The Need for Diversity – a ‘Whole-of-Volunteering’ Approach

By Joy Noble, Louise Rogers, and Andy Fryar
From Volunteer Program Management, Volunteering SA Inc, 2003

A whole-of-volunteering approach underlines the diversity and inclusiveness of volunteering with volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working:

  • in the country and in cities
  • at all hours, seven days a week
  • in many different areas from health to heritage
  • across many activities, from policy makers on boards to providing practical services
  • in most not-for-profit and some for-profit organisations, both small and large; some government departments; mutual help and advocacy groups; and alone
  • in pursuance of different goals including the provision of remedial, preventive, emergency and educative services, community development processes, leisure activities, spiritual matters, the support of human rights and protection of the planet.

Some people who are working in a voluntary capacity may not even consider or call themselves “volunteers.” Examples may include volunteers who contribute time as coaches, board members or people from the legal profession who undertake pro-bono work. However, they should be encouraged to see themselves as part of a human resource.

While volunteers are likely to know something about the efforts of other volunteers working in common areas, it is important for them to relate to volunteers working across all areas of endeavour.

Members of the public often don’t realise services are being provided by volunteers, eg. the people hauling the tarpaulin over the roof during a violent storm. They too need to become more aware of the immensity of volunteer effort within the community, and while the International Year of Volunteers in 2001 went some way towards breaking down these barriers, the impact that volunteers make across our whole community needs to be constantly reinforced.

The value of informal volunteering – where volunteers work outside the framework of an organisation – is also greatly underrated by the community, and even by organisations whose services depend, at least in part, on persons providing such neighbourly assistance day in and day out. For example, the efforts of health workers are diminished when they fail to consult and work with people who are voluntarily assisting neighbours who are disabled or frail. Recycling of household rubbish by councils is impossible without the voluntary cooperation of householders. New migrants receive enormous assistance from those who have already established themselves. A farmer who has to go into hospital at harvest time will depend on fellow farmers to bring in the crop.

Volunteers and agencies in country areas can feel very isolated, when government and private organisations reduce services in their communities, and put further pressure on volunteers to fill the gaps.

A whole-of-volunteering approach is not limited to community organisations with voluntary boards of management. Some government departments concerned with human services and the environment hold similar goals, as do some for-profit organisations. Volunteers working within all these organisations can enhance service provision and help to bring about necessary change.

In celebrating the achievements of volunteers, we will also recognise the contribution of other forms of unpaid work, such as parenting, and of paid work. Most people hold multiple roles throughout their lives, as parents, paid workers and volunteers, and perhaps as careers. By appreciating the value of all roles, policies and practice can be instituted which enable people to combine their different roles in a productive and cohesive manner.

Greater recognition and support for, and by, fellow volunteers working across all areas, and providing different forms of service is urgently required if the combined efforts of volunteers are to be recognised and supported. This is required not only in the provision of needed services, but in building a society where citizens respect and care for each other and the planet which supports us. A whole-of-volunteering approach is called for. The challenge is for:

  • volunteers to recognise that they are part of a huge national resource
  • policy makers to recognise that people hold multiple roles – both paid and unpaid, and to ensure policies and practices take this fact into account
  • all workers – paid and unpaid – to appreciate the value of their joint efforts
  • organisations to give more attention and recognition to people working alone who are providing informal help in ways which support their own goals
  • the ABS to continue to conduct national surveys covering volunteers who work in organisations as well as informally, and to distribute their findings widely
  • researchers to analyse what is happening in relation to volunteering and publish the results – and for policy makers and managers to take note and, where necessary, act
  • state and national bodies representing the various areas, eg. sport, environment, human services, arts, to develop policies in relation to volunteering and strategies which support and safeguard the efforts of volunteers in their own particular area
  • state and national government departments, individually and together, to take responsibility for providing funding to national and state volunteering bodies and organisations within their own portfolio area/s, to provide the infrastructure necessary to support and enhance the work of volunteers
  • volunteer program managers to share their experience and knowledge by networking together, and to capitalise on events such as Volunteer Week and International Volunteer Day in celebrating not only the achievements of volunteers within their own organisation, but the combined contribution of volunteers across the country
  • state and national bodies representing volunteering to work with state and national bodies representing the various areas where volunteers work and present a whole-of-volunteering approach to governments and the wider community.
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