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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Community Engagement and Volunteerism


Community Engagement and Volunteerism  


The Australian Not-for-Profit sector would never be able to achieve what it has, and continues to achieve, without heavy reliance on volunteers sourced from a very broad spectrum of society.  

The 2010 Productivity Commission report identified that some “4.6 million volunteers work with NFPs with a wage equivalent of $15 billion.” This report further identified that whilst most areas have seen a decline in volunteering hours over the 7 year period to 2006-07, cultural and recreation based organisations had seen strong growth during this period. This quantitative finding underscores the relative importance of this sector and therefore the need to encourage further involvement in this sector – with volunteers being an obvious resource, both intellectually and numerically. The centrality of this sector has been further reinforced by such writers as the American author Jon Van Til, writing in his 2008 publication entitled ‘Growing Civil Society’ wherein he suggested that “From a society-wide perspective, the role of the third sector is not only important because it concerns individuals, it is also important because the third sector has become a major player in modern institutional life.” This holds true in Australia as much as it has in the United States.

Brisbane based Colin Ball in his 2011 book entitled ‘It’s the Community Stupid!’ raised the question as to “What is it that influences people insofar as community awareness is concerned, and how do we encourage, enable and foster such awareness?”

IT is clear that society generally needs a NFP sector that is vibrant, resourced, and driven, in order to ensure that wherever possible, societal needs are being addressed and service provision gaps that result from transient, and sometimes politically driven government policies, are being met. The alternatives should be undesirable for us all.

Australian NFPs should consider the more efficient use of professional volunteers, outside those involved at the board level, as a source of vast experience that can contribute to organisational well-being. Bob Norbie, President and CEO, Special Olympics Montana USA, suggested that “If we wish to be all that we can be, we must forever learn better ways to service our mission through volunteers. When it works, it is extraordinary.”

The effective engagement and management of volunteers by NFP organisations can only be undertaken though the development and deployment of a clear and precise organisational policy framework which seeks to address a range of issues including:

·         Volunteer engagement strategies
·         Funding volunteer involvement
·         Management of volunteers
·         Integration strategies
·         Legal compliance issues, and
·         Monitoring and evaluating volunteers

Another avenue for volunteering at the ‘professional level’, is provided by the tertiary education sector through the formal placement of business school students into this sector to gain first hand understanding of the needs of these organisations and the needs of people who are serviced by them.

As many of you know, I am associated in a number of capacities, with the Australian Catholic University (ACU) in its North Sydney campus where I am involved as a sessional lecturer at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and where I am also undertaking my PhD research into change management in the NFP sector. ACU’s involvement in the NFP sector is strongly in keeping with its own value proposition and clear societal goals, one of the reasons for my involvement with this university.

The Business School at ACU is extremely active in this area. One of their key programs is the Professional Experience Programme. Contextually, all second-year undergraduate students undertake the Community Engagement unit which is now part of ACU’s core Curriculum. The unit develops an awareness and understanding of individual and social responsibility, with students volunteering 105 hours at a not-for-profit organisation and directly assisting the people accessing the service's support. This enhances the students' interpersonal, business-communication and teamwork skills, and encourages them to embrace community involvement and ethical and social responsibilities.

Third-year Bachelor of Marketing and Bachelor of Human Resource Management students complete a Professional Placement as a core unit of their course. In applying theory to a real business environment, they develop industry-specific competencies, career opportunities, best business practices and professionalism.

In terms of accessing ‘professional’ resources, this could be beneficial to your NFP organisation in the context of your broader volunteer engagement strategy and in the context of specific projects that you may be currently running or are considering.

OPTIMUM NFP can assist in developing your NFP organisation's Volunteer Management Framework as well as putting your NFP in contact with the appropriate representative at ACU

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