Speech to Volunteering Auckland forum

  • Jo Goodhew
Community and Voluntary Sector

E aku rangatira, tēnā koutou katoa. Ka nui te honore ki te mihi ki a koutou.

It is my great pleasure to join you here this morning. Thank you to Cheryll and Volunteering Auckland for hosting this forum and for inviting me to talk to you.

Some of you may know that I have personal experience in the community and voluntary sector, having worked as a coordinator for the Timaru Safer Community Council and been a volunteer for Victim Support. So I know first-hand how vital this sector is and the benefits it produces for New Zealanders.

Volunteers are the backbone of New Zealand society and make a vital contribution to our economy. Over one million volunteers contribute around 270 million hours annually and provide 67 per cent of the non-profit workforce, which contributes 2.3 per cent to New Zealand’s GDP.

Volunteers work in very diverse fields spanning non-profit and government sectors, from social services, health, education and community development, to conservation, animal welfare, sports, recreation and the arts.

The Government recognises that volunteers provide essential services, and contribute to improved social cohesion and stronger communities. Volunteers indirectly help us achieve our goals. For example, the work of voluntary civil defence groups is essential to the work of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.

The Government interacts with and manages volunteers through its own volunteer programmes, for example those run by the Department of Conservation, and also supports volunteers and volunteer management in a number of different ways. This includes helping to grow the capacity and capability of the sector through the provision of funding such as the Support for Volunteering Fund and the Community Organisation Grants Scheme.

The Government also works to overcome barriers in policy, practice and legislation, and to support participation in the sector.

Examples of this have included broadening of legislation to cover volunteers, such as the Health and Safety in Employment Act, and changes to tax laws increasing the threshold for tax credits on donations and clarifying that expense reimbursement payments to volunteers are non-taxable.

We are also working to build knowledge and recognition of the sector through the collection of data, such as the Quarterly Generosity Indicators collected by the Department of Internal Affairs, and the provision of resources, including websites with volunteer management resources.

Work also continues to be done on improving the relationship between the sector and the Government, with initiatives such as Community-led Development and the Kia Tūtahi Relationship Accord.

I think we can also make gains in many more areas by working better across government agencies. When we join up resources and information, I am confident we can produce better outcomes for a wider range of people. You may be aware I am also the Minister for Senior Citizens, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Associate Minister of Health. I have asked the officials in all my portfolios to look for ways they can achieve this goal, with a particular initial focus on alleviating social isolation for older people.

Recent findings from the Health and Ageing Research Team at Massey University show that the more often people take part in volunteer activities, the higher their happiness. I have also seen first-hand what a positive effect participation in volunteer work can have in older peoples’ lives.

Let me tell you first about my friend and former neighbour Joan, who sadly passed away 13 December last year. Joan lived a long life, most of it with her unmarried sister. When her sister passed away, Joan redoubled her efforts to remain connected to her community, a community she had been an active volunteer in.

What Joan wanted, in fact to be honest needed, was to feel still part of her community, to be useful and to have something to do. It was Joan’s friends who gave her that sense by recruiting her help with folding newsletters, phoning people prior to events, rolling calendars and other such tasks.

The other day I was given another excellent example, that of a recently widowed woman with a long term condition restricting her ability to leave her home. This lady was offered the chance to become a Caring Caller with St John. This work gave her a focus for some of her time as a lifeline to another older New Zealander.

I think that we as a community need to harness the energies, skills and talents of people like these women. They need to feel connected and we need their skills and talents. Putting the two together will take thought but will pay all sorts of important dividends.

I have asked the Ministry of Social Development and Office for the Community and Voluntary sector to look at how we can connect older people, especially those who are socially isolated, to volunteering opportunities in their local area. Managers of volunteers such as yourselves will play a vital role in this joining-up process. I am excited to see what the departments come up with – watch this space.

Of course New Zealand is already ranked highly in the World Giving Index. We all can be proud of being at the top in terms of volunteering and giving.

The General Social Survey results released by Statistics New Zealand in 2010 showed that around 65 per cent of New Zealanders undertake some form of unpaid work for someone living in another household each month.

These findings are confirmed by recent experience in New Zealand society. The response to the Canterbury earthquakes is an example of the strength of the voluntary sector. I saw an incredible response from the community, both from existing non-profit organisations and newly formed voluntary groups. Volunteers gave an enormous amount of time and energy to assist affected people and clean up the city.

Another recent example has been the volunteer involvement in the clean-up of the Rena shipping disaster in the Bay of Plenty, where again thousands volunteered their time to make an invaluable contribution in a time of need.

Of course all this would not have been possible without effective coordination. Behind the work of volunteers, there are managers, leaders and coordinators of volunteers. Volunteers need to be recruited, supported, inspired and kept engaged, and organisations require managers with knowledge and skills to do this.

The work of volunteer managers in the non-profit sector is equivalent to 133,799 full-time jobs. Without their skilled input, many of our country’s services either would not be provided, or would likely come at a huge cost.

I would like to acknowledge all those managers and coordinators here today for all the critical work that you do behind the scenes to make volunteering happen.

Managing volunteers is a challenging job given the changing trends of volunteering in New Zealand. The number of people volunteering has increased, however the amount of time that individuals spend in formal volunteering activities has decreased for everyone aged 25 years and over. This requires greater coordination, meaning greater job complexity for managers of volunteers.

Some community organisations report shortages of volunteers, but others have waiting lists. This situation is often influenced by how an organisation manages its overall volunteer programme, from recruitment and orientation to ongoing training and support.

I am pleased that Volunteering Auckland has organised this forum today and for its continuing commitment to developing volunteer management practices through training, coaching and networking around good practices for engaging and mobilising volunteers.

You are probably already aware that Volunteering New Zealand has developed a programme to promote the recognition of volunteer management as a specialised occupation.

This involves raising awareness amongst those who influence the delivery of volunteer services about the need for good management of volunteers, and the critical role of managers of volunteers in achieving this.

It also involves formalising a learning and development pathway for managing volunteers, allowing managers of volunteers to gain recognition for their study and skills.

Last year the Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector worked with Volunteering New Zealand to develop a research report looking at professional development for managers of volunteers.

The report includes data from a survey of over 800 New Zealand managers of volunteers. 75 per cent of respondents reported there are aspects of their jobs where they would find extra training useful. The highest demand is for training in management skills, volunteer recruitment and communications.

Results also indicated that managers of volunteers are often doing their job alongside other paid or voluntary work and family commitments. It also indicates that many organisations either do not have the funds to pay a person to manage the volunteers, or do not see this as a funding priority.

The value of volunteering is widely recognised and appreciated in New Zealand. However, the skill that goes into mobilising, motivating, developing and retaining this dynamic volunteer workforce is far less acknowledged. By promoting and enhancing the work of managers or leaders of volunteers one is also promoting the best of volunteering.

As Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, I will focus on acknowledging and celebrating the hard work of volunteers and community organisations. This includes working with the volunteering sector to develop more professional support for volunteers and looking at how we can acknowledge skills gained through volunteering.

The Government also has a role in telling the public about the benefits of financial giving and volunteering to society and growing and supporting a culture of generosity in New Zealand. We recognise the importance of charitable giving to the social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being of New Zealand and want to build a culture within government of effective and collaborative relationships, to support strong, sustainable communities.

This will involve continuing to work towards more strategic and long-term investment in local communities to help communities, hapū and iwi achieve their goals through the Community-led Development initiative. I will also continue to support and encourage the good practice principles expressed in the Kia Tūtahi Relationship Accord.

I have asked the Department of Internal Affairs to focus on improving efficiencies for community organisations by providing better access to grants; reducing compliance costs; and streamlining grant funding processes, including the use of technology. The Government’s role also includes ensuring effective regulation of the voluntary sector and that policies support participation in volunteering.

I also intend to look for innovative ways to help community organisations, such as investigating the government’s role in social enterprise and social finance.

Financial resourcing is important to the success of organisations that seek to meet community needs. In constrained economic times, many community organisations are looking to diversify their income streams through an increased focus on trading. The number of social enterprises worldwide is expanding.

The Department of Internal Affairs is undertaking research, and working with community and voluntary sector representatives, on building social enterprise potential and the role of social finance in New Zealand.

I would like to conclude by acknowledging once again your contribution and commitment to our communities and to thank Volunteering Auckland for this opportunity for us to talk about volunteering and volunteer management.

No reira, tēna koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.