OzVPM HOT TOPIC – NOVEMBER 2005
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
With the 2005 International Volunteer Managers Appreciation Day (IVMAD) celebration only a month away (December 5), it’s appropriate that our November hot topic should focus on this still emerging but critically important day of celebration for volunteer leaders the world over.
As a member of the International Committee that is planning and promoting IVMAD, I was recently asked the following question.
You are in a lift with a perfect stranger who in conversation asks ‘.So why a day celebrating the work of volunteer managers? What do they do that is so important?’
Given 30 seconds to reply, how might you answer?
It’s a great question, and one worth taking a little time to ponder as we lead into IVMAD 2005.
L et’s take a look at what some of the responses might be:
One immediate temptation may be to tackle the question from the perspective of ‘functionality’ – that is, you could explain to your fellow lift traveller what it is you ‘do’ . Included in this, would be an explanation about how Volunteer Program Managers (VPMs) are able to effectively and professionally recruit, train, screen, and motivate volunteers. You might also enter into a discourse on how you administer the volunteer program itself, including budgeting, planning and staffing your program.
However, as impressive as this list of great achievements is, I’d still have to challenge the thought that this ‘functional’ work is alone worthy of a form of recognition as significant at IVMAD.
For instance, it could be argued that human resource managers or accountants or office administrators all work to a similar standard of performance – and they sure don’t have a day dedicated to their profession! (.or not that I know of anyway!)
Another way we might attempt to maximise our thirty seconds in the lift, would be to avoid the explanation of ‘function’ and focus instead on ‘form’. I’m sure you have heard the saying that ‘form follows function’, and accordingly, the discerning VPM should be able to see beyond the all important daily activity, and instead focus on the way the profession of volunteer administration has grown.
By focusing on form we are not offering an answer based on what we do. Rather we are explaining ‘who we are’
So who are we? Well globally we are part of a massive movement of individuals – both paid and unpaid, who mobilise volunteer resources for the benefit of our communities. Like volunteers, we come from all walks of life and work in a vast range of interest areas.
There also now exists a proliferation of volunteer management professional associations all around the world, including AAVA here in the Australasian region, while the ongoing development of volunteer management training packages at all levels of education have further reinforced our credibility as a unified ‘profession’ rather than simply a conglomeration of workers all trying to do similar jobs. In short, we have an identity and over time that identity is (slowly) getting stronger.
So does having a strong identity warrant an international day of celebration?
Well maybe, but there are plenty of other professions who also have a very strong presence internationally, but I don’t ever remember seeing ‘International butchers appreciation day’ or ‘International day of florists’ on any calendar I’ve owned!
W hile our growing and unified identity is certainly a cause for celebration, it too may not be enough to satisfy our fellow lift traveller’s question.
So let’s then look at the third possible response we could give.
Outcome & Impact
It’s when we investigate and talk about the impact of our work that we really start to understand the full value of why we deserve a day of celebration.
In brief – we make a difference!
Not only are volunteers who are properly supported more effective in their work of changing our society, but we make a difference every day to volunteers themselves.
How do you place a value on the time a volunteer spends quietly sitting with a palliative care client for the last few hours of their life? Can you measure the impact of well led environmental volunteers planting 10,000 trees on future generations? How amazing is it when a volunteer gains enough experience and confidence through their work with you as a VPM and your program that they go on to work with others – perhaps saving ‘at risk’ clients from suicide or assisting the victims of domestic violence to escape that terrible cycle.
This was driven home to me several months ago when a young woman in her mid 20’s approached me at a function and introduced herself as Jayne. I didn’t remember Jayne, but she remembered me. She told me how, as a young person nearly a decade earlier, she had come to the organisation I was working with at the time and had become a volunteer. She told me that the start I had given her had been instrumental in her later going onto University and becoming a social worker, where she was now helping others on a daily basis.
The really interesting point I took from that conversation was that she didn’t say our program had given her a start – rather she directly related her thinking back to the start that I had given to her.
That’s why we deserve a day of celebration!
When we couple the outcomes and impact of our work with the elements of ‘what we do’ (functionality) and ‘who we are’ (form), we can begin to understand that there is indeed something a little unique in the work that we all are involved in.
So on December 5 while you are saying a big thank you to all your agency’s volunteers and celebrating ‘International Volunteers Day’, remember to also take some time to pat yourself on the back – or to call a colleague and remind them what a great job they do.
Finally, remember that as of 2006, International Volunteer Managers Appreciation Day is moving to it’s own day of celebration on November 1 – and it’s not too early to start thinking about ways to celebrate bigger and better than ever!
So please feel free to hit the respond button below and share your own thoughts about why we deserve a day to celebrate the wonderful achievements we make every day
* More information about IVMAD can be found at the IVMA official website