Volunteers are Worth More!

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Four years ago New Zealand was the hosts of what would become a legendary Rugby World Cup.

I volunteered as a “Flash Quote Reporter” at McLean Park’s two games and got to meet and interview All Black legends John Kirwan, Kieran Crowley and current international players.

Hundreds of others volunteered too.

In return for our participation we got trained, clothed and fed. Being volunteers, naturally, we didn’t get paid, but we had fun experiencing something we usually didn’t get to do in our normal daily lives, which kind of made up for it.

This year New Zealand co-hosted and equally epic Cricket World Cup and once again I and hundreds of others, the majority of whom were the same ones who had taken part in 2011, took days off our regular jobs and lives.

Once again, got clothed, fed and for a few long days in March volunteered to help showcase McLean Park and Hawke’s Bay to the world.

But this time something felt a bit different.

Our shifts were much longer this time – often up to twelve hours at a time – so got quite arduous on occasions. But as cricket players and fans we got to watch some of the world’s best players in action which sped the time up a bit.

Maybe it was the longer shifts, or financial conditions being a bit tighter than four years ago, but some of the volunteers seemed less keen or able to be as involved as they would have liked, too.

Maybe it was because we had gotten past the “experience” buzz of doing the same sort of thing for the Rugby World Cup that took the shine off of volunteering in such roles for long “days off.”

Or maybe it was because the experience gained working at the 2011 World Cup meant we felt like there was more value to our taking part than doing it for free.

You see, the problem with volunteering is it doesn’t pay the bills.

I’m no stranger to volunteering. To date I have:

• Volunteered for the HB Cancer Society working as a Smokefree ambassador from 1996-1998.
• Been a volunteer radio announcer on Radio Kidnappers.
• Helped Stage Challenge really establish a foot-hold in Hawke’s Bay in 1998.
• Played for, managed teams and been secretary for Napier Old Boys’ Marist Cricket Club for almost a decade.
Dressed up as a Duck for the Georgie Pie #SuperSmash at McLean Park last year.
Written this blog – 127 posts of inspiring, (mainly) though and debate-provoking writing. Asking questions and shedding light on local issues.
• Promoting as many local events, ideas, products and thoughts as I can on social media.

But volunteering has worn a bit thin on me recently.

While most people will happily volunteer to do something for a charity, community group or the like for a few hours or days every once and a while, the feel-good factor of helping out can only last so long before the cold, hard realities of a modern, money-driven life creep back in.

There are bills to pay, mouths to feed and mortgages / rents to keep up with.

Working for free won’t help cover those realities.

Does thinking that make me a bad person? I don’t think so – I like to think it means I put the needs of my family above my own interests or those of others.

Recently I’ve become more and more concerned at how the good work of people volunteering seems to be getting taken for granted, taken advantage of, or even used so others can make a profit, while the volunteers are often left unrecognised, out of pocket for their work, or even worse.

Hawke’s Bay seems to have become a bit of a target for this type of thing.

There was an article in the newspaper just after Napier’s last Cricket World Cup match that stated the obvious – That while a small minority of the organisers and managers got paid for their roles

“The Cricket World Cup in Napier would have been impossible without the volunteers”

The article went on to outline the concept one of the event’s (surely not a voluntary position) coordinators had – a “Volunteer Army” to help run and attract such big events to Hawke’s Bay in the future.

I thought there were local government agencies that got paid to do that?

Two months later another article appeared in the paper. This time a Massey University professor (another non-voluntary role, we must assume) espousing his “educated” belief that:

“An ageing population is an opportunity if Hawke’s Bay can take advantage of its retirees’ wealth and skills.”

Translation: “Use retirees living on the pension as volunteer (i.e. “FREE“) labour to do tasks that younger generations would / could be paid to do, further deepening Hawke’s Bay’s economic and employment doldrums”.

Reading genius stuff like that really makes me glad I never went to university

Now volunteering is, well, a voluntary choice – you have to choose to do it and having worked, earned their money and paid their taxes for most of their lives HB’s elder generations are entitled to their retirement – to take it easier and to do what they want.

But merely using them as free labour? That’s just not right – especially when it also takes the opportunity for paid work away from others, like the younger generations struggling to get a foothold in our region’s depressed job market.

It’s not just the retired that are being taken advantage of when it comes to working for free.

Those in the final stages of tertiary education often face the increasing prospect of applying for the job they set out studying for, only to be told while they have the right qualification, their lack of real-world experience means they aren’t successful in getting the position.

Fortunately for a select well-heeled, or well-connected few, the chance of an unpaid internship during the university breaks mean they can get that much needed experience, but as the name suggests, it comes VERY cheaply for their “employer”.

Unless it is included as part of their curriculum, students aren’t eligible for the study / living allowance while on internships, so unless they or their parents are well-off enough to cover the living costs during this time many miss out on the opportunity.

Worse still are companies that get in multiple inters to “fight it out”, as it were, for one paid position. The “winning” intern being the one who puts in the longest hours, does the most work or makes the biggest profit for the company – all for FREE.

That is just not right.

Surely, if you’re good enough to do the job, you’re good enough to be PAID to do the job!

Even those already in work – particularly creative and design roles are expected to work for free for new clients – it’s called doing stuff “On Spec”.

Hours, days or weeks of time, effort and creativity to try and get a prospective client on board, only for them to say no, or just get ignored.

That’s gratitude for you.

It’s like going into a new café and asking the barista, having never had their coffee before, to make you a free sample in case you like it and come back again. See how far that gets you in real life.

And that’s not all!

Thanks to grey areas in perception and New Zealand laws, your rights and safety while volunteering often aren’t guaranteed, either!

When I put my earn-as-you-learn submission to the Napier City Council – trying to encourage Hawke’s Bay youth to stay in the region and be paid to learn, rather than working for free, or even worse, incurring crippling debt, one councillor chose to point out the number of local voluntary community groups in our community.

The irony of such a statement would have put any Alanis Morissette song to shame.

These VOLUNTARY groups get out in the community and do good stuff, while city councillors are PAID to sit around a table and gas-bag!

I believe the expression is “All Hui and no Do-ey!”

New Zealand NEEDS volunteers.

The likes of St John’s Ambulance, the Cancer Society and other life-saving and changing organisations couldn’t do the brilliant work they do without them.

But we must be careful not to abuse the good faith of volunteers – They need to be respected, recognised and often times they don’t actually need to be volunteers – they deserve to be paid, because working for free can do more economic harm than good.

Volunteers deserve better – They are more than worth it!

But what would I know – I only write voluntarily! 😉

1 thought on “Volunteers are Worth More!

  1. How true Andrew. A really well written and portrayed set of examples of ‘some’ organisations taking advantage of the willing and just taking them for granted. Maybe we unwittingly drop ourselves into too many organisations rather than just one or two that are our passion and where we don’t mind going that extra mile. In my case my interested i.e. NOBM are my hobby and gave been for more years than I care to remember. Well since 1967 to be precise. And it only seems like yesterday……………

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