Volunteer is not a reflection of quality

A few years ago a colleague returned from a conference with this take-home message “Volunteer is an adjective not a noun”.  This message really resonated with me and I have quoted it frequently since that time.  For the thousands of individuals who volunteer for Arthritis New Zealand in any year, the adjective volunteer sits in front of a noun, like appeal collector.  

One such noun is board member.  The Governing Body of Arthritis New Zealand, like the boards of many in our sector, is made up entirely of volunteer members.  Our organisation is the size of a pretty typical small business in New Zealand.  These volunteer board members are required to demonstrate the same risk management, strategic planning, and people skills as paid directors of other businesses.  

These volunteer leaders are the kaitiake of the organisation’s kaupapa.  They are the ones who hold the past and the future in their hands.  Over the past year, as our Governing Body has worked to review the mission and direction for the organisation, the importance of the director role was particularly evident, as was the skill set of our volunteer Governing Body members.  

Volunteer Board Member comes with a job description and skill set that stretches many people.  I remember the Right Hon Jenny Shipley when she became Prime Minister saying she started her leadership journey on the local Kindergarten committee.  Are other future Prime Ministers sitting around a Board table in our sector?

Having worked with both paid and volunteer Board members over my lifetime, I know that the adjective volunteer is not a reflection on quality or skill.  We have some incredibly skilled people who volunteer their time and talents to lead community organisations.  Hooray for adjectives I say.

Sandra Kirby, CEO, Arthritis New Zealand

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