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Celebrating 21 Years of Serving Manager of Volunteers
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~ October 2004 ~ Topics

Do You Remember 1988?

The year is 1988 – Do You Remember...

  • On his own televangelism program, Jimmy Swaggert confesses that he is guilty of an unspecified sin and will be will be temporarily leaving the pulpit. The "unspecified sin" was an affair with a prostitute.
  • A report by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop states that the addictive properties of nicotine are similar to those of heroin and cocaine.
  • Girls are allowed to study at Magdalene College, Cambridge, for the first time. Male students wear black armbands and the porter flies a black flag.
  • The Morris worm is unleashed on the Internet.
  • Benazir Bhutto is sworn in as Prime Minister of Pakistan, becoming the first woman to head the government of an Islam-dominated state.

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September and October 21st Anniversary Celebration Sales
  • Bundle #5: $62.00
    1. Building a Bridge from Dream to Reality: Basic Volunteer Management, by Sue Vineyard
    2. Building Effective Volunteer Committees, by Nancy Macduff
    3. Designing Programs for the Volunteer Sector, by Nancy Macduff
  • Bundle #6: $43.00
    1. Volunteer Screening: An Audio Workbook, by Nancy Macduff
    2. Building Better Relationships with Volunteers, by Nan Hawthorne
    3. Care for the Caregiver, by Sue Vineyard
    4. Surviving Burnout, by Sue Vineyard

Check out this great opportunity to save 21% off publications from MBA Publishing. To order, go to the Volunteer Today Bookstore. Our September issue brings new books bundles; don't forget to check back often.

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Another Rant: What Hasn’t Changed

I am shamelessly using the Macduff/Bunt 21st anniversary as a springboard to launch an observation from my own 25 years in the business of volunteer management, but this observation is not about what has changed over these many years. Rather the aim of this wee commentary is to rant on about what hasn't changed...that should have.

When I began my career as the Director of the Volunteer Centre in Hamilton, Canada early in 1980, it became obvious fairly soon that I had entered a field that ranked low in many hierarchies. For example, the Volunteer Centre was the "lowest" program of all programs delivered by its parent organization, the Social Planning and Research Council. The board was largely uninterested in what we did; the funders were largely uninterested in what we did, and made us fight for our very survival every year. We weren't alone. Witness the failure of many volunteer centres over the last 20 years despite the ever-growing reliance on volunteers in community services.

"The community," with the exception of managers of volunteers with whom we worked directly, was largely uninterested in what we did at the Volunteer Centre. And despite the fact that Mayors in communities across my country, and I suspect elsewhere, are fond of bragging that their city is "the best in the country" with respect to civic engagement, community spirit and volunteer participation, the truth is that municipal officials - elected and otherwise - have very little understanding of the breadth or depth of voluntary action and as a consequence, give it little to no consideration. Provincial and federal politicians are really no different. Whenever their attention happens to be captured, they typically view volunteering as a cause to create yet another silly awards program that generates great photo opportunities for politicians, but contributes very little to a supportive infrastructure for voluntary action.

This is all in spite of the fact that communities as we know them would not exist without volunteers and the infrastructures that supports it. Community life as we know it would disappear without volunteering. Literally. Without volunteering our cities would be wastelands, devoid of nearly all that is humane:

  1. recreational, education, and health services would be pared to the bone and many would simply die off
  2. the arts and cultural dimensions of community that enrich our lives and our spirits would surely fail to exist
  3. faith communities would wither
  4. disaster services would be skeletal at best, non-existent at worst
  5. the political system would fail without all those volunteers who organize fundraisers for their candidates and put those annoying signs on our lawns
  6. self-help organizations would, by definition, cease to exist
  7. there would never be another parade and no one would ever experience the joy of a church choir.

The irony is that the place that volunteering is most invisible is at the top levels of the very organizations in which it takes place. Boards, senior administrators and many staff have virtually no idea of what volunteers really do. They do no really understand the work of volunteers or the essential contributions they actually make. Volunteers are still seen as "fluff" - as menial workers doing menial work. Managers of volunteers are still found at the bottom of organizational hierarchies; last hired, first fired, receiving the least pay of all managers and generally dead-ended in positions that lead nowhere.

Most board members and senior staff would be stunned to find out the extent to which their organizations' very existence (through volunteer fundraising and public relations), their programming (through direct provision of service by volunteers), and their governance (by volunteer board members) are fully reliant on the ongoing participation of volunteers who show up day after day, week after week, once again in spite of the pernicious neglect with which they are treated by those very same agency executives. Oh sure, there are exceptions, but be honest. The exceptions are in such a small minority that they just serve to illustrate the scale of vision impairment that characterizes the vast majority of their sister organizations.

And, after 25 years in "the biz," this is the one thing that I see that has remained virtually constant, despite all of the profound changes that have reshaped our sense of community and the human service delivery systems on this continent.

How can this be, I ask myself, year after year. Surely this will be the year that real change begins, I think to myself. And year after year it's business as usual.

It is this failure to understand the precious resource that volunteering represents that I find most frustrating about this truly wonderful career I have had in the field. And it this very same failure that I find is driving me to be more political, more outspoken, and more outrageous as each year passes. I am less interested in doing workshops on recruitment and way more interested in stirring pots and rattling cages. Maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s that as I approach the latter part of my career, I feel less threatened by the consequences of kicking butt at every opportunity.

So I ask you to forgive me if I use Nancy and Floyd’s 21st anniversary at Macduff/Bunt to rant on about what hasn't changed, instead of celebrating the joy and vigour of volunteering and the success of their business. And please forgive me, too, for closing on the negative note of this caution: if we all - and I mean all (the lead organizations and peak bodies, the professional associations at all levels, the practitioners, volunteer centres) - don't start to get a bit more strategic and a bit more political and a bitmore assertive about elevating social and political consciousness about volunteering and its indispensability to our beloved way of life, I truly fear that in a very short time we will witness the decline of voluntary action. We will find ourselves in wasted communities, stunned, looking around us and wondering what happened to destroy the volunteering spirit that has sustained us for so long. For the sake of all that's good in our communities, sharpen your elbows and do your part to make change happen.

This month's author is Linda L. Graff, of Linda Graff and Associates Inc. in Dundas, Ontario, Canada.

See our online bookstore for Linda Graff's books: Better Safe...Risk Management in Volunteer Programs & Communities, Beyond Police Checks, Policy Development for Volunteer Services (an audio workbook), By Definition: Policies for Volunteer Programs, and Yes You Can! Discipline and Dismissal of Volunteers (an audio workshop).

Details of Better Safe Book Details for Beyond Police Checks Book Details for Policy Development Audio Workshop Details for By Definition Book Details for Yes You Can Audio Workshop

More Ask Connie's "Out Takes"

Last month we shared some of the more unusual questions fielded by our own "Ask Connie." She likes the ones about volunteerism best, but these are sure to bring a smile to your lips. Remember - grammar and spelling are as the reader sent them.

Connie the Travel Agent

"I am looking for bed and breakfast in the notingham area for around £25 can you help - yours faithfully"

Connie the Religion advisor

"was king john good or a bad person when he was to do with the muslims - thank you"

Connie the Employment Agency

"Hi, I need the pay rate of the different accounting jobs. I also wanted to know what an accounts pay increases are? Thanks"

Connie and Technical Support...

"since i installed zonealarm i cannot view any web cams we need some advise what to do plz"

"Somehow my password to my screen name will not be accepted, i must have changed it by accident when i was adding my childrens screen names. How do i change this password."

Connie and the Lovelorn

"hiya connie. Can u please help me because nobody else can do. ive just met this guy a few days ago from Nottingham we like each other from the first sight. we chatted and talked for hours and his name for dominic. hes doing his gcses just like me. the problem is i live in north wales where he was on holiday with his mum and dad and brother. on his last day we was suppose 2 meet up but i had 2 work and there was no way out of it, because of this i didn’t get his number like we was gonna do when we meet up again . so we could phone each other and send emails. i don’t know his surname either so i cant look him up!
What i was wondering was. . .
is it possible for me to go back where he was staying and asking for his surname or something because i also know what apartment he was staying in. i really miss him and cant think probably until I know i found him again. ive liked other guyz before but this was different he was so sweet and wasnt like other guyz after just your body.
Plzzz help me ???????????????"

All spelling, punctuation, and grammar are those of the authors of these emails.


Washington State University offers a Volunteer Management Certification Program through the Internet. Individuals around the world can earn a certificate in managing or coordinating volunteers, without leaving home. For more information, visit Volunteer Today's Portal site, Internet Resources. Look for the Washington State University listing. There is a hot link to their Web site.

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