Category Archives: Community / Volunteer Engagement

TechSoup webinar on how your web site can welcome EVERYONE

TechSoup webinar on how your web site can welcome EVERYONE
August 24, 2017 (Thursday), 11 am to noon Pacific Daylight Time

Join experts from Knowbility to learn how accessibility will expand your pool of potential clients, donors, volunteers, staff and other supporters, the message your organization sends when it commits to accessible web site and multi-media materials, and, no-cost practical tips on how you can immediately improve your website’s accessibility. This webinar will help your nonprofit, school, church, or library ensure that its website, podcasts and videos are accessible to anyone who visits such, including people with disabilities and people using assistive technologies.

We’ll cover:

  • Why online accessibility is critical and how to become an advocate for such within your organization
  • Steps for simple, immediate, no-cost activities you can do to improve your web site accessibility
  • Resources to help tech staff and volunteers make your site fully accessible, adhering to federal requirements
  • Information about OpenAIR – Accessibility Internet Rally

Register here (it’s free!)

Also see:

State of organizations working with people in UK criminal justice system

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersClinks is a registered charity in the United Kingdom, based in London. Clinks began life in 1993 as London Prisons Community Links. “Clinks supports, represents and campaigns for the voluntary sector working with offenders.” Note that the phrase “voluntary sector” is the British term for what we call the nonprofit sector in the USA, or the third sector, and by “offenders”, they mean people in, or having recently left, the criminal justice system. Charities in the voluntary sector in the UK may or may not involve volunteers to be a part of the “voluntary sector”, though Clinks reports that more than 90% of the charities it works with do involve volunteers. “Clinks aims to ensure the sector and all those with whom they work, are informed and engaged in order to transform the lives of offenders and their communities.” Clinks employs 21 staff and has over 600 members.

Each year Clinks surveys voluntary sector organizations in the UK working somehow with “offenders” to collect information about how healthy their sector is, the role the sector is playing in society, and the well-being of service users. Results are anonymised and collated a yearly state of the sector report, tracking “key trends for voluntary sector organisations working with offenders and their families.” One interviewee said that “…the needs vary from homelessness, rough sleeping, drugs and alcohol, social and cultural isolation, health, poverty and debt, a very holistic picture of needs that we are presented with and often very complex needs.”

This is a summary of their 2017 State of the sector report, published July 2017 (note that spellings in this paragraph and the report are British):

During a year of political instability, voluntary organisations continue to support the most vulnerable people despite a shifting funding landscape and increasing and changing service user needs. In our latest state of the sector research, organisations told us that they’ve seen an increase in the number of people they are supporting, with more complex and immediate needs, resulting in organisations developing more flexible and creative working and recruiting more volunteers. They have dealt with large reductions in funds, and have struggled to get full cost recovery on services, and some closing services. Through all of this the sector remains innovative and creative, with many designing new services to meet emerging need and responding to a changing landscape.

All I can think as I read this paragraph is that this is also probably true of every social service agency in the USA as well, nonprofit or governmental. I wish we had such an organization here in the USA that would do such a yearly state of the sector for social service nonprofits and government agencies in particular, to find out what’s happening among all those mission-based groups taking on society’s most serious social issues – not just those working in the criminal justice system, though that would be incredible as well.

Also from the 2017 report:

On average volunteers spend 16 hours a month volunteering for organisations that filled out our survey. Organisations told us that on average, the maximum time someone volunteers per month is 80 hours, whilst the minimum time is 8 hours. Volunteers undertake a variety of roles, which include working directly with service users… Organisations often recruit volunteers who have specific skills to support their work, such as research or marketing.

These volunteers in the UK working for charities that are involved somehow with law offenders engage in a variety of tasks (again, British spellings):

  • Organising or helping to run an activity or event  57 %
  • Befriending or mentoring people (clients)  57 %
  • Secretarial, admin or clerical work  50 %
  • Giving advice, information, counselling (to clients)  47 %
  • Getting other people involved  36 %
  • Leading a group, member of a committee  36 %
  • Visiting people (clients)  29 %
  • Other practical help (to clients) e.g. helping out at school, shopping  23 %
  • Raising or handling money, taking part in sponsored events  21 %
  • Representing (I have no idea what this means)  20 %
  • Proving transport, driving  17 %
  • Campaigning  8 %

From the report:

Organisations find it challenging to recruit staff and volunteers, with 50% saying it is slightly or very difficult to recruit volunteers and 57% reporting this to be the case for staff recruitment. The conditions in some prisons, such as high levels of violence, staff shortages and a rise in the use of psychoactive substances, is having a negative impact on organisations’ ability to recruit and retain staff.

Organisations find it more challenging to retain volunteers than staff, with 70% of organisations reporting it is slightly or very easy to retain or keep staff, with 59% of organisations reporting this to be the case for volunteers. On average, organisations reported that it is slightly or very easy to train both staff and volunteers. When discussing the training needs of their staff and volunteers, one interviewee said that due to the changing needs of their service users, they are having to develop a different approach to training.

Again, as I read these paragraphs, I wish we had such an organization here in the USA that would do such a yearly report on volunteers at social service nonprofits and government agencies in particular, to find out what the volunteers are doing and the challenges the organizations are facing in recruiting, supporting and keeping them. I would also love a comparison of the UK sector working with people in the criminal justice system and the same in the USA. Anyone? Anyone?

Here are Clink’s other surveys since 2011.

 

J.K. Rowling speaks out against orphan tourism

This, in short, is why I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs. #Voluntourism

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is no fan of voluntourism, particularly orphan tourism.

Below are screen captures of a series of Tweets she sent about this back in 2016, per someone asking her to retweet an appeal for such volunteers to “help” orphans in another country. It’s followed by the transcript of the tweets in the screen capture, and after that, there are a list of links to more information on the dangers of orphan tourism and where to find legitimate volunteering abroad programs (and how to recognize such).

And be sure to follow her via @jk_rowling:

Transcripts of tweets:

#Voluntourism is one of drivers of family break up in very poor countries. It incentivises ‘orphanages’ that are run as businesses.

The charity I have just been asked to support offers (doubtless well-intentioned) Westerners ‘volunteer experiences’ in child institutions.

One of the advantages listed for your orphanage volunteer experience is that it will give you a CV ‘distinguisher’. #voluntourism

The #voluntourism charity tells volunteers that they will be able to ‘play and interact’ with children ‘in desperate need of affection.

‘

Willingness to cling to strangers is a sign of the profound damage institutions do to children #voluntourism

Globally, poverty is the no. 1 reason that children are institutionalised. Well-intentioned Westerners supporting orphanages…

… perpetuates this highly damaging system and encourages the creation of more institutions as money magnets. #voluntourism

Never forget, 80% of institutionalised children worldwide have close family who want them back. They are not orphans. #Voluntourism

These children and these countries need social care and health systems that keep families together. #Voluntourism

This, in short, is why I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs. #Voluntourism

More resources:

The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science

Looks like an interesting read for those in the nonprofit sector and other mission-based organizations, and a great resource of quotes for various program and funding proposals – maybe even interviews with the press to explain why a nonprofit is doing whatever it is it is doing.

At $150, I’ll have to beg my way into an academic library in order to read it…

The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science

Edited by Emma M. Seppälä, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Stephanie L. Brown, Monica C. Worline, C. Daryl Cameron, and James R. Doty

How do we define compassion? Is it an emotional state, a motivation, a dispositional trait, or a cultivated attitude? How does it compare to altruism and empathy? Chapters in this Handbook present critical scientific evidence about compassion in numerous conceptions… and contribute importantly to understanding how we respond to others who are suffering… it explores the motivators of compassion, the effect on physiology, the co-occurrence of wellbeing, and compassion training interventions. Sectioned by thematic approaches, it pulls together basic and clinical research ranging across neurobiological, developmental, evolutionary, social, clinical, and applied areas in psychology such as business and education. In this sense, it comprises one of the first multidisciplinary and systematic approaches to examining compassion from multiple perspectives and frames of reference.

Here’s the table of contents:

Preface
James R. Doty

Part One: Introduction
Chapter 1: The Landscape of Compassion: Definitions and Scientific Approaches
Jennifer L. Goetz and Emiliana Simon-Thomas

Chapter 2: Compassion in Context: Tracing the Buddhist Roots of Secular, Compassion-Based Contemplative Programs
Brooke D. Lavelle

Chapter 3: The Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis: What and So What?
C. Daniel Batson

Chapter 4: Is Global Compassion Achievable?
Paul Ekman and Eve Ekman

Part Two: Developmental Approaches

Chapter 5: Compassion in Children
Tracy L. Spinrad and Nancy Eisenberg

Chapter 6: Parental Brain: The Crucible of Compassion
James E. Swain and S. Shaun Ho

Chapter 7: Adult Attachment and Compassion: Normative and Individual Difference Components
Mario Mikulincer and Phillip R. Shaver

Chapter 8: Compassion-Focused Parenting
James N. Kirby

Part Three: Psychophysiological and Biological Approaches

Chapter 9: The Compassionate Brain
Olga M. Klimecki and Tania Singer

Chapter 10: Two Factors that Fuel Compassion: The Oxytocin System and the Social Experience of Moral Elevation
Sarina Rodrigues Saturn
Chapter 11: The Impact of Compassion Meditation Training on the Brain and Prosocial Behavior
Helen Y. Weng, Brianna Schuyler, and Richard J. Davidson

Chapter 12: Cultural neuroscience of compassion and empathy
Joan Y. Chiao

Chapter 13: Compassionate Neurobiology and Health
Stephanie L. Brown and R. Michael Brown

Chapter 14: The Roots of Compassion: An Evolutionary and Neurobiological Perspective
C. Sue Carter, Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, and Eric C. Porges

Chapter 15: Vagal pathways: Portals to Compassion
Stephen W. Porges
Part Four: Compassion Interventions

Chapter 16: Empathy Building Interventions: A Review of Existing Work and Suggestions for Future Directions
Erika Weisz and Jamil Zaki

Chapter 17: Studies of Training Compassion: What Have We Learned, What Remains Unknown?
Alea C. Skwara, Brandon G. King, and Clifford D. Saron

Chapter 18: The Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) Program
Philippe R. Goldin and Hooria Jazaieri

Chapter 19: From Specific to General: The Biological Effects of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training
Jennifer Mascaro, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, and Charles L. Raison
Part Five: Social Psychological and Sociological Approaches

Chapter 20: Compassion Collapse: Why We Are Numb to Numbers
C. Daryl Cameron

Chapter 21: The Cultural Shaping of Compassion
Birgit Koopman-Holm and Jeanne L. Tsai

Chapter 22: Enhancing compassion: Social psychological perspectives
Paul Condon and David DeSteno

Chapter 23: Empathy, compassion, and social relationships
Mark H. Davis

Chapter 24: The Class-Compassion Gap: How Socioeconomic Factors Influence Compassion
Paul K. Piff and Jake P. Moskowitz

Chapter 25: Changes Over Time in Compassion-Related Variables in the United States
Sasha Zarins and Sara Konrath

Chapter 26: To Help or Not to Help: Goal Commitment and the Goodness of Compassion
Michael J. Poulin

Part Six: Clinical Approaches

Chapter 27: Self-Compassion and Psychological Well-being
Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer

Chapter 28: Compassion Fatigue Resilience
Charles R. Figley and Kathleen Regan Figley

Chapter 29: Compassion Fears, Blocks and Resistances: An Evolutionary Investigation
Paul Gilbert and Jennifer Mascaro

Part Seven: Applied Compassion

Chapter 30: Organizational Compassion: Manifestations Through Organizations
Kim Cameron

Chapter 31: How Leaders Shape Compassion Processes in Organizations
Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton

Chapter 32: Compassion in Healthcare
Sue Shea and Christos Lionis

Chapter 33: A Call for Compassion and Care in Education: Toward a More Comprehensive ProSocial Framework for the Field
Brooke D. Lavelle, Lisa Flook, and Dara G. Ghahremani

Chapter 34: Heroism: Social Transformation Through Compassion in Action
Philip G. Zimbardo, Emma Seppälä, and Zeno Franco

Chapter 35: Social Dominance and Leadership: The mediational effect of Compassion
Daniel Martin and Yotam Heineberg

When mission statements, ideologies & human rights collide

logoThere is a legal case in Canada that started in 1995 regarding a person that was refused participation as a volunteer, and that case has always stuck with me. I have never, ever seen it discussed on an online forum for managers of volunteers and never heard it mentioned at a conference related to volunteerism or nonprofit management. I guess I’ve been waiting all these years for someone else to say, “Hey, what about this? How does this affect us? Might this affect us?” But no one has. So, I guess I will, per a discussion that came up on my blog Treat volunteers like employees? Great idea, awful idea.

In Canada, Kimberly Nixon, a transgendered woman, launched a human rights complaint against Vancouver Rape Relief, a nonprofit, for excluding her as a volunteer peer counselor for raped and battered women that seek the services of this nonprofit. Vancouver Rape Relief said it rejected Nixon as a volunteer peer counselor because the organization’s spaces for counseling clients are dedicated women’s-only spaces, and their clients come to the organization specifically because of this commitment to women’s-only spaces (unlike many other nonprofits that offer rape counseling – another women’s group, Battered Women’s Support Services, accepts transgendered women as volunteers, and Nixon volunteered there previously). Vancouver Rape Relief said the reason was also “because she did not share the same life experiences as women born and raised as girls and into womenhood.”

After 12 years of legal pursuits, in 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Nixon’s appeal to have her case heard, leaving the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision in December 2005 as the last word on the dispute. This article offers a nice summation of that appeal’s court decision:

While it may appear that Rape Relief discriminated against Nixon because she was born with a penis, they have a different rationale. Rape Relief’s collective belief is that far beyond a person’s biological make-up, socialization and experience are what shapes individuals. It’s part of their philosophy that women experience the male-dominated world differently than men. That was the 34-year-old organization’s original argument for why they should be allowed to exclude men when their women-only policy was first challenged in the 1970s, and they feel it’s relevant to whether they should admit transsexual women.

It’s noted in the article, and I think it is VERY important to note here, that “both parties agreed that Nixon was a woman and that gender existed on a continuum — it wasn’t binary, despite the social convention of dividing everyone into categories of male or female” and “both the tribunal and Rape Relief accept that Nixon has a genuine interest in counselling other women, and she has done so both before and after her filing the human rights complaint.”

This article from 2000, before the case was decided by the courts, does a good job of showing the different arguments in the case. But even with a final decision, the case continues to be a source of controversy in Canada and abroad among those concerned with human rights applications for transgendered people. Some still call Vancouver Rape Relief “transphobic”: this article says that because the organization is “allowed to make their own determinations about who is—or who is not—a woman, and exclude them accordingly” that the organization is “allowed to discriminate against trans women. As a feminist and an ally to the trans community, I find this extraordinarily disturbing.” Disputing these accusations, the organization has a section on its web site defending its definition of a women-only space and its commitment to such, and one of the organization’s long-time staff members, Lee Lakeman, notes in this 2012 interview, that “Aboriginal people used the arguments that we built in court to defend their right to be only Aboriginals in their group.”

I do not bring any of this up to try to debate who is and isn’t a woman.

I could have also brought up cases regarding tribal membership – this article does a great job of explaining why cultural identification determination is so difficult, as well as explaining why tribal leadership gets to determine who is and isn’t a member of their tribe, rather than the federal government or the federal courts. Conversations and debates about such can be just as heated as the Nixon case.

I bring this case up to remind nonprofit staff, employees and volunteers alike, that a definition you may have of a particular aspect of humanity – who is or isn’t a woman, who is or isn’t gay, who is or isn’t a member of a particular ethnic group, who is or isn’t a member of a particular tribe, who should or should not call themselves an Oregonian or a Texan or a German or an English person or an African whatever – may not be the same, or as absolute, as someone else’s. Mission statements, ideologies, beliefs about human rights and the law can all collide – and have over and over, in break rooms, in meeting rooms, at community events, and in the courts. Don’t be surprised when it happens at, or regarding, your nonprofit.

What’s my opinion on this case? No way I’m going there… I’ve been controversial enough on my blog (links below). I’m going to let ya’ll debate it in the comments, if you want.

But I did kinda sorta blog about something like this before, back in 2012: Careful what you claim: the passions around identity

Also see:

Great reasons to involve LOCAL volunteer firefighters

It seems that, per the union for professional firefighters stance against volunteers in firefighting or any emergency response roles, a lot of fire stations are phasing out volunteers in these frontline roles. I’m seeing more and more stations across the USA scaling back the involvement and/or role of volunteers, allowing volunteers only in non-emergency-response roles, if at all: rolling hoses and cleaning equipment after a call, serving food and drinks to career firefighters at or after a call, staffing fundraising events, setting up for or cleaning up after events, etc. Those support roles to frontline responders are super important, and many volunteers are happy to fill them. But there are a lot of other people that want to volunteer in emergency response roles, and they are willing to go through extensive training, right alongside career firefighters, to do it. Unfortunately, there seem to be less and less opportunities for such people.

In addition, I’m also seeing fire stations that are still involving volunteers in first responder roles recruiting for volunteers only or primarily among people that want to become career firefighters and that see volunteer firefighting as a path to that. As with career firefighters, such volunteers are often from outside the town or city where they will serve, maybe far outside. They don’t stick around for long, because they are looking for a paid job: they leave the station after just a year or two for paid work elsewhere. That means such a fire station is forever recruiting and training volunteers to replace those that leave.

Career firefighters are not better than volunteer firefighters, volunteer firefighters are not better than career firefighters, and neither should be a threat to the other. Rather, these two kinds of first responders, working side-by-side, can make emergency management and risk prevention all the more powerful than just one kind or the other staffing a station.

Here are great reasons to recruit and involve local volunteer firefighters, even if a station is partially or primarily staffed by career firefighters, reasons that shouldn’t feel threatening to career firefighters:

  • Local volunteers live in the community or neighborhood, and that means they will often know things about residents, businesses, streets and locations that career firefighters that don’t live in the town or area may not know. This can be helpful, even vital, when responding to certain calls.
  • Local volunteers live in the community, and that means they can be more readily available to back up on-duty staff during an emergency than off-duty career firefighters that live outside of the town or city and have to travel several miles, even more than an hour, to staff a station when all the on-shift responders are on a call.
  • Local volunteers represent local community investment in the fire station and local support for career firefighters, many – and sometimes, most – of whom do not live in the community. Local volunteers demonstrate a kind of community endorsement as powerful as financial support.
  • Local volunteers can provide much-needed continuance and knowledge in a fire station with a high turnover of career firefighters.
  • Local volunteers aren’t career firefighters, and those that don’t have career firefighting aspirations can be a more neutral voice when making the case for a maintenance or increase in funding for a fire station or for a new strategy. They do not have a financial or career interest in funding or expansion, for instance, and that makes their voice incredibly powerful when advocating to elected officials and community members that may be voting on such a measure.
  • Local volunteers aren’t career firefighters, and those don’t have career firefighting aspirations can be a more neutral voice when addressing problems and complaints within or about a fire station, since they will not suffer financial consequences from speaking out about issues that need to be addressed. The key here is the phrase can be – does your station empower and encourage local volunteers to provide frank feedback about what they see and experience? Do you have a speak-up culture?
  • Local volunteers may end up serving on a citizen committee that advises government or even run for local office, and having a firefighter advocate in such a role can be greatly beneficial to all firefighting, fire prevention and emergency response in a community.

What are other great reasons to involve local volunteers in fire stations? What other scenarios, beyond fire stations, are good to have volunteers and career professionals working side-by-side? Please share in the comments.

And on a related note, here are four groups of questions every fire station should be asking itself:

  • If we involve career firefighters, how long are they staying, on average? Why are they leaving? Do we need to change how we recruit, manage or support career firefighters to reduce turnover? What are the costs associated with recruiting and training a new career firefighter?
  • If we involve volunteer firefighters in first responder roles, how long are they staying, on average? Why are volunteers leaving? Do we need to change how we recruit, manage or support volunteer firefighters to reduce turnover? What are the costs associated with recruiting and training a new volunteer firefighter?
  • How does the local community perceive the engagement of volunteer firefighters in first responder roles? If our station is scaling back or eliminating volunteers in these roles, how aware is the public of this change, and what are their feelings about it?
  • Does our web site have clear information about why we involve volunteers in emergency response? Are we limiting ourselves to recruiting only those people who have career aspirations and want to volunteer as a pathway to that career, or do we also have language that also encourages local people with no career firefighting aspirations to volunteer?

Also see:

Mission statements for your volunteer engagement
(Saying WHY your organization or department involves volunteers)

New online resources to help recruit volunteer firefighters

Volunteers needed, but are they wanted?

why you can’t find/keep volunteer firefighters

Making certain volunteers feel unwelcomed because of your language

pro vs. volunteer firefighters

Fire station turns away volunteers – & how it could be different

International Association of Fire Fighters is anti-volunteer

History & Evaluation of UNV’s Early Years

Whilst trying to make a list of all of the Executive Coordinators of the United Nations Volunteers program since UNV began in 1970, to update UNV’s profile on Wikipedia, I found quite a delicious document from 1974, which provides the most detailed history of the origins of the UNV program that I have ever read – origins I don’t think most people are aware of, including most staff at UNV – as well as an evaluation of UNV’s first three years of operation.

Some things have changed quite a lot at UNV since this document was published – but some have stayed the same.

The article is The Platonic Acorn: A Case Study of the United Nations Volunteer. It’s by Robert A. Pastor who, at the time of this paper’s publication in 1974, was a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Pastor was a former Peace Corps volunteer who went on to many high-profile international endeavors: he was a member of the National Security Council Staff during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, he was associated with various universities, and also served as a Senior Fellow at the Carter Center, where he established the programs on Latin America and the Caribbean, democracy and election-monitoring, and Chinese village elections. He died of colon cancer in 2014.

His paper about the first years of UNV was published in the journal International Organization, published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the International Organization Foundation. This article appeared in Volume 28, Issue 3 July 1974, pp. 375-397, and it’s accessible online, for free, from JSTOR. The Abstract for his paper:

This article presents both a history and an administrative analysis of the United Nations Volunteers, an international organization established by a General Assembly resolution in December 1970. The hope that the new organization would presage a new era of multinational volunteerism has proven groundless. In seeking to explain the ineffectiveness of the UN Volunteers, I look inside the organization and find that it has little or no control over its six principal functions. This extreme decentralization of responsibility is then explained not by a static description of the institutional but by focusing on the dynamic process by which state and transnational actors exercised influence during the different stages of the organization’s establishment and development. Those actors whose autonomy was most jeopardized by a new volunteer organization were most active in defining and limiting the scope of its operations. The relative lobbying advantages of state and transnational actors meshed with bureaucratic and budgetary constraints to ensure an enfeebled organization.

Whew!

Pastor is very critical of UNV’s recruitment and placement processes in particular, as it slowed volunteer placement to a crawl. The problem was that, in the 1970s, each stage in the UNV selection process was managed by a different organization in a different location, resulting in 11 different stages between the volunteer-involving organization and the applicant. As a result, as of March 1973, UNV had filled just 93 posts from approximately 400 requests. In addition, 85 percent of volunteers were from least developed countries (LDCs). Then, it was seen as a problem, because the program was supposed to be “universal”, with a significant number of young volunteers from industrialized countries:

The organizational process also helps to explain why there is such a high percentage of volunteers from LDCs, and may help predict why this is likely to continue. Many applicants from LDCs view the UNV as a step into the UN civil service, and thus they are willing to tolerate longer delays than their counterparts in the developed world who generally view volunteer service as precisely that. The result, that LCD volunteers currently count for nearly half of all volunteers, is a bit ironic since one of the original purposes of volunteerism was to exploit the skill surplus of the developed countries.

I have no idea what the timeline is now between the creation of a UNV assignment and placement of a person into that assignment, but mentalities regarding people from developing countries as UNV has greatly changed: UNV now prides itself on a high percentage of volunteers from developed countries, the idea being that it is a reflection of south-to-south cooperation. The average age of UNVs has also increased, from people in their 20s when the program started to 38 now – a program originally designed to channel the energies of youth has become something quite different.

Another criticism by Pastor is that “Although volunteers are supposed to work directly with host country people, they find themselves working with and accountable only to foreign experts.” In the last few years, UNV has focused on its capacity to be a low-cost staffing solution for UN agencies, so this criticism could still be made – and may become a greater issue.

Pastor questions UNV’s ability at the time to fulfill specialized requests for volunteers, and suspects the level of specialization requested is much higher than what is actually necessary. He provides imaginary, outrageous examples of such requests, such as for a “French-speaking sand dune fixation expert.” He says, “Assuming that these specialists exist, the likelihood of finding one who would volunteer is negligible, while the price of the search is exorbitant.” Pastor’s paper was written more than two decades before the Internet became widely used in the USA, and then grew exponentially globally; recruitment of highly-specialized candidates for volunteering is now easy for most situations, and the number of applicants for these assignments shows an abundance of experts willing to take on such volunteering roles.

Another criticism in the document is if the UNV program was, in fact, a volunteer program because of the “high professional calibre” of volunteers – meaning the degree of expertise of the volunteers somehow makes them not really volunteers anymore. He notes that UNV “insists on selling its product as an inexpensive substitute for experts.” Since then, thankfully, the understanding of the word volunteer has changed, and it does not mean amateur, unskilled, or inexperienced. But for UNV now, in 2017, what does volunteer mean? In the USA, a person is a volunteer at a nonprofit or other mission-based organization if he or she is not paid by that agency for services rendered. In fact, the federal agency in charge of regulating labor has strict guidelines on who may be called a volunteer – and who may not. As UNVs, especially national UNVs from the same country where they are serving, receive excellent compensation, called a stipend rather than a salary, what makes them a volunteer? That I cannot answer.

Pastor’s review of UNV is a fascinating document which offers a lot of challenging questions about UNV – and some of these questions, IMO, need to be asked again.  I’m so sorry I can’t thank him for his paper, and talk with him about how UNV has evolved. I would have loved to hear what he thought of the Online Volunteering service in particular, which I think meets many of the goals originally set out for UNV but not realized.

In the course of my research, I also found the book The Role and Status of International Humanitarian Volunteers and Organization: The Rights and Duty to Humanitarian Assistance by Yves Beigbeder, ISBN 0-7923-1190-6. It was published in 1991, and from the pages available on Google, it seems to also have some scathing analysis of UNV’s performance up to that date. It’s hard to find information about the author; there’s scant information online about him, though he seems to be a prolific writer. Online, it says he served at the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1946 and had a “long career in UN organizations as a senior official.” Beigbeder’s book is hard to get hold of; it is offered online for about $100, well beyond the budgets for most folks interested in evaluating volunteer placement agencies (and beyond my own budget as well).

In the book, Beigbeder says that the UNDP Governing Council asked the UNV administrator to undertake a review of the UNV program in 1986 and in 1987. The report was a mixed bag on UNV performance at that time: it was noted that, in Yemen, “UNVs are quickly operational, less demanding in support services and more adaptive to difficult, harsh and isolated working conditions than other technical assistance staff.” But In Papua New Guinea, results were good and bad. “When UNVs have not done well, the cause was either poor project design, noninvolvement by supervisors in developing the job description, job duties imprecise or modified after the arrival of the UNV, wrong selection, or language deficiencies.” All of those can still be problems with UNV assignments – or for any international placement organization, for that matter. Addressing those problems is an ongoing issue.

Finally, my search also lead me to the self-published book Not Only a Refugee: An American UN Volunteer in the Philippines by Eleanor Grogg Stewart, about her time in the early 1980s, specifically in and around 1982, when she worked in a refugee camp. Several pages from her book are available on books.google.com. It’s detailed account of the early days of UNV, as well as trying to navigate UN bureaucracy.

It’s a shame that early accounts and evaluations of nonprofit organizations, international aid agencies, government programs and other mission-based entities are forgotten. It’s so interesting to read how much has changed, how much has improved – and how far we still have to go. How can we know if we’re making a difference if we aren’t looking at what our agencies promised in the past?

One final note: On 31 May, 2017, the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS convened in New York to discuss the findings of an independent evaluation of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme and UNV’s new Strategic Framework goals and objectives for 2018-2021. Here is a press release about the meeting, which says Nina Retzlaff is the independent evaluator of the UNV Strategic Framework 2014-2017 and that she elaborated on key points and early findings from her evaluation at the New York meeting, noting that there was a high level of satisfaction from UN partners on the work of UN Volunteers and that “91% of UN partners confirm UNV responds to their needs, [and that] 92% of the UN Volunteers report a satisfactory experience.” She also said that “UNV’s programmatic niche is in Youth and Volunteer Infrastructure.” I would love to read the evaluation but, cannot find out if it’s even been finished, let alone published. It would be fascinating to read how it compares to these earlier aassessments.

Also see:

Evaluation Re: Peace Corps’ Sexual Assault Risk Reduction & Response Program

Kate Puzey was a 24-year-old Peace Corps volunteer from Cumming, Georgia, who was murdered in 2009 in the West African village of Badjoude, Benin, soon after she had reported a colleague for allegedly molesting some of the young girls they taught. The story prompted the USA television network 20/20 to do an investigative piece about women Peace Corps members who were sexually-assaulted while serving abroad, and how these women’s needs both before and after these crimes were not addressed by the Peace Corps. The media attention and public outcry lead to the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, legislation that provides whistleblower protection for Peace Corps volunteers, a safeguard that is was in place for federal employees but not for Peace Corps volunteers at that time, protection that would have given Kate more protection when she reported her allegations. In addition, the legislation requires the Peace Corps to develop sexual assault risk-reduction and response training and protocol in consultation with experts that complies with best practices in the sexual assault field. The training also was to be tailored to the specific countries in which volunteers serve.

Seven years after Kate’s death, and six years after the legislation named for her, the Final Evaluation Report: The Peace Corps’ Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response Program (IG-17-01-E) was released by the USA Office of Inspector General on November 28, 2016. I missed it at its release, and just stumbled upon it online a few weeks ago.

The evaluation found that Peace Corps largely complied with the requirements in the Kate Puzey Act and that, compared to an evaluation in 2013, the Peace Corps markedly improved how it supported volunteers who had reported a sexual assault. However, the inspector general also found individual cases where the Peace Corps did not meet its standard to respond effectively and compassionately to victims of sexual assault, including a few instances of victim blaming and improperly sharing confidential details with staff. “Some applicants were either not aware of the crime and risks previous Volunteers had faced in their country of service or they did not understand the information that was provided to them.” From the executive summary:

We found that the Peace Corps had developed its sexual assault training in accordance with the
Kate Puzey Act requirements: it incorporated available best practices, it consulted with experts in
the sexual assault field, and it involved the Office of Victim Advocacy in the training design
process.

However, we found that some Volunteers had not learned important information in the sexual
assault risk reduction and response sessions, including the difference between restricted and
standard reporting, the services available to a victim of a sexual assault, how to report a sexual
assault incident, and the identity and role of Sexual Assault Response Liaisons at post. The
training was insufficiently tailored to the country of service (as required by the Act), was not
responsive to the needs of diverse Volunteers, and did not address the problem of sexual
harassment. In addition, some staff delivered the training inconsistently due to poor training
skills. Furthermore, the Peace Corps’ approach to assessing the Volunteer training was
incomplete and did not provide a useful measure of training effectiveness.

You can read the full report here. Whether your nonprofit or government agency is international or entirely local, whether your paid or volunteer staff work in various sites or all under one roof, you should read this report and think about how your agency is, or isn’t, equipped to ensure the safety of employees, consultants, volunteers and clients, and ways to improve.

Peace Corps volunteers who are the victim of a crime have access to professional victim advocates 24 hours a day at 202.409.2704 or victimadvocate@peacecorps.gov. The Peace Corps provides an around the clock, anonymous sexual assault hotline accessible to volunteers by phone, text, or online chat that is staffed by external crisis counselors at pcsaveshelpline.org. Call from outside the USA: 001.408.844.HELP (4357). From within the USA: 408.844.HELP (4357). Read more from the Peace Corps regarding its Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Response (SARRR) efforts.

Also see:

Resources re: labor laws and volunteering

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersLabor laws regarding volunteering vary from country to country. For instance, in the USA, creating a written contract or memorandum of understanding with a volunteer, ensuring there is an agreement on what is expected of a volunteer, is normal and entirely legal, but in the United Kingdom, such can make the volunteer a paid employee, and due for financial compensation.

How should you determine who is a volunteer and who should be paid for the hours they work at your organization, no matter what country you are in?

There are terrific resources on the US Department of Labor web site regarding volunteerism that can help any nonprofit or charity, in any country, think about both why it involves volunteers and how it should talk about the value of volunteerism, as well as the qualities of a well-run volunteering program. Although it’s USA-centric and cites USA law, much of what it proposes regarding volunteerism is based in ethics as much as law.

For instance, there’s this detailed response by DOL staff to someone asking if the time employees spend on volunteer activities outside their employer’s worksite or on activities outside their regular work are compensable working time. For instance, “Does the employer have a duty to compensate non-exempt employees for the time they spend volunteering on a Habitat for Humanity project outside of normal working hours?” Any corporation that organizes volunteering activities for its employees needs to read this document carefully.

Employees volunteering outside of their jobs, at the direction of their employer, is further explored in this response from the DOL, which talks about nurses being asked to volunteer their time, unpaid, to participate in community service activities, such as taking blood pressure at a health fair, teaching child care classes to expectant parents, participating in “career day” at a local school, helping the Red Cross, or helping with the hospital picnic. Other activities in question involve employee attendance at patient care conferences, task force meetings, and committee meetings on their days off or outside regular working hours.

Also see:

Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act

Whether an incentive based pay plan at a company, which includes civic and charitable volunteer activities, complies with the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Both of these are USA-centric as well but, again, the advice is terrific for other countries as well. Of course, you should still check to see what your country’s laws are regarding volunteers, including interns or anyone to whom you aren’t paying at least a legal minimum wage.

In addition, there’s also this Safety and Health Checklist for Voluntary and Community-Based Organizations Engaged in Disaster Recovery Demolition and Construction Activities. This detailed document emphasizes the importance of such organizations promoting the health and safety of their work teams, including volunteers, and provides a checklist outlining some of the hazards frequently encountered during disaster response and recovery operations and what the organization should have in place to support and protect volunteers, including what training volunteer work teams should have. This checklist is great no matter what country you are in.

Having a mission statement for your organization’s volunteer engagement can protect you from over-zealous staff members, consultants and corporate funders who want to push for volunteers to replace paid staff and save money, or to increase volunteer engagement in areas of the nonprofits work that would be inappropriate. It also could help protect you against lawsuits from volunteers who feel they were merely unpaid workers. The US Department of Labor (DOL) and US Federal Courts want to see that the work of volunteers is distinctly different from the duties of the organization’s employees – and their guidelines on how they make the determination regarding who is a volunteer and who should be paid are good guidelines for volunteering other countries as well. To determine whether an individual is truly volunteering, the DOL and US Federal Courts look to:

  • The nature of the entity receiving the volunteer services
  • The character of the volunteer services (activities) themselves
  • The amount of control the employer or engaging organization exerts over the volunteer
  • Compensation or benefits provided to the volunteer, or that the individual expects
  • Whether the volunteer work displaces paid work by regular employees

You can read more from the DOL here.

Also see Is Your Volunteer Really an Employee? The Answer Might Surprise You [Part 1] and Is Your Volunteer Really an Employee? The Answer Might Surprise You [Part 2].

If these links ever stop working, cut and paste the URL of any one of them into archive.org, and you should be able to access an archived version of the document.

Learn more about how to talk about the value of volunteers.

 

Medical Voluntourism Can Cause Serious Harm

In a recent blog hosted by the Scientific American, Noelle Sullivan, a member of the faculty in global health studies at Northwestern University, says her research shows that some people volunteering abroad for a few weeks, or several weeks, to engage in medical “help” for people in developing countries “does indeed cause harm. In fact, the international volunteer placement industry opens the door to potentially disastrous outcomes.”

Empirical data about the medical voluntourism industry is sparse, but Sullivan does have solid data: “I’ve studied medical volunteering in Tanzania since 2011, including over 1,600 hours observing volunteer-patient interactions across six health facilities. I have spoken with more than 200 foreign volunteers in Tanzania, plus conducted formal interviews with 48 foreign volunteers and 90 hosting health professionals.

She notes a variety of voluntourism web sites that invite volunteers with little or no medical training to do invasive procedures abroad, including providing vaccines, pulling teeth, providing male circumcisions, suturing and delivering babies. “Most volunteers I’ve observed deliver at least one baby, despite being unlicensed to do so.”

Her examples in the article are stunning: in Tanzania in 2015, her team encountered a young woman that’s called Mary in her article:

Mary routinely delivered babies unassisted by local midwives because she appeared familiar with the procedure—a skill she said she learned in 2013 on a previous volunteer stint.

Mary violated obstetrics best practices, doing unnecessary episiotomies (cutting the skin between the vaginal opening and anus to make room for the baby’s head) and pulling breech babies (babies positioned bottom instead of head-first in the birth canal). Once routine in obstetrics, current guidelines restrict episiotomy to exceptional cases because they may cause permanent problems for the mother, including incontinence. Meanwhile, pulling breech babies can cause suffocation.

After Mary’s departure, we learned she was not a medical student at all; she was an undergraduate student, unaware of the risks in what she was doing. 

Voluntourism – where volunteers pay large amounts of money to go abroad for a few weeks, or even several weeks, to engage in a short-term activity that will give them a sense of helping people, animals or the environment – is a growing industry. I look at most of it with great skepticism in terms of actually helping anyone, because it’s focused on the wants of the volunteer – that feel-good, often highly photogenic experience – not the critical local needs of local people or the environment, and there’s little screening of volunteers – most everyone is taken, so long as they can pay. What these foreigners bring through these voluntourism programs is often not skills, experience or capabilities that cannot be found locally – it’s money.

The End Humanitarian Douchery campaign takes a much stronger stand against voluntourism in any form than I do, drawing attention to the negative consequences such can have for local communities in particular. The campaign organizers offer tips on “how to find a program that will have a truly POSITIVE impact on the host community.” Likewise, ‘Looks good on your CV’: The sociology of voluntourism recruitment in higher education, an academic paper by Colleen McGloin of the University of Wollongong, Australia and Nichole Georgeou, of Australian Catholic University, says that “voluntourism reinforces the dominant paradigm that the poor of developing countries require the help of affluent westerners to induce development. And this article is advice from someone who paid to volunteer abroad – and realized she shouldn’t be. All are worth reading, no matter where you stand on the issue of voluntourism or volunteering abroad.

I do think there are some effective short-term pay-to-volunteer abroad programs, among them Bpeace and Humanist Service Corps. But both of these programs are driven by what local people want, and they do NOT take just any volunteer that can pay.

This is my reality check regarding volunteering abroad, which reviews all the different types of programs. It links to many articles that discuss the dangers of voluntourism programs to local people, and to volunteers themselves, and to quality advice on how to make a real difference abroad.

July 17, 2017 updateCharities and voluntourism fuelling ‘orphanage crisis’ in Haiti, says NGO. At least 30,000 children live in privately-run orphanages in Haiti, but an estimated 80% of the children living in these facilities are not actually orphaned: they have one or more living parent, and almost all have other relatives, according to the Haitian government.

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