all of the various roles and characters that we are in our lives. At some times in our lives we are volunteers - some times not. We are never ‘just’ a volunteer!

Cheryll Martin
General Manager
Volunteering Auckland

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