Get more bang for the volunteer buck

Get more bang for the volunteer buck

This is Volunteer Week, so we recognize those who unselfishly dedicate their time to bettering their community, working with youth, furthering important causes and so on.

There are a number of days set aside to recognize volunteers, and frankly, we think the fanfare is a bit paltry. It is part of the limited vision involved with recognizing and appreciating the critical role of volunteers in our society.

Firstly, any time you single out one person for accolades or awards for their contributions, there are hundreds more who are missed. So how does that make them feel? There is always a danger in choosing only one, and sometimes it does more harm than good.

Secondly, you have to be careful handing out a token or plaque, particularly one of many, to someone who has dedicated hugely to a cause, that it does not understate the magnitude of their efforts. Everyone knows “it is the thought that counts,” but it can still offend.

It is nice to recognize people for their contributions, but that is not why they are involved. Their real satisfaction comes from achievement – watching as they bring joy to the lives of kids and seeing them do well, even improve; or seeing a part of their community enhanced. The gratification that comes from such results is the real reward.

Let’s stop for a moment and assess this. There are many, many volunteers in towns and cities throughout Canada. Our country would not be as wonderful as it is without them. It is what the spirit of community is all about, part of our culture: that legion of volunteers work to achieve many things, making all our lives better. Most, if not all of us, contribute to that in some way, some certainly more than others.

What should be foremost in our efforts to encourage volunteerism, is to provide support to foster and enable it. Unfortunately, that critical aspect is almost always missed.

There are two kinds of volunteers. Those unique individuals who can organize and manage are rare and wonderful and the key to the success of any venture. Then there are the worker bees who will help, often tirelessly – they simply need to be given tasks. The two together are formidable.

Almost any volunteer undertaking requires money and or resources. When something needs doing, the volunteer organizer-managers take the lead and determine goals and objectives, assess available resources and funds and then devise a plan. The volunteer workers can then be assigned tasks and start working.

Rather than facilitating all this, what we as a society do is immediately add extra burdens to the organizer-managers, impeding their ability to perform. They must, before anything else, meet lengthy and complex criteria, filling out forms, drafting budgets with rationalizations and justifications in order to access money and resources. These essential steps done in order for that effort to be considered require huge amounts of time and energy.
That time and energy is taken away from the volunteer activity – from working with kids and bettering communities and enhancing causes. That process is seriously flawed. None of that precious time and energy should be sacrificed. Another way must be found to justify those resources and funds.

Most of this is about government’s inability to facilitate efficiently – since most of our resources and money stem from different levels of bureaucracy. That is not to say volunteers should not be accountable and they certainly should not be given money and resources freely without strings attached. Governments deal in public money and are responsible to shepherd it carefully. But the process of planning, rationalization and justification should be carried out by government staff on behalf of the volunteers.

Instead of government workers giving time-consuming tasks to volunteers, encumbering them, the onus should be on government workers to facilitate, freeing up volunteers to the greatest extent possible, enabling them. In addition, every community should have a staff person assigned to assist volunteers with administration, planning and finances.

If that were done, we would get so much more out of volunteers. Facilitated, they would have more time to do what they love and and what they are good at, accomplish more, and so reap greater rewards of satisfaction.

Everyone would win, including the government workers, who would be more effective in their role – by design, the pros at organizing and managing – and so be more engaged and involved in the inevitable success stories.

Facilitating volunteers in every possible way is a missing step. In order to meet accounting and administrative needs, a huge workload is heaped on volunteers and we need to fix that. It should never happen.

Northern Journal
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