Universal Declaration of Volunteering

I remember reading the Universal Declaration of Volunteering back in 2004 (almost 10 years ago!) when I started by first volunteer coordinator job at a large social service agency. I was so excited to be engaging and working with volunteers in this role, and yet everything I read in the ‘volunteer management’ field was so operational and boring (I wrote a paper on this topic way back then that was published in the Nonprofit Quarterly – http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/management/1029-volunteer-management-once-more-with-meaning.html). I remember reading the Universal Declaration of Volunteering and it felt like my mission statement – http://www.iave.org/content/universal-declaration-volunteering. I wanted to put it on a big poster on my wall in my office, memorize it, bring it to all the volunteer management meetings that I went to and quote from it, etc, etc.

I just re-read it and I feel exactly the same. And I feel frustrated that the practice of volunteer management continues to be so far from the ideals in this declaration. This declaration really points out the power of volunteering as a community development strategy, as fostering connection across difference, fostering opportunities for community leadership and development, learning new skills etc.

I am still asking the same questions 10 years later. What would non-profit organizations look like and what would volunteering look like, if we took these points seriously? If organization leaders took seriously their responsibility to foster volunteerism as a social inclusion and a citizen engagement practice, rather than just a way to fill gaps and keep services going in the short-term? 

I continue to see that the majority of discussion in volunteer management forums, blogs, conferences etc is very operational in nature – short-term focussed, questions about operational strategies of recruitment and tracking and having fun parties to thank volunteers. I’m not saying that these questions aren’t important, and as someone who has been a volunteer manager, these questions are very important in a day-to-day context. BUT, I feel (and have felt for 10 years now) that the dialogue needs to move to the bigger picture, and context of non-profit leadership. Perhaps the issue is that volunteer managers/coordinators are usually positioned at the operational level in an organization, and then whoever the executive leader who is responsible for the volunteer area knows very little (or cares little or both) about volunteers. Volunteer managers are usually in either HR or in fundraising, and both executives feel that volunteers aren’t the highest priority (HR – paid staff are highest priority and Fundraising – donors/making money is highest priority). So maybe it is a structural issue, why the dialogue is not at this deeper level.

I don’t want to end this post on a downer note. I think I need to seriously memorize this Universal Declaration and spend some time dissecting the points – I feel like each point is SO important in its own right. As Ghandi said – “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.”, so if I hope that even in my little blog here, I can make some kind of change on this dialogue.

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