Volunteer Recognition

15 November 2018

I’m looking forward to being a guest at the Quarriers Volunteer recognition evening coming up, and also delighted to have been asked to make a contribution to the Quarriers Magazine about my perspective. So I thought I’d write about volunteer recognition.

Gt2Recognition is such an important quality, especially to give thanks and appreciation to anyone who has given their time and energy for others. The range of people and volunteering activities at Quarriers is a testimony to the need to say thanks.

Recognition runs deep. I remember feeling very moved at an event in north Ayr where a group of fathers and sons had completed a 10 week sports engagement aimed at repairing difficult relationships and each dad was given a certificate of thanks and accomplishment. It seemed to me that some of those dads had never before been recognised for a positive contribution to their sons lives. Seeing the sons looks as their dads received their certificates was heart warming.

There’s an old psychological truth “what you see is what you get”. The power of the recogniser is key. Looking for the positives rather than the criticisms changes the whole environment. What we look for in volunteers and who we look for is a critical matter.

So what am I looking at and seeing? I’m observing that we are not recognising the human talent and capabilities of our people, nor finding the best ways of inviting us all in to the volunteering feelgood family. Only 1 in 5 of us is regularly helping out, and only 6% of us undertakes 2/3 of all the volunteering time given each year. Over the last few years the time given has been in decline and the missing value is far greater than even our oil revenues!

I went on a mission to find out for myself what’s going on. A colleague and me knocked on 300 doors in 2 towns and 5 neighbourhoods and spoke to 100 people on the doorstep. We found a strong sense of community spirit and willingness of over half to give something to their communities. Yet only a handful were involved in social groups (out-with friends and family) and voluntary activity.

Dr. James Davies research in deprived communities in Glasgow about young volunteering discovered that it was associational life in e.g. the youth club that was the essence of “falling into volunteering”. Relationships, trust, belonging, and being asked were all in the mix. Once hooked those young people who were volunteering gave witness to the powerful and positive feelings of well being and value that makes us passionate about volunteering.

James’s research was shared at a national youth conference we held in September in Stirling. Part of our Festival of Volunteering. The Cabinet Secretary for Communities & Local Government Aileen Campbell had a terrific engagement with a youth panel of 6 young people. During this she asked them what their volunteering meant to them. I was listening carefully and reflected back that all 6 spoke about their feelings of friendship, team working, making a difference, learning and satisfaction. None mentioned what they actually did. The task was secondary to the experience of community. This is actually the norm. I remember reading an evaluation of the 70,000 Games Makers London Olympic and Paralympic volunteers. They all spoke about the wonderful atmosphere - one I know received a standing ovation in the London Underground! Whilst there was a lot of waiting about that was boring this was overcome by the team spirit of it all. Again, no-one reflected on their role and task. Glasgow 2014 was the same. The camaraderie between the volunteers and organisers meant that people would do whatever was necessary, as long as they were doing it together.

I think that what I’ve learned from all of this is that community building is the most important way forward for volunteering. Building trust, relationships and enjoyment through doing the things that are meaningful to those who come together. That we need to see and recognise the capacity in everyone to contribute to the common good, and that we make it the norm to receive thanks for giving some time to help out.

I wish the Quarriers family all the very best in how your  unique qualities can thrive and co create the care and well being for the people you serve. Thank you.