More than one million New Zealanders are involved in some form of voluntary work in their communities. They make a huge contribution to New Zealand society in almost every type of activity: from sports, recreation, arts, culture and heritage to emergency and social services, health, education, conservation and the environment. Volunteers are vital if we are to maintain and develop sustainable and participatory communities.
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The term 'volunteering' can mean different things to different people. There is a huge diversity of situations in which people do voluntary activities, and they may or may not define these actions as volunteering. While volunteering has been viewed historically as activity managed within voluntary agencies (often called formal volunteering), other volunteering occurs in informal ways, such as helping out a sick neighbour.
Generally, (as discussed by Gaskin and Davis Smith 1997), work or activity is defined as volunteering in Western cultures if it meets three criteria:
- It is not undertaken for financial gain - (ie: unpaid).
This does not exclude receiving reimbursement for expenses incurred while volunteering. However, there is a grey area when people receive honoraria and meeting fees for what could be classified as volunteer work. Honoraria and fees can range from payments that reflect market value hourly rates for their time spent to small token payments to cover expenses.
- It brings benefits to a third party.
This allows for a broad interpretation of who or what may benefit – neighbours, the environment, society – but it is usually intended to exclude a volunteer’s immediate family.
- It is undertaken of one’s own free will.
This distinguishes volunteering from situations of explicit external coercion, such as work experience carried out as part of a requirement for an academic programme or as part of a community-based sentence.
Why volunteering is important
- Strong communities and civil society
Volunteers strengthen communities by building networks of trust, reciprocity, and shared values. Many community and voluntary organisations and government agencies in New Zealand rely on the goodwill and efforts of volunteers in order to carry out their work.
Volunteers organise and support culture and heritage events and activities that foster and maintain cultural identity.
- New Zealand’s economy
Volunteers provide many services and goods that contribute to New Zealand’s economy.
- Individual wellbeing
Volunteers can gain a sense of contributing and belonging, which in turn strengthens communities. Volunteers can learn new skills and knowledge, which are transferable to other paid or unpaid positions. Most importantly, volunteers meet new people and have fun.
- Family and whanau development
Volunteers provide wide-ranging services to families.
Volunteers help to maintain and improve New Zealand ’s ecology, including natural bush areas, parks, reserves, wildlife, waterways, walkways, urban and rural landscape.
As well as the highly trained experts in areas like emergency services, the voluntary sector includes regular volunteers with formal roles and responsibilities – the administration workers, the committee members, the drivers and sports coaches. In addition to this, there is also a whole realm of “informal” volunteering. This term describes those of us who help our elderly neighbours clean out their guttering, or take our neighbour who can’t drive to the supermarket.
There is also ‘spontaneous volunteering’ – the farmers who pitch in with their tractors, or the individuals who rally round during floods and other catastrophes.
Volunteers contribute to the incredible diversity in our community and voluntary sector. Many Maori, Pacific and other peoples contribute to their wider family and community life in ways that they may not consider to be volunteering, but which demonstrate a commitment to their cultures and communities.
Whatever the volunteers do, we need them, and we need to let them know we value what they do.
Volunteering and government
The OCVS promotes the Government Policy on Volunteering, which strives towards “a society with a high level of volunteering, where the many contributions people make to the common good through volunteering and fulfilment of cultural obligations are actively supported and valued.”
A guide for New Zealand Public Service
A guide has been developed to help New Zealand public service agencies implement Employer Supported Volunteering programmes.
The guide will also help agencies meet the expectation in the Government Policy on Volunteering that agencies support their staff in their private volunteering activities, while ensuring they continue to fulfil their professional obligations.
Successful Employer Supported Volunteering programmes always closely match the culture, size and nature of an organisation and its mission and objectives. Therefore, this guide should be read with a view to adapting its content to suit your agency’s needs and requirements.
Ongoing support for volunteering
Volunteering New Zealand, the Department of Internal Affairs and the Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector work collaboratively to help promote International Volunteer Day (5 December) and Volunteer Awareness Week (3rd week of June each year).
International Volunteer Manager Appreciation Day is marked on 5 November each year.
Various community and voluntary organisations and government agencies provide ongoing support and resources for volunteers and volunteer managers.
Recognition of volunteers
As well as the day-to-day thanks and personal appreciation shown to volunteers, there are a number of government and community initiatives that recognise the contribution volunteers make to New Zealand, including the New Zealand Honours System.
Are there any statistics about volunteering in New Zealand?
The study of the non-profit sector in New Zealand, together with other research initiatives, is helping to build a more comprehensive picture of the numbers and motivations of volunteers.
A new voluntary scheme called payroll giving became an option for New Zealand workplaces on 7 January 2010. It's an easy way for employees to support a good cause. Employers can choose whether to set up a payroll giving scheme in their workplace, and employees can choose whether they want to participate.