The Hibiscus Coast community relies heavily on an army of unpaid workers.
Essential services such as surf lifesaving, St Johns ambulance and the fire brigade, are all operated to a large extent by people who give up their time to serve the community – and initiatives that restore the environment also count on volunteers.
Among the best-known voluntary groups are service organisations such as Lions and Rotary Clubs, which, among other things, raise funds for good causes, support people in need and run environmental initiatives.
During National Volunteer Week, June 19-25, the question of how voluntary groups can survive when the culture of volunteering is not as strong as it once was, and our lives seem busier than ever, will be raised.
Ask most voluntary organisations on the Coast and you’ll be told that a key issue is finding and retaining volunteers. The latest figures, to be released this week by Statistics NZ, are expected to reinforce that the number of volunteers has declined nationally since the last comprehensive analysis of the sector was done in 2004.
However, Auckland appears to be bucking the trend. Volunteering Auckland general manager Cheryll Martin says her organisation, which provides a recruitment and referral service for 210 voluntary groups (from Rodney to the Bombay Hills), has seen a big upswing in people of all ages seeking voluntary work. Three years ago 1600 people were registered with the service as looking for such work; last year this had ballooned to 5500.
Volunteering Auckland is currently investigating why this could be and Cheryll says her initial thoughts are that there could be issues with the way organisations respond to an approach from a potential volunteer. “Three weeks after we’ve referred someone, 32 percent tell us they haven’t heard back,” Cheryll says. “It’s possible that poor communication means those groups are losing people before they even start.”
Although the common assumption is that voluntary work is something you do once you’ve retired, Cheryll says that more than half those seeking voluntary work via her service in the last 12 months were in their 20s and more than 1000 were under 19 years old. “They’re interested because they’re new to an area, want to connect to the community, the work matches their course of study and gives them more than a paid role does. They want to make a difference.”
To appeal to today’s communities, she says the organisations seeking volunteers should take a hard look at the flexibility of their programmes and make time for recruitment and development. “The dollars available for this sector are diminishing, but there are volunteers waiting to help,” she says.
Modernising is another way to keep the sector relevant. The latest Lions Club to be set up in NZ, which is in the process of being chartered, is solely based online. Orewa Lions president Mandy Hebben says Lions Clubs like this have sprung up around the world. “People don’t have time to attend meetings. Cyber clubs do fundraising and organise other activities online but they retain the same Lions values and objectives,” Mandy says.
She says local Lions Clubs are getting more online savvy, taking to Facebook to publicise their activities and communicate with members. This does not preclude them from their role as a grass roots organisation whose members like to get their hands dirty helping others. “Recently we saw a story on Facebook about someone who needed help, and we responded to that,” Mandy says. “Lions are community based, so they are aware of what is needed locally. One of the goals of our district is to start a club in Silverdale and Millwater and I’m keen to hear from anyone interested in that,” Mandy says (info: phone 021 419 224).
“As an organisation we stress that family comes first, then work, then Lions. We try not to ask too much. Every hour, and every pair of hands, is a huge help.”
The theme for National Volunteer Week is a call to action, including the statement that “for volunteering to flourish … people are increasingly going to need to make time, now and into the future”.
Volunteering NZ chief executive Scott Miller says this approach has been taken following their most recent research, which indicates that the biggest hurdle for potential volunteers is “lack of time”.
“Today’s volunteers are looking for meaningful opportunities that fit in with their schedule,” Scott says. “It’s not a lack of volunteers – it’s more about organisations offering ‘time-friendly’ opportunities and support. Some are doing that – seeking involvement for small amounts of time at first, so people can see the benefits. When we enjoy something, giving up our time becomes less of an issue, so people should start small – with their children’s sports club, for example – and see where it takes them.”
Case study: Orewa Rotary
A reason often cited for declining service club membership numbers is lack of time due to work and family related demands.
But just as there is no one reason for the decline, there is no one solution.
Orewa Rotary Club has 26 members in its main club and a further 27 in its satellite club.
Member Bill Beggs, who steps into the role of president on June 17, says the satellite club, which has no set meeting time or venue, was set-up specifically for people who are time poor, but who still want to be involved in working for the community at a local, regional and international level.
He believes people are just as willing to volunteer for community-focused projects as they have always been and he is optimistic about the involvement of younger members.
“Today’s youth are too often painted as being selfish, but I find they are generally anything but,” he says. “There is a huge groundswell of interest from young people to become more involved in community.
“In the case of Rotary, we haven’t always been as good at promoting what we do as perhaps we could have. For instance, I still meet people who think we are some sort of elite group with a secret handshake!”
Mr Beggs says that during his year-long presidency, his focus will be on local youth development, providing support for groups that work in mental health fields, and connecting and caring for the elderly.
While he accepts that using technology such as Facebook might make the club more accessible to young people, a strong aspect of Rotary is the fellowship shared by meeting together regularly.
“Rotary is far too strong and dynamic an organisation to ever wind-up,” he says. “We just need people to know the many different ways we serve the community.”
In Orewa Rotary’s case this includes everything from Outward Bound and the Summer Science School to improving local amenities and reserves.
Mr Beggs adds that 100 per cent of any money raised is spent directly on community projects.
“In fact, in the case of our polio project, the Gates Foundations pledges $2 for every dollar we raise. I wonder how many people realise that we are now close to eradicating polio.”