Revisiting sport voluntarism

volunteerOver the past weekend the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) completed its final in a series of sport workshops sponsored by the organising committee of the Pan American Games (TO2015) scheduled to take in Toronto, Canada, in the summer of next year. The workshop was on Voluntarism.
According to Grenada’s Minister of Tourism, Ms Emmalin Pierre, while delivering the opening address, Ms Emmalin Pierre, volunteers add value. The Minister noted the contemporary tendency in the Caribbean for people to move away from volunteering and instead focus on being paid for everything. She therefore urged CANOC and by extension its member National Olympic Committees (NOC) and Commonwealth Games Associations (CGA) to encourage voluntarism and continuing support to volunteers in the region.
Ms Pierre also advised the participants from around the Caribbean to acknowledge the importance of engaging in partnership with other organisations in pursuit of ensuring the sustainability of the spirit and practice of voluntarism in the region.
The workshop did not just address volunteering to be part of an event but also being involved in the administration of sporting organisations.
Volunteering Australia defines voluntarism …… an activity which takes place through not for profit organisations or projects and is undertaken:
• to be of benefit to the community and the volunteer;
• of the volunteer’s own free will and without coercion;
• for no financial payment; and
• in designated volunteer positions only.
Volunteering England adds that volunteering …must be a choice freely made by each individual. This can include formal activity undertaken through public, private and voluntary organisations as well as informal community participation.
Sporting organisations in the Caribbean are, for the most part, volunteer organisations. In the thesis for the MEMOS VII programme, this columnist noted …Gann identified the “Stages of Development of Voluntary Organisations”. He suggested a movement from immaturity through to adolescence ending with maturity.
In the immature phase voluntary organisations are rather loose institutions with relatively weak financial controls and little or no development plans. Adolescence brings with it an apparent shift towards awareness of legal responsibilities, greater interchange of ideas and the emergence of partnerships, attention to financial management of a sort as well as attempts at growth and diversification. Maturity involves the development of strategic plans, the distribution of functions to individuals who are deemed most suited to accomplish them in accordance with appropriate mandates, greater attention to leadership issues even as management involves more teamwork. There is also the employment of staff with detailed job descriptions and evaluation mechanisms, to support the work of the volunteers. Detailed planning becomes the order of the day.
Generally, in the Caribbean little attention is paid to the development of volunteer organisations and even less to attracting, training, working with and retaining volunteers. All too often it is assumed that people are out there always willing to volunteer because they are either generous souls imbued with an altruistic spirit or have nothing else to do with their time.
Many organisations and particularly sport administrators are now finding out that people in the Caribbean are not all eagerly waiting on the next opportunity to volunteer.
Attracting Volunteers
Volunteering is an experience. The more time is taken to ensure that people who come to serve as volunteers are assured of a most enjoyable and satisfying experience the more they are likely to tell and encourage others to be part of it.
We agree with Linda Wilks of Sheffield Hallam University (Sept. 2014) who suggests that Voluntarism involves …Inspiring, Caring, Sharing and Delivering.
Unfortunately we do not seem to think that we need to market voluntarism but without engaging time and effort in doing so we are likely to find ourselves struggling in our sporting organisations.
Organisations must mature (along the lines mentioned n the Gann quotation above) to the extent that they are regarded as sufficiently professional in their operations. People are attracted to well-organised, administered, transparent and accountable organisations and their activities. Such organisations are the most successful at attracting volunteers.
We have to let the society know precisely what they do and how it is done. People may be more willing to give of their time and energies if they are aware of what the organisation does, how efficient and professional it is in its operations and activities. Such organisations are best able to determine what type of volunteers they require in what specific areas of their work.
Interestingly, it has become evident that professionals in society are not anxious to be around some sporting organisations because of the very poor image that the latter has in the society.
People generally do not have time to waste and professionals all the more so. It is therefore imperative that sporting organisations conduct themselves sin a manner that allows members of society to be moved to want to assist or contribute to their development and activities.
People are not likely to want to volunteer to work with sporting organisations whose members are almost always at war and take such conflict to the media.
Sporting organisations must advertise their volunteer needs. They must, in such advertisements, engage successful volunteers to tell their volunteering experiences.
The range of options for marketing voluntarism include but is not limited to word of mouth, public advertisement, volunteer centres, special events, formal presentations/talks and social media.
Many organisations target persons with disabilities, youth, retired and older persons, and the unemployed. There is also the option of partnering with other organisations that already have a track record of successful voluntarism.
Training and placing volunteers
It is often assumed that volunteers do not need to be trained. The truth is that regardless of the level of academic or other achievement of individuals in society when they are undertaking the responsibility of volunteering for an organisation they must of necessity be trained for the specific event/activity.
Organisations have different volunteer requirements and so too the events in which they engage themselves. It is therefore necessary that those persons offering themselves as volunteers are appropriately trained, first, in the general understanding of the organisation itself and its many activities/events.
The training must therefore allow for the identification of the different competencies/skillsets of the volunteers. This allows for the appropriate placement of the different approved volunteers in the work of the organisation, what we often refer to as horses for courses.
It is not sufficient to boast that we have the requisite number of volunteers or significant numbers in excess of this requirement. We must guarantee that they are placed in areas where they are best suited to what is required. That is what makes the volunteer experience refreshing, exciting and rewarding.
Managing and retaining volunteers
Volunteers who have been duly approved by the organisations to which they have offered their services must be managed just as staff in an enterprise. Nothing can be left to chance.
Sporting organisations must therefore have an unambiguous volunteer policy document that serves as a guide to all stakeholders of precisely what is involved. Volunteers must be aware of the operational parameters of the organisation to which they have committed themselves.
Volunteering England’s volunteer policy document includes: Introduction, What is a volunteer policy and why do we need one?Where to start? What should be in it?First things first, Recruitment, Diversity, Induction and training, Expenses, Supervision and Support, Insurance, Equal Opportunities and diversity, Health and Safety, Grievance and Disciplinary procedures, Confidentiality, Introducing the policy, Accessibility, Revising the policy, Useful contacts, Further reading.
No one expressing and interest in volunteering to work with an organisation in whatever capacity should be in doubt as to any aspect of volunteering as far as that particular organisation is concerned.
Volunteers must be managed. We do not often seem to think of managing volunteers but failure to do so can readily lead to the demise of the organisation.
Care must be taken to show volunteers the respect they deserve as persons committing their time, ideas and energies.
We must understand the motivations of the volunteers in our respective organisations and seek to improve these in a consistent manner.
Time must be taken to provide a series of intrinsic and extrinsic incentives if we are to retain the volunteers we have trained and asked to serve.
It is incumbent upon the leadership of organisations to ensure that at all times the volunteers come away from the volunteering experience enthused about their involvement and their contribution duly appreciated. This is perhaps the best way to guarantee the retention of volunteers.
All too often we fail to show the volunteers we appreciate them and what they are doing. During the particular period of volunteering the authorities must consistently show appreciation to the volunteers. We must not wait until the activity is finished. At the end the show of gratitude must be the icing on the cake in terms of our sincere appreciation for the volunteers.
The Minister of Sport in Grenada, Emmalin Pierre, was particularly pointed in understanding that volunteers add value.
Those involved in sport development must understand that the vast majority of persons in their leadership and activities are volunteers for whom time is a precious resource. People do not have time to waste and we must show them that we value their time.
Sports organisations cannot survive without volunteers. Even where they employ staff these organisations must continue to rely heavily on volunteers. They must be able to manage the relationship between staff and volunteers in the organisation to the benefit of the institution.
It may well be advisable that countries consider the establishment of national volunteer organisations that specialise in the attraction, training, placement, monitoring and evaluation of what would serve as a national volunteer corps. This may be the best way to move forward.