A recent edition of Global Trends in NGO Law, “a quarterly review of NGO legal trends around the world”, published by The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, examines the major international trends in the development of supportive volunteerism policies and legislation over the past decade. In anticipation of the 10 year anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers (IYV+10), the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program commissioned the report by the ICNL and the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL).
The report finds that since IYV 2001, more than 70 laws and policies on volunteers and volunteering have been adopted in countries around the world. These laws cannot be absolutely attributed to the events surrounding IYV 2001, but it can be said that a growing number of countries are becoming aware of volunteerism in their countries — not just informal activities of neighbors helping neighbors, but volunteers self-organizing or being organized through a non-governmental organization (NGO) to provide certain services, to engage in activities that promote change by government or corporate sectors, etc.
Organized volunteerism isn’t just people being nice and helpful, and efforts to introduce, expand or support volunteerism nationally should keep that in mind. There are some not-so-nice volunteers out there — and while I think they are wonderful, many governments are going to balk when they show up.
In addition, as governments expand their support of volunteerism in their countries, they are going to learn very quickly that volunteers are not all selfless! Volunteers are neither saints nor teddy bears, and fuzzy language about them and their contributions needs to be replaced by more modern and more appropriate language that recognizes their importance, like “powerful” and “intrepid” and “audacious” and “determined.”
And do they understand that volunteers are never free, that successful volunteer engagement requires volunteer management and support – and that such support and management costs money?
It’s also important to take extra care in talking to impoverished people about donating their time for free – there can be a very ugly backlash with the wrong approach. But asking impoverished people to donate their time to free can work!
In short – there are LOTS to consider about expanded promotions of volunteering in countries globally! Let’s hope governments are getting that message as well.