Friday, 2 December 2011

Volunteers, stationery supplies and an apology

First of all, the apology.

It has been five weeks since I last posted to this blog.  Whilst I have had my monthly Third Sector blog published during this time and I have written a post for The Cowling Report which will appear on 5th December I haven't gotten round to posting anything new here.

The main reason for this has been a really busy November travelling around the UK training and speaking at conferences.  This busy period has been very welcome given Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd is a new business in a tough economic climate but it has kept me from having time to write anything here.  So my apologies.

What then has prompted me to write something now.  Well, I am currently attending the closing conference of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 in Warsaw, Poland, and in one of the sessions this morning a speaker talked about her organisation using volunteers.  I immediately turned to a colleague and we both grimaced.

Why?

I feel very strongly that we should never talk about using volunteers but involving them.

Yes, volunteers are a resource that contributes to the fulfilment of organisations' missions just like paper clips, photocopiers, staples, staplers.  But volunteers are people, they take an active role in fulfilling our missions.  They are engaged and involved, not used.

In my experience, all talk of using people is in a negative context.

We use paper clips, not people.

Now some of you may be thinking this is mere semantics and that there are bigger issues to be concerned about.  In fact, this is what another colleague said to me this morning.

I think the language we use (!) around volunteers and volunteering speaks volumes about the way they are viewed, regarded and respected in our organisations.

If we talk of using volunteers, putting them on a par with the office photocopier, then we should not be surprised if volunteers are seen as providing a far from meaningful contribution to our work.  If, however, we talk about involving them then there is implied within that a much more constructive, positive and meaningful attitude to the contribution volunteers provide.

So I hope you will join me in challenging anyone who talks of using volunteers and help them to understand why such language is unhelpful.  Please share stories of doing so in the comments below and give others confidence to do so as well.

And of course if you disagree, please leave a comment telling me why.

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