OzVPM HOT TOPIC – APRIL 2006
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
This month’s Hot Topic is not so much a well thought out essay, but rather a quick series of random thoughts and questions on the topic of how we might best view the ‘value’ of different volunteer efforts.
During the month I referenced an interesting opinion piece by journalist Mirko Bagaric which had appeared on a web site called ‘On Line Opinion: Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate’ and also in the ‘Geelong Advertiser’ – see the article in it’s entirety at http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=4278
The article elicited a great deal of response both within the OzVPM Newsgroup and also more broadly via personal e-mails that I sighted.
In the article, titled ‘Volunteering for the ‘right’ reasons’, the author (who is obviously not a great fan of the Commonwealth Games) essentially argued that the time people have spent volunteering for the games is essentially a ‘waste of time’. He suggests that the long term benefits of assisting with a major sporting event is potentially a waste of resources – and that the time committed to the games might have been better used had it been contributed to a social service agency. He even goes on to suggest that a better outcome may have been for games volunteers not to volunteer at all, but rather stay at work, earn extra money, and send it to Africa.
Now while I could go on for ever about the inaccuracies and assumptions the piece makes about volunteering and a person’s motivations for doing so, I particularly wanted to take up the challenge of discussing whether or not one type of volunteering does have more community benefit than another.
All volunteer activity has a result – an outcome which arguably varies greatly from one volunteer role to another. However, is it possible to say that the benefits derived from one voluntary act is more important or potentially better than another?
Let’s consider the following series of questions:
~ A volunteer fire fighter rushes into the face of danger and extinguishes a blaze, in the process saving a home and livestock. Is the act of this volunteer greater (or more valuable) than the volunteer who drove the fire truck to the scene or the administration volunteer who via the radio navigated the pair to the correct address? Which role produced the most ‘value’?
~ What if putting the fire out didn’t just save a property, but also saved the life of a small child trapped inside the burning house? Is the value of this scenario now greater than that outlined in the previous example?
~ Picking up on the theme of the referenced article, let’s ask a question of volunteering in special events, the arts, sport, recreation or areas of environmental responsibility? Are these activities ‘less serious’ (and therefore less valuable) acts of volunteering than say working in a soup kitchen or amongst the starving masses in some parts of Africa?
~ Should these types of activities continue to be encouraged at all costs or should volunteer agencies discourage involvement in favour of more ‘serious’ volunteer opportunities?
~ How would the author reconcile his beliefs against the fact that following the Games, Melbourne’s sporting infrastructure will be stronger than ever? What are the flow-on effects of this on Melbourne’s youth in the years to come? Where does the value of these things fit?
~ Should we attribute the same ‘value’ to a volunteer doctor providing medical assistance at the Commonwealth games as we would a volunteer bus driver at the same event – ferrying athletes from one venue to another?
~ What if the qualified doctor was not working as a volunteer in their medical capacity? Instead,what if s/he was working as a volunteer transport driver? Does their value decrease?
As I am sure you may have guessed I am trying to deliberately stir up some debate, because I do believe it is a question worth exploring in more depth.
~ Why is it that some areas of volunteering appear to receive far more funding support than others? Is this merely a perception issue or do government and other funders actually believe it is more valuable to fund some voluntary activities over others?
~ Is this directly related to what you might pay a salaried staff member to perform the same tasks?
~ Should the value of volunteering somehow be tied into the direct benefit others receive as a result of the activity — and how do you measure that?
~ As a part of these equations, how do you properly value the benefits derived by the volunteer themselves (ie. a volunteer who was suicidal now finds value in their life through their volunteer work)
This is sure an interesting conversation and worthy of continuing – so let’s hear your random responses to my muddled thoughts!