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