The state of volunteering in New Zealand

Recruitment has begun for my replacement at Volunteering New Zealand, so like Janus, I want to take this opportunity to look back and look forward on what I see as the state of volunteering in New Zealand.

Looking back

  1. Volunteering grows in great organisations. Organisation leaders that valued the role of volunteer leadership flourished in achieving their organisation’s potential. The opposite, and a comment I often heard of “not enough volunteers” generally revealed people/organisations not actually interested/committed to the investment required to attract or retain volunteers.
  2. Government might just be starting to value volunteering. The recent Health & Safety and Fire & Emergency legislation and a modest increase to the Support for Volunteering Fund suggest government is starting to value the work volunteers do with government for the benefit of our nation. However, there is a lot more policy work on the horizon that is going to need a strong and unified voice to ensure volunteering remains fit-for-purpose and attractive to volunteers and their organisations alike.
  3. Volunteers grow with great leadership. Volunteers will do most things in the short-term, but to flourish in the long-term, volunteers require effective leadership. This type of leader understood that everyone has the volunteering gene, and it is often just a matter of how we align individuals’ missions with organisational vision that the chemistry takes place.
  4. Boards are not taking responsibility for their organisations’ volunteer workforce. Our data suggests that Boards (who generally are volunteers themselves) are less likely to govern strategically for their future needs of their (volunteer) workforce. This incredible short-sightedness suggests that many once-strong volunteer-involving organisations will fade into obscurity by failing to plan (as not planning is to fail).
  5. Volunteering New Zealand has led by example. For an organisation with few financial means (an annual budget of $300k), we have worked impressively to benefit the ~1.2 million volunteers and ~120,000 organisations and groups who supporting our community of 5 million. We are by no means done, but value the support of a strong membership in achieving our mahi.

 Looking forward

  1. Volunteering is going in the right direction. As much as people (generally non-volunteers) seek to write volunteering off as some historic relic of bygone generations, there is much to be celebrated, particularly as people and communities realise the ‘helpers-high’ that individuals and communities experience when we work together.
  2. People will remain busy, even when the robots arrive. People want to give, it’s in our DNA. However, we are also becoming more discerning with how we ‘spend’ our time. For as much as I am personally suspicious of ‘customer-centric non-profit’ models, there is something to be said for acknowledging that people are valuing their time with the same investment approach as any sizable purchase (e.g. with a lot more consideration, attention to detail, avoidance to barriers etc.).
  3. Volunteering brings to life the values we believe in. New Zealand will remain a leader in democracy as long as we view volunteering as doing with, and not doing for (or to). Too often, the “empowering” we think we are doing with others is just empowering our own sense of self.
  4. People like incentives. Incentives can be intrinsic or extrinsic, but either way, we need to start viewing volunteers less as selfless altruists, with a holier than thou halo. Rather, we need to enable everyone’s own sense of reason and incentives as being justified and rational if we are going to be more inclusive of a broader tent-full of volunteers.
  5. Volunteering New Zealand will lead by example. I am tremendously proud of the people and team who have shared my journey, and can’t wait to see what the next Chief Executive will do to lead, develop and inspire the next wave of meaningful effort provided by generous New Zealanders.

Author: Scott Miller. Chief Executive, Volunteering New Zealand.

The state of volunteering in New Zealand