It was during a focus group conversation that someone raised the idea that the difficult or challenging volunteers to place are the ones that are usually the most at need of volunteer placement. The challenge came about as a response to how Volunteer South works with some of the most vulnerable in our community with our Supported Volunteering programme - and how these are people who often need that little bit of extra support to be able to participate in the same opportunities available to everybody. The consensus however, is that volunteer managers/coordinators/leaders/supporters are already struggling to cope with the volunteers they do engage with. It's a full time job that is often not given full time hours! So the easiest way to ensure volunteers are recruited into an organisation, is to ensure that the ones who fit best are the ones who get through the door.
Now, this isn't to criticise any organisation or person who is working in this way. It is a symptom of a chronically underfunded and under-resourced part of our community sector - the voluntary sector. During a funding workshop here in Ōtepoti Dunedin, volunteers and volunteering constantly came up as the key support people doing massive amounts of mahi in the community - but not once was the voluntary sector talked about as it's own visible - and highly valuable - part of the funding and community sector. This year has seen volunteering change in so many different ways and we're constantly advocating for the visibility of volunteers. It's not just the recognition of all the mahi that volunteers do - it's being respectful of the time and effort that they put into Aotearoa and that means funding them appropriately.
While at that same conversation at the focus group, there was a recognition that the paid work that sits behind and supports volunteering is gradually becoming more visible - more visible to funders, the community and most importantly, to local and central government. This is incredibly important. People who manage volunteers have been working hard behind the scenes for years, providing the safe space, the health and safety, the resources and the increasing burden of administration that goes with having volunteers involved in groups and organisations. These people are the creatives, the passionate supporters, the "volunteer all hours they don't get paid for" type people who truly believe in the work that they do - and most especially - in the volunteers they support. They come from all walks of life, from teachers and nurses through to business people and CEOs and they bring with them all the experience of their previous sectors and enrich our community and voluntary sector with their unique expertise. However, they are also systemically underfunded and under-resourced and often spend more time in the admin rather than doing the work they're funded for.
And while this year has been challenging, to say the least, those that are most needing the volunteer work - if indeed it is just upskilling - they are often the ones left behind in the more traditional opporunties for volunteering. Younger volunteers and youth are now volunteering in higher numbers than ever before - but the reason for this is because they are now being left behind in the employment space. The roles they had traditionally been applying for are now being taken up by older, more experienced, recently unemployed people. There is a catch 22 in this side of volunteering, as there is in a lot of the voluntary sector. How to manage this, how to support this, how to even define this, is what Volunteer South is working hard to figure out.
This isn't an easy task, and this isn't an easy year. The breath of relaxation is on our doorsteps as we realise that, almost inexplicably, December is only next month. We are working hard and working with heart, but remember to take it all with that little extra bit of self-care. Thank you for all that you do in our community - your mahi is what makes us great.
Ehara koe i te ringa huti punga.