Volunteering as strong as ever in Wellington! Happy National Volunteer Week!

Volunteer enthusiasm and time given to community projects in Wellington is as strong as it’s ever been says Julie Thomson, manager of Volunteer Wellington’s member services, when responding to statistics presented this week by SEEK Volunteer. Our experience confirms Statistics NZ quarterly volunteering and donating indicators (Sept 2014 which is the latest release ) which state that the median hours volunteered per month has remained stable at around 10 hours over the last five years.

SEEK surveyed a number (1075) of ‘working’ Wellingtonians and found that 69% either ‘did not have time to volunteer’ or ‘didn’t know how to go about it.’

SEEK’s stats are an interesting revelation for Volunteer Wellington, she said.

‘Of the approximately 3000 volunteer seekers who come through our matching processes every year, those in the ‘working’ (meaning in full-time employment and part-time) category, have increased over the past few years and is currently nearly a third of our total volunteer seeker cohort.’

However there are many other sectors of the community not being considered in the SEEK research, said Ms Thomson. ‘Our volunteer placement picture “as a whole” is a very different scene from that painted by SEEK.

‘Annually we work with between 800 – 1000 employee volunteers who are matched with any one of our 400+ community organisation members to be connected with projects of interest. Last year 87 such projects took place ranging from physical work to skill based programmes and, with several of these employee volunteering teams, being involved on a weekly basis.’

Volunteer Wellington also works with more than 680 student volunteer seekers every year and around the same number of new migrants, she said.

‘Another very high number of volunteer seekers are unemployed and classified as job seekers or people in transition due to illness or disability. At any one time we have more than 500 active volunteer roles on our database. These have been sourced from our 400+ community organisation members and are across the spectrum of work possibilities.

‘An important part of our service is to support our members to develop best practice in the management of volunteers – developing an effective volunteer programme, creating interesting, varied roles that are attractive, interesting, of value – and exciting. This ensures volunteers keep coming back’.

During the past year Volunteer Wellington’s successful placements in the community sector were almost 75%. ‘This is a significant number of new volunteers finding that they have got time; and that the experience of volunteering is beneficial both to themselves and the community with whom they are working.’

Continual promotion was another important service provided by Volunteer Wellington. “Yes we do have to keep telling our story – being out there. Otherwise people won’t know how to go about finding the right place to volunteer for them.

‘So we go to university expos, give seminars and we give regular talks to widely different groups. There is always enthusiasm and interest once people are aware of the diversity and options that make the community sector so vibrant.’


The research picture – looking to the future

We recently completed a three-step research project designed to find out whether Volunteer Wellington is meeting the needs of the hundreds of community organisations we work with and to pinpoint areas to focus on in the future.

First, we talked with a cross-section of our community member organisations – small, large, new and long-term users of our services. The discussions were face-to-face and in-depth carried out by two research students under the direction of researcher and mentor, Meenakshi Shankar. We then honed in on specific questions about our services with a selected group of member organisations and finished up with a detailed written survey of our broader membership.

Professional training and networking opportunity prove invaluable

High quality training, focused mentoring, and innovative ways to work more strategically with volunteer teams were the key benefits identified of the services we offer. Managers of volunteers said they felt more empowered and creative in leading their volunteer teams and developing projects after attending our training workshops and forums.

Comments such as, “the training has helped me immensely in my planning and in creating new systems and processes for managing our volunteers”, “ the training supported me in my role and helped me develop ideas to implement”, as well as “I now understand how to create better volunteer roles” were typical.

The value of networking opportunities offered through our training events was highlighted by many, with comments such as, “it’s been great to make new connections with others working in the same sector and dealing with the same challenges” and “good to share ideas with other managers of volunteers”.

Thumbs up from users of our ‘Employees in the Community’ (EITC) programme

Our EITC programme – matches volunteer teams from the business world (we have 35+ business friends and growing) with community organisations for specific projects such as painting buildings, landscaping gardens, developing marketing plans and websites – was rated highly by those who use it. Some who hadn’t, were “uncertain of how to use it” and “not sure where to start”.

This prompted us to run a forum on how to get involved with EITC last month (well attended).

Suggestions for the future included having more projects related to the skills of the business team and greater time-flexibility, such as half-day events or perhaps an hour a fortnight. This is already happening to a certain extent on both fronts and we’re keen to encourage more.

If you want to know more about the programme, call Judy Kerr, Volunteer Wellington’s EITC Coordinator on 499 4570.

Users of our Member Liaison programme rate it highly – non-users quizzical

The survey responses on our Member Liaison programme were similar with those who hadn’t used it not sure what it involved and those who had, full of praise –  especially where specialised and highly skilled roles had been created though the advisory process.

A steady stream of volunteers, having a knowledgeable liaison person to deal with and bounce ideas off, being given direction, personal support and how to define and create volunteer roles, were inspiring responses.

Call to extend leadership and peer mentoring groups

Excitement about our leadership and peer mentoring groups was high. There were hopes more would be established in some districts and/or continued.

The recruitment and referral process – a common thread

References to Volunteer Wellington’s recruitment and referral service came up through all the survey questions. The acquisition of volunteers relates across the board of our services. Our promotional activity with businesses means we can seek out skilled short-term or one-off project volunteers, and the creation of and targeted promotion for specific roles via the liaison programme has led to more diverse and ‘skilled’ volunteer teams.

State of play

The survey found that our professional development opportunities are critical to the success of all aspects of our community member organisations’ volunteer programmes. Promotion and marketing, advocacy, keeping volunteer teams in touch through social media, and ways to include diversity and difference were covered in our workshops and forums over the past year. Similar issues will be covered this year – check out our website for details.

With 89% of those who responded to the survey stating they were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘completely satisfied’ with the volunteers referred through Volunteer Wellington, it’s clear that improved management of volunteers is enabling organisations to provide more rewarding and effective volunteering experiences.

Managers of volunteers stated that they are now describing roles better, are more aware of induction to their workplaces, succession planning, and carrying out effective appraisals.

Looking to the future

Because of the feedback, we’ll be putting more resources into professional development with recruitment and referral becoming more specific and focused.

Some organisations mentioned the need to establish more volunteer-led projects with greater responsibility being given to volunteer staff. Such suggestions may form the basis of a forum or workshop as 2015 progresses.

Overall, we loved reading what our members had to say; so many kept saying “more of the same”, “continue with your excellent newsletter”, “couldn’t have done it without your support”.

But we want to stretch and go beyond. We aim to remain relevant for decades to come. This three-stepped research has given us the confidence and motivation to follow up on your suggestions and to continue to promote our services to as many communities in the Wellington region as possible.

Celebrating volunteering - a highlight for some community members

Our celebrations were mentioned as a highlight for some communities in our research results. Around 80 volunteers and community group organisers gathered to celebrate International Volunteer Day) over morning tea at The Jimmy café in Courtenay Place last year (5 November 2014).