Government Push Button
Over the last thirty years you, good government, and the community and voluntary sector, have created an amorphous organizational collocation. We call them variously today: non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or non-profit organizations (NPOs) or non-profit institutions (NPI). We might as well call them non-entities because many of them are constantly struggling to stay afloat, to do the work that is expected of them, and very few are recognized and rewarded for what they can achieve.
You’ve done a lot to elevate the game in your favor, such as making organizations more accountable for reporting results and financial accountability. You’ve also introduced barriers to bypassing health and safety regulations, in applying for charity status, and what that means. No shouting for my cause, for example, and deregistration if I dare.
You have turned the organization into a semi-business, into a state service delivery agency. For a small price. Except this meant the organization had to hire more professional staff, and it was more expensive, and the mission of the organization started reading ‘fulfilling contractual obligations’ instead of ‘serving people, meeting their needs’. Somehow, even if you don’t make it clear, you seem to be expecting voluntary goodwill to take over.
And while you are drawing large national organizations closer and closer to your tent, and attracting others to do your bidding, you forget the breadth and depth of the community and voluntary sector, their diversity, their presence in every city and suburb, in every rural town and residence. You forget that a country does not develop solely by relying on the government and the business sector: A man! A man! A man! – people are also important. Civil Society is just as important as your focus on economic growth. In many ways. Civil society groups, clubs, associations and organizations promote, develop and maintain the welfare of society. They take goods and people that do not conform to your service norms; they fulfill leisure and artistic interests, involve people in social and sporting activities; they lead the way to community development driven by community interests.
Of the 100,000+ NPOs in Aotearoa New Zealand, 90% do not employ paid staff. That’s right. These organizations are led by and supported by volunteers. They create their own goals and activities. They give their time and skills willingly, and the welfare of society is a testimony to their accomplishments.
What did you miss
- Volunteering may coexist with the NGO sector and NFPs, but is not always an integral part. The formalization of NGOs and their businesses has ruled out voluntary contributions. In large organizations, volunteers run the risk of becoming assistants, good people to fill in the gaps, plug the holes left by a lack of funds. That’s how volunteers earn used, protected and limited to tasks that resist volunteer organizing skills and experience that would improve service and results.
- Volunteering is not the same as Amateur. Volunteers are not there to supplement or replace paid staff. Volunteer complete professional staff work. They offer distinctive value, they provide something of themselves in a way that paid staff cannot because they are perceived as being paid to do a job. Volunteers in emergency services risk themselves; volunteers in social services work with the most vulnerable people and challenging circumstances in our community. There are more volunteers who devote time and energy to environmental and conservation projects than any official office.
- Volunteers have a long history as innovators and creative forces for change. Think of the women’s suffrage movement, the origins of organizations for disabled children, the many support groups for various health conditions, the movements that created the Refugee Crisis and Rape of Women organizations. Today there is a raft of organizations working to alleviate conditions of poverty. Food recycling, community gardens, groups supporting victims of family violence and people with mental health problems are all active because of voluntary initiatives.
- Volunteering must be part of the solution for the kind of society we want. Turning voluntary communities and organizations into “state-providing agencies” is not the way to go. As I said before: civil society is just as important as government and the business sector. There is no limit to what formal and informal volunteering can achieve, as we know from history. And history will also show the dangers of ignoring the active power of Civil Society.
- Volunteering benefits everyone. Individual volunteers gain health and wellness, develop skills and extend community connections to strengthen social networks throughout our community. Volunteers learn quickly how to work collaboratively and partner with others, attracting additional skills and talents to their collective efforts. That’s the best way to create the social capital every community needs.
- Volunteers contribute to a strong and resilient democracy. That’s why a thriving Civil Society is so relevant. Civil society and volunteerism can complement the work of government, but we also need to ensure the foundations of democracy are upheld: our individual and collective rights, and our liberal society. You should be seriously concerned when research on New Zealand’s views on democracy shows a ‘democratic deficit’: undemocratic the reality when all power is in the hands of the government, when the voice of the sector is not valued, or respected.”
- Volunteers count, more than just numbers, the hours they work and the estimated $ value they contribute to GDP. Such aggregations tell you nothing about the nature of volunteer work, and the qualitative results they can achieve. These numbers are also not accurate accounting – they are only as good as the recording system used. There are also reports that many people do not recognize or record their community activities as volunteers.
- Volunteering is “a classic part of our culture”. There are many aphorisms like that, to be uttered at events to recognize the work of volunteers. Salt of the world. The backbone of our community – or, in this year’s National Volunteer Week logo: The Heart of Our Community. Yes, this is a general reference, but you must never forget that whether Salt, Backbone or Heart, volunteers are individuals, people who contribute to the good of our community and our national well-being. Never, ever, take a volunteer for granted.
- Listen to what volunteers have to say and respect them for what they believe and do:
Volunteering is as important to society as sunshine
When you volunteer, you vote daily about the kind of community you want to live in. Because volunteering is what ‘community’ is all about – sharing our talents.
The belief in human goodness, and the possibility of governing our economy and society based on the values that drive our communities: generosity, collaboration, trust, and compassion.
Volunteer work is as non-negotiable as brushing your teeth. you just do it.
Being part of a community isn’t something you stick to in life – it’s a very important part of life.
Volunteering is in your blood. Like you can’t live without it.
And yes, this week is National Volunteer Week. But please remember – volunteering is a year-round endeavor. This is a daily establishment in all parts of New Zealand. We are noteworthy for what we contribute to national life and local communities.