OZVPM HOT TOPIC – MAY 2007
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
This week I had occasion to attend the funeral service of Vic, a dedicated volunteer I had known for the last three years, where I was asked to deliver a Eulogy.
As I sat and waited for my turn to speak, I listened in amazement to his family and closest friends who were also invited to share their thoughts of our recently departed friend.
Amongst the tributes were many references to what appear to have been Vic’s greatest love outside of his family – the simple joy of attending weekend garage sales. From what I can gather, rain, hail or shine, he would jump in his car every Saturday morning at 9am and do the ’rounds’ of the sales that were advertised that day. He would collect old time memorabilia that he would then sit and talk about with elderly citizens in nursing homes. He would also collect other odds and ends he would fashion into pieces of artwork.
Well that’s all very interesting I hear you think, but not really the stuff a Hot Topic column is made of! .or is it?
Well let me just confess that as I listened, I felt somewhat embarrassed that through all the application processes Vic had been through when he first applied to be a volunteer (which incidentally included a section asking about skills and interests), and through the many hours my team and I had spent with him, none of us ever had any inkling of this great passion of his. This is especially ironic in that our organisation has been trying to identify volunteers within our midst who could help us run some large fundraisers – and I bet that in a flash, Vic would have loved to run a giant garage sale with our support had we only known and asked!
It’s an opportunity that was missed. For us to have been able to utilise the passion and skills of a team member to run a project that would have been of benefit to us all, would have been the greatest volunteer job possible.
This is not the first time this has happened to me, and I remember having had the conversation several times in the past with volunteer management colleagues about the fact that you never really get to know about a person until you go to their funeral. How sad!
Following the funeral, I got to thinking again about just how well we really do tap into the interests, hobbies and life skills that volunteers bring with them into our agencies and how we might be able to do this better?
Amongst the questions I asked myself were:
- It is one thing to ask a generic question about skills and hobbies on an application form, but how much should we ‘dig’ to learn those special skills a person can bring?
- How do new volunteers interpret what it is we are really asking?
- If someone asked you to list your ‘skills and interests’ what would you list?
- More importantly, what would you leave out?
- What is it we (an as agency) really want to learn about this aspect of our volunteers?
- Do we think far enough ahead and do we have a database that will allow us to extract information about a volunteer’s hobbies at a later stage when a new opportunity arises that requires the use of different skills?
Most significantly, how ‘willing and able’ are we to actually do something with this knowledge once we have it?
In an age when we hear endless discussions about volunteers becoming more specific about the types of volunteer work they will undertake, it seems to me that learning about the very things that excite a volunteer outside of their work and everyday life, or the connections a volunteer can bring – those things a volunteer is most passionate about – is just about the most important thing we can do!
Outside of skills and hobbies, let’s also not forget to try and gather other information that may benefit your program.
For instance, does your new volunteer:
. Have a relative or friend who is a sporting identity or political figure? How could these contacts be utilised to raise funds or gather support for your cause?
. Have a partner or contacts in the business world? Can these be harnessed as sponsors for your program?
. Have a military history? Is there a way they can tap into the veteran’s community as a source of other new potential volunteers? . Have any specific qualifications that you can tap into? For instance, a projectionist licence may enable you to run movie nights at a local cinema at a reduced cost or a volunteer who is also a qualified architect may be able to provide free advice to your Board about your agencies pending building options.
. Speak other languages? Can they assist you in translating your volunteer program’s promotional materials?
I am sure that amongst you, there are some really creative ways you have been able to learn about these personal traits within your volunteers and then develop and encourage the utilisation of these interests directly into their volunteer work.
So let’s hear about them:
. What are some of the ways you gather this information about your team?
. What do you do with this information once you have it
. Are there real life success stories you can share?