OzVPM HOT TOPIC – OCTOBER 2006
Our Hot Topic this month is contributed by DJ Cronin, a Volunteer Program Manager from Brisbane who recently made the move to working in a ‘for profit’ hospital after many years in the not-for-profit sector. The reaction by many of DJ’s peers to his change in focus has been interesting to say the least, and so we decided it was time to open up this can of worms and see what crawled out!
An eerie quietness settled upon the room. One could hear the rain beat on the windowpanes while in the distance, a dog barked.
All I had said was that I was a Volunteer Manager working in a ‘for profit’ organisation.
Someone hissed. I caught my reflection in the windowpane. My eyes glowed red and the horns on top of my head seemed to grow longer. I suddenly stood, and wrapping my black cape around myself I began a laugh that began with a slow giggle and gradually increased to a roar of laughter as I exposed my fangs. Some VPMs fainted while others made for the doors and windows in panic.
Ah Satire! Some say it is the lowest form of wit but I disagree. While I thought that the opening paragraphs and headline might grab your attention for this month’s Hot Topic, there are actually some aspects of truth in what I have written above although granted, the devil part is made up for those of you seriously worried about me!
The setting was the recent ‘Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management’ held in Brisbane . I had been sitting in my community group when our facilitator had asked us for issues that we would like to discuss. When someone mentioned the topic of volunteers working in the ‘for profit’ sector someone shouted from the back “yea – the prostitution of Volunteering!” Someone else spoke up saying, “just ask DJ”, with the comment coming a person who had already approached me earlier, informing me that I had joined the dark side! Talk about being in the spotlight!
I waited a while and eventually had the opportunity to talk about our wonderful volunteer program and I wondered aloud what our volunteers would think of the notion of the prostitution of volunteering?
Another specific incident prompted me to write on this subject. While surfing through Volunteering Australia’s excellent new website I came across a PowerPoint presentation all about volunteering which I quickly downloaded. The presentation included a statement or definition that stated volunteers only volunteered for ‘not for profit agencies’. Really? Then what were those people freely giving their time to our organisation to be called?
The fact is that many hospitals and aged care facilities have been bought and are now being run by and as private organisations. Many have adopted the volunteer programs that already existed at the time of purchase, while others have actually instigated brand new volunteer programs. Are we to ignore and/or shun this new trend or are we going to embrace it as another avenue for people exercising their democratic right to volunteer where and how they choose to do so?
I make it a point to ask each volunteer applying to work at my agency about their motivation for volunteering. Their answers are the universal answers that we all hear:
- I want to volunteer at my local hospital
- I’ve been to this hospital, the care I received was excellent and now I’d like to volunteer here
- I want to bring companionship to sick people
- I have an affinity for war veterans and I want to assist them in some way
And just in case you are wondering, yes I do inform them of the status of the hospital and its history. The organisation that I work for engages volunteers to provide care and companionship for patients as well as their loved ones. I could tell many inspiring tales about the differences they have made to people’s lives. We have shared tears and laughter. Volunteers do that.
I have worked in volunteer management for over 8 years, the majority of that time in the not for profit sector and believe me when I tell you that I won’t stay in any organisation that does not value and respect its volunteering teams! Management has trusted my experience and expertise to run this volunteer program and I am part of that management team. Our volunteer mission statement states that our service plays an integral role in the care and wellness of patients, and that our volunteers strive to provide a positive experience for patients and recognise diversity by treating all people with dignity and respect.
You may well ask where we should draw a line in the sand? I suggest that these things need to be looked at on a case by case basis – that is to say, we need to examine the nature of the volunteering and the contribution that it makes to the lives of the people it affects – as well as to the volunteers themselves.
Many years ago I learnt that rigid views can stop progress. In fact rigid views can lead to strife and even wars. If our society as a whole dropped these views and adopted the middle ground where we take a look at both sides of the coin, then we would have a more cohesive, tolerant, peaceful and compassionate society. And that is not a rigid view of mine as I can listen to other views without hissing at others! .but I digress!
I do hope that we do not see the creation of different tiers of volunteering in our society along the ‘for profit’ vs ‘not for profit’ lines, and that we also don’t venture down the George Orwell road where all volunteers are equal – but some are just a little more equal than others!
Additional thoughts by Andy Fryar
OK, so what do you make of DJ’s thoughts and what thinking do you have of your own around this topic of volunteers working in the ‘for profit’ sector?
For me this has been a topic of great interest for many years, as it has always seemed that the prescriptive measure of volunteering in ‘not-for-profit agencies only’, so often stated in volunteering definitions, has always seemed contradictory to those parts of the same definitions which usually precede it – namely that volunteering is done by free will. After all, if I choose to go and volunteer for Rupert Murdoch, knowing fully that my efforts are going to line his pocket, why should I not be allowed to do that and why should that effort not be called volunteering? Now I know that is an extreme example (and not a likely one), but if we are going to look objectively at this topic we need to push the boundaries and ask the questions as the answers are not always as black and white as we would like – in fact in volunteerism grey is usually the colour of choice!
Consider these examples:
- Corporate volunteering has largely been accepted now as a valid avenue of voluntary service, yet in many cases it is clear that these relationships still largely benefit the corporate partner and not so much the NFP agency they are working with
- What about the vast amounts of money saved by governments through the utilisation of volunteers? Sure they don’t directly benefit shareholders, but let’s be honest and acknowledge there is more than just goodwill behind the motivations of governments wanting to involve volunteers
- Through the direct fundraising efforts of volunteers, many NFP’s raise significant and substantial funds that go directly towards paying for the salaries and wages of their staff, yet we never question this
Here’s where DJ’s comments are so vital – as a professional in our field, he acknowledges that there is the possibility for volunteers working in the for profit sector to be taken advantage of, which is the very reason he believes we need to be more inclusive of that part of volunteerism – so that we can ensure we have well trained people working in those agencies and making sure that everything is done in the right way and for the right reasons.
At the end of the day it surely must be a better alternative to the ‘Ostrich’ approach so many of us seem to want to take.
OK over to all of you – let’s hear your comments about this fascinating topic