OzVPM HOT TOPIC – DECEMBER 2005
By OzVPM Director Andy Fryar with guest hot topic contributor, Fraser Dyer
OzVPM Director Andy Fryar recently spend time travelling through Scotland with UK volunteerism expert Fraser Dyer where amongst other things, they discussed Fraser’s reflections on his recent visit to Australia as part of the ‘Turn your organisation into a volunteer magnet’ tour.
Below are Fraser’s thoughts on volunteerism in Australia and his reflections of his visit.
OzVPM: As this was your first trip to Australia how did the experience match up to your expectations?
FD: Very well indeed. Australia has a very positive image amongst my friends and colleagues, and anybody I know who has visited the country has always raved about it. But it is not until you visit a place that you really understand what they are on about. The weather, environment, food etc were all as great as predicted but what really makes Australia is her people. I was bowled over by the warmth, friendliness, hospitality and great service that I encountered along the way. Long after I become reliant on photographs to remind me of the places I visited and the things I did I will continue to remember the spirit and people of Australia that made this trip such a great experience.
OzVPM: What were your observations about volunteerism in Australia?
FD: You know, I’ve run workshops on volunteer management in a number of different countries across four continents and I’m always struck more by the similarities than the differences. Not only is there something profoundly universal in the experience of volunteering, but the challenges faced by volunteer programme managers are often very familiar. The struggle to gain adequate resources for your programme, the need to attract more of the right people, the false assumptions that people make about volunteers, and the need for greater leadership are all themes that resonate across borders.
Where I think Australians have something to remind us about in Britain is the way that you build relationships into your volunteer programmes. There is a tendency in this country for some organisations to rely too heavily on systems, procedures and policies to orchestrate their volunteers, and not enough on building friendship into the equation. I think many of your organisations are doing a better job of holding onto the flexibility and camaraderie that relationship-based volunteer management brings. I hope you will retain that both for your own sake and as a continual reminder to those over here who might feel tempted to become more clinical and bureaucratic.
OzVPM: What did you learn personally from your experience here?
FD: I was reminded that when your attention is divided between productivity and people, keep your focus on people. It is easy in all of our jobs to get absorbed by the tasks and goals we have to accomplish, but if that threatens to take time away from the people in our work environment then we’ve got the balance wrong.
A small example: as a trainer your mind is preoccupied before the session starts with getting the room set up, the projector working and trying to remember what you are about to do. It is always hard to do this when people are coming up to you for a chat. In Australia, people were ALWAYS approaching me to say hello while I was trying to get myself organised. Taking my attention off the task in hand and opening myself to these dialogues helped prepare me and the group for the day ahead in a different way than making sure the projector was focussed or my notes in order. It was worth risking a delayed start in order to build relationships with new friends, because these dialogues not only informed my approach to working with the group but established a rapport on a one-to-one level that is far deeper than one can achieve collectively — leading to a better experience for everyone.
As a volunteer manager you will doubtless identify with the unwelcome interruptions that punctuate your focus on writing that report, completing a funding application or wading through a backlog of mail. But when the task tempts us away from serving those we work with we not only risk undermining the relationship but also failing to find the gift that the conversation offers us.
OzVPM: Thanks Fraser – we certainly look forward to welcoming you back to our shores at some point in the future
If you were one of the many Volunteer Managers around the country lucky enough to attend the ‘magnet tour’ sessions, why not share your experiences of what Fraser brought to our country. Were there lessons you learnt from his sessions that you have since implemented in your programs? What were the main points that resonated with you?
Please feel free to respond below
Response posted on December 13, 2005 by Sue Jones, Training Project Manager, Volunteer Centre, WARRINGTON, United KingdomHello all,
I am a UK VPM who is an avid reader of your Hot Topics, but this is my first post (first of many, I hope), as I was encouraged to write something following my attendance at the UK’s CSV conference in Coventry this November. I had the privilege of meeting Andy for the second time and I would like to say how fortunate you are to have OZvpm as a resource to tap into and to contribute to.
I have to say that I completely agree with Fraser Dyer’s observations about developing relationships and flexibility within our volunteer programmes and our tendency in the UK to become buried in the processes and the paperwork, simply because it’s there! For me, its about remembering the reason why you became involved in working with volunteers in the first place, although I know lots of Volunteer Managers who will say that the systems or the structures no longer allow them to capture the spirit of volunteering any more. To overcome this, I believe we need to make decisions which are maybe perceived as being bold or brave. But really, being bold or brave is just about being creative – a phrase much used, I know, but maybe that’s because it’s much needed! From what Fraser has to say, and from listening to some of examples from Australia which are brought to life during Andy’s sessions, it really does seem that you are managing to maintain the right balance.
For those of you who have attended the ‘magnet tour’, I would be very interested to read your views and how the session has helped you further develop your programmes, as I am hoping to welcome Andy and Fraser to our local area in the UK’s northwest sometime next year. Indeed, finding out what others are thinking (and feeling) about how they work with volunteers always highlights to me the importance of networking – (both informally and formally, both locally and globally), and how important it is to make use of the resources available.
As part of my work, I also provide training and support to Volunteer Managers and I find that it’s often following a training session or a network meet that we feel our most inspired and most able to carry out our roles better. Sometimes, this is simply because we have been provided with the opportunity to express how we feel about what we are doing, or we have listened to what a colleague thinks, or we have gained some ideas. But I always think we underestimate the value of doing exactly that.
So, make the most of having an opportunity to have a voice and share your views and suggestions through this forum. What you may view as your scrambled thoughts, maybe just the thing to resonate with someone and inspire a colleague who happens to be reading………
Response posted on December 9, 2005 by Be Potter, Volunteer Services Leader, Carers NT, DARWIN, NT, Australia
I came down from Darwin to Adelaide to attend the ‘Magnet’ seminars and I have to say that it was one of the most innovative, creative and fun seminars I’ve attended.
Martin and Andy set things up beautifully for Fraser to run with and he was a delight. I came back to Darwin feeling reinvigorated. I set goals whilst there and have achieved them since returning. Working in relative isolation can be quite dreary and uninspiring so to have that wonderful positive input was great. It’s been terrific following the’ tour’ as well.