OzVPM HOT TOPIC – FEBRUARY 2005
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
In last month’s Hot Topic column I wrote about the significant voluntary efforts being poured into the Asian region to aid those countries suffering the effects of the tsunami disaster which occurred on December 26, 2004. Since writing that column, the pace has not let off.
Charitable giving in Australia has echoed that of the international community, with both the private sector and individual citizens giving more than ever before. For example, a charity cricket match in Melbourne raised no less than eleven million dollars, while national commercial television and radio networks joined forces to host a telethon titled ‘Australia Unites’ which raised a further $72 million. Even the Australian government pitched in with nothing less than a one billion dollar relief package – the largest in our nation’s history.
Volunteering has also been high on the agenda. Relief agencies such as the Red Cross, World Vision and Australian Volunteers International have been inundated with offers of assistance for both ‘on-the-ground’ roles in places like Phuket and Sri Lanka and home based roles back here in Australia . Never before have Australians felt such a desire to give ‘en masse’.
But what are the likely long term outcomes of such an outpouring of generosity? Should we, in the volunteerism community celebrate this acknowledgement of the vital work of volunteers and the not-for-profit community, or should we be concerned about the some of the potential longer term consequences that may occur?
Let’s start by examining the many donations of both money and goods that has occurred on such a monumental basis. Australians, by nature, are generous people and the Asian disaster has again demonstrated just what large hearts we all have. However, has the giving to the tsunami crisis been an extraordinary response to an unprecedented crisis, or is it simply the reallocation of donations usually ear marked for other charities?
What will be the longer term financial impact on community based volunteer driven organisations such as the local animal shelter, football club or hospital Auxiliary? Will these groups be met with the response, “sorry, but I already gave to the tsunami disaster” when they stick out their hands for donations later in the year ? Will there be a noticeable decline in the donation of second hand goods through organisations such as St Vincent de Paul stores or Salvation Army Op Shops as these goods are redirected directly to those in Asia ? I know already of one organisation which has had several regular donors inform them that they will direct their donations elsewhere, at least for the short term. What will be the impact of this for both the organisations and the volunteers operating these second hand stores?
The events of September 11, 2001 have already established a precedent, where there was a noticeable decline in general charitable giving after the initial outpouring to support the relief operations. I for one would suggest that we may well see the same trends here in Australia come the second half of 2005 and beyond.
And what of volunteering?
Firstly, one thing we do know is that a tragedy of this magnitude often acts as the catalyst that gets people, who may have been thinking about volunteering, off of their backsides and into the fray!
The reports coming from agencies such as Red Cross, World Vision and any other agency with even a slight tsunami related mission, would suggest that is exactly what is happening. But what are the longer term impacts for the availability of volunteers to non-tsunami related charities?
Although anecdotal, I distinctly remember that following the International Year of Volunteers (IYV) in 2001, there appeared to be a much smaller pool of new volunteers applying for positions at the beginning of 2002. This trend seemingly continued right into 2003 before returning to what might be described as ‘pre IYV’ levels. One theory behind this is that the extra promotion of volunteering opportunities that occurred throughout IYV (and the Sydney Olympics), actually prompted those who had been thinking about joining a volunteer group to do exactly that. This is certainly not a bad thing, it’s just that the ongoing promotion of volunteering that occurred during IYV spurred an action which normally would have occurred over a longer period; hence leaving a lesser pool of willing candidates after the year was over.
Maybe the tsunami disaster too will signal a similar effect – a noticeable decrease over the coming months of new volunteer applicants as a result of the heightened levels of activity happening now.
But perhaps I’m being all a little too pessimistic with my predictions.
One thing that the tsunami has certainly helped to highlight has been the absolutely critical role that volunteers do play – not only in times of international disaster – but in everyday life. So just maybe, out of this tragedy we may witness a new momentum for future volunteerism around the world. This was certainly the case in Japan in 1995 following the magnitude 7 earthquake that hit Kobe , killing some 6,400 people. It has been well documented that the largest legacy to come out of that disaster was a new found understanding of just what citizen participation in activities like volunteering could achieve.
Ultimately only time will tell what the long term effect of this latest tragedy will have on both financial and physical giving. I certainly don’t pretend to have the solutions, but I do have some of the questions which will someday have an answer.
Let’s hear what you think?
- Do you agree with all (or any) of these sentiments?
- Are there other important points emerging from the tsunami disaster we have not touched on as yet?
- What trends do you think will emerge?