Saturday, 9 May 2015


Recently, circumstances have given me pause for thought about volunteering. You may have noticed, of course, that I drop in, from time to time, the information that I volunteer for work in my local hospital. I am  thankful that I have skills which can be put to use in that context. Volunteering is a time-honoured arm of the need for service, sometimes ad hoc and sometimes permanent. I see it, inter alia, as a back up for paid workers who simply haven't time enough to do all a situation requires. There are probably two streams: one that uses the volunteers professional skills, say, when nurses go temporarily to an area where there is a severe out-break of disease   to do their usual work, and the other where the skills may well be professional but are no longer used in gainful employment. More often than not the work is not the result of a crisis. In that case, the volunteering is often open-ended. and can continue ad infinitum.

When I was in paid employment, one of my duties was to train and supervise volunteers who worked with the public in what has come to be called "the helping professions". They were usually people who were still gainfully employed but who were happy to give time where they felt they could offer something valuable enough where there was a need for it. A conclusion we came to which was incontravertible, was that what they were doing was a professional job without pay. The vital element was the 'professional'. To-day, I still see that as the foundation of the phenomenon. However, there is a vital difference between that sort of professionalism and the paid sort: volunteers, being without monetary recompense have a different relationship with those who manage them - if any. While the volunteer must give of her/his utmost, the management should bear in mind that the usual strictures and sanctions on paid employees may not be equally appropriate. Apart from serving as adjunct to professional, i.e. paid, staff, there is also an enormous band of people giving time for what one may call more mundane causes, like, for instance, staffing an enquiry desk at the out-patients clinic at a hospital. Inevitably, the corps of people available to do this, year after year after year is made up of those who are retired and often of a generation which took the need for this service for granted. They may have had mothers who rolled bandages during the war, or who made tea and sandwiches for refugees from the bombing and destruction. If I were able to state a viable demographic it would probably produce a picture of a middle- to late-aged woman or man with a certain level of education and, possibly, time- though not necessarily cash- rich. This would fly in the face of the need for diversity and equal opportunities, essential elements in the world of today. But, wait a minute. Is this absolutely a no-no?  Of course, if we keep the age, the level of education and the freedom from earning, diversity and equal opportunities must easily be accommodated. Where there could be problems is if the diverse and equal do not have a history of volunteering and are also youngish and on a possible career path with a C.V. to consider:('resume' if you are over the Pond) I think that one of the foundation stones of  'professional'  volunteering is long-term dedication and the gift of experience. I know, I know, it does sound more like a band from the Womens' Institute, or rather, the country's somewhat patronising view of it, but these volunteers can work for as long as they and their marbles  can handle it. The young will be  short-term, moving on to finding a way to earn a living and add to the store of expertise - or, even humdrum - in the outside world. Prynhawn da

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Liz
What do you have against the Womens Institute? What they do is based on compassion and caring and the belief in a duty to give back to society. Doesnt that embody the principals for volunteers in general? Probably terms and conditions need to be made clear because there can be no pay-related sanctions.Perhaps that leaves us open to be treated like low rank employees with no security of tenure so to speak.