OzVPM HOT TOPIC – SEPTEMBER 2006
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
“Let him that would move the world, first move himself.” (Socrates)
Most of what I write in this column each month relates directly to the field of volunteer program management. More specifically I frequently tend to focus on offering challenges about ways we can think differently about what it is that we do, espouse ruminations to help us better appreciate the role we have in our agencies and try and stress the influence that I believe we hold, both individually and collectively, in our broader communities.
All these ideas are great in their own right and certainly have lots of merit; they encourage us to continue to grow our thinking in ways that can help our profession to develop and evolve. They also form the basis for ongoing debate, discussion and dialogue throughout the sector.
As many of you would be aware, I’ve just finished co-leading the 2nd Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management in Brisbane * , which unlike most conventional conferences seeks, from the outset, to have clear actions associated with the outcome of the event. It is not simply a ‘talkfest’ and it is more than just an opportunity to escape from the piles of paperwork and pressures of running a successful volunteer program for a few days. It is instead an opportunity for delegates to make consolidated change, both individually and collectively, to the field of volunteer management in Australia, New Zealand – and maybe even further abroad.
The true relevance of this hit me when I was recently sent a copy of Joy Noble and Fiona Verity’s new book called “Imagine if.” – a handbook for volunteer activists**. As a general rule, activists don’t appear to consider themselves to be volunteers – or often even a part of the voluntary sector – rather they see themselves as simply being ‘activists’ – people with a passion who aim to get things done.
Dictionary.com defines activism as ” the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals”. I really love the use of the word ‘vigorous’ in this definition, as I believe (and I have gone on record as saying this before***) , that we all too often miss out on making real change, due to the fact that we often become victims of our own need to be perennially ‘nice’.
This thought caused me to think about the fact that while there are plenty of good reasons for organisations like OzVPM to continue to stimulate debate about the development of volunteerism, there is an even bigger incentive for us to all be ‘doing’ something to make that happen.
As it eventuated, this actually became a theme throughout the retreat – firstly in the fact that as a profession we need to be re-evaluating the place in the landscape where our profession has evolved to, and secondly in considering better ways to develop methods to promote the place that volunteering – and as a consequence volunteer program management – actually hold in our society.
In fact there was a great example just recently in the UK of the volunteerism sector banding together to fight an injustice within its ranks. As I understand it, the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) had made a new ruling, departing from a long standing tradition that stated that volunteers on government benefits would need to foot the cost of their own lunch expenses – whereas volunteers who were salaried would be able to claim a refund for theirs. The result was volunteer involving organisations and VPM practitioners across the UK pulled together and mounted an ‘in-your-face’ campaign protesting the injustice – with the pleasing result that the DWP did an ‘about face’ on its position.
So here’s the deal – I think it is high time we learnt a lesson from our activist cousins and became more like them! If volunteer program management is to gain in its recognition as a profession, then we need to be the ones who are vigorously promoting that cause – both as individuals and as a collective.
To help you think through what this might involve, let me suggest the following:
- Let’s place a standing item on the agenda of every volunteer managers network meeting which discusses the actions the group members, and the network as a whole, have made to promote our cause
- Like all good activists, let’s actively plan ways that we can demonstrate our cause and raise public awareness to those we need to be targeting
- Let’s encourage volunteer centres the world over to go beyond seeing volunteer managers as simply a source of training revenue, but rather to join the cause and better help us to promote the role of volunteer program managers within the volunteering landscape
- Stop making excuses for not joining professional VPM Association’s such as AAVA in Australasia, MOVE in Singapore , CAVR in Canada , SAVM in Scotland or AVM in the UK . There is strength in numbers.
- Remember that activism works on an individual basis too – real change starts with your agency
- Promote International Volunteer Managers Appreciation Day on November 1, and look for ways to educate others as a part of celebrating our great profession
- More advanced VPM’s must understand that a basic tenet of being considered ‘advanced’ should be to become more active in fighting the injustices associated with the fact that VPMs are not as well recognised as some of our aligned HR cousins
- Dare to speak up .even if it means you might get your head lopped off from time to time!
- Support and encourage one another
As you can see this is a call to action, and there are many ways that we can all become more actively involved in forging change for volunteer program management – to ensure that we receive due acknowledgement for the work it is that we do.
Let me leave this month’s hot topic with a quote from Auschwitz survivor Elie Weisel who said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Maybe now is our time to protest!
Why not share your thoughts on this topic – or your ideas about how we can all become more active and mobilised
* See www.vpmretreat.com.au
** We hope to have Joy and Fiona’s new publication available through the OzVPM Bookstore soon.
*** See http://www.ozvpm.com/pasthottopics/march04.php