Tag Archives: benefits

Governor Bevin & Donald Trump Are Wrong on Community Service Requirements

logoRemember at the start of the year when I warned that 2018 is the time for USA nonprofits to be demanding?

Well, here we go.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and Donald Trump, as well as governors all over the USA, want to require unemployed Medicaid members to volunteer with nonprofit organizations – or, probably, Christian churches – in order to receive those benefits.

This idea was first floated back in Spring 2017. At that time, Danielle Clore, executive director of the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, had a lot to say to Bevin’s office when it asked the group to support his proposal:

The bottom line is this will cost nonprofits money – money and resources we don’t have to spare. It takes professionals to effectively manage volunteers. For the experience to be valuable for both the agency and the individual, volunteer efforts have to be managed. Is it worth the limited and precious resources of a nonprofit to manage a volunteer that is there because ‘they have to be,’ not because they want to be? Nonprofit employees are spread so thin as it is and I feel like a volunteer requirement for anyone not truly committed to the mission of the agency isn’t an effective use of anyone’s time.

I do not typically take people who are ‘required’ to volunteer, because they don’t make good volunteers. Also, 20 hours is A LOT OF TIME. We don’t allow people to volunteer that many hours because at that point they could be considered a part time employee employee, and you have potential legal issues to consider.

Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, told Kentucky Health News in an interview at that time, “We need to provide them with the support services that they need, but forcing people to volunteer in order to get health care doesn’t make anybody healthier. We know this. There are data to suggest that. In fact, sometimes these stringent requirements put people in a position where they are unable to get care and then they get sick, and they are unable to work.”

I’ve blogged about all this before, in April 2017, when I said that requirements to volunteer are getting out of hand. And I’m calling on all nonprofit centers, all consultants regarding nonprofit management, including volunteer management, and everyone claiming to be advocates for volunteerism to speak out about this.

Here here’s my Facebook post about how I feel:

Nonprofits are not sitting around saying, “I wish several thousand people were forced to volunteer and they would then show up at our offices to do all this work we have just laying around waiting to be done by just any ole’ person that comes through the door.” Bevin and Trump are expecting nonprofits to involve several thousand more people as volunteers – people who are being forced into the act – but without funding all of the increased costs nonprofits are going to have to create more assignments and supervise these people. Nonprofits, don’t do it. Just DON’T. Not without a great deal more money.

Let’s see your statement.

Also see:

why you can’t find/keep volunteer firefighters

I’m one of the few – and maybe the only – consultants regarding volunteer engagement that regularly delves into the subject of volunteer firefighters. I’m not sure why most DOVIAs and other associations of managers of volunteers avoid the subject. Surely the fundamentals we volunteer management experts believe are essential to success in involving volunteers also apply to involving volunteer firefighters? Yet, go to a conference on volunteer engagement and you will find few, if any, workshops related to engaging and supporting volunteer firefighters. Go to a web site with resources about volunteer engagement, and you may not find any information about the particular environment of volunteer firefighting. Likewise, walk into a fire station which is staffed fully or partly by volunteer firefighters, and you probably won’t see any books related to volunteer management, in general, and few managers of volunteer firefighters attend DOVIA-related meetings or conferences.

This gap really bothers me.

I’ve been interested in the reasons fire stations involve volunteer firefighters, and the challenges faced in recruiting and retaining such volunteers, since 2001, when I started dating a volunteer firefighter in Germany. He’s now my husband (and now a volunteer firefighter in the USA). It’s been fascinating to compare Germany – with the highest number of volunteer firefighters, per capita, in the world – with the USA. Both are facing similar challenges regarding volunteer firefighters – and both have far more people complaining about “the way things used to be,” rather than addressing the realities of the day and leveraging our times many strengths to recruit, involve and support volunteer firefighters. Earlier this year, I compiled research and case studies regarding recruitment and retainment of volunteer firefighters & justifications for involving volunteer firefighters that do NOT relate to “money saved”. It was my tiny effort to get stations that are staffed wholly or partly by volunteers to quit complaining and start changing so they can flourish in the world we live in now.

I also try to track issues related specifically to volunteer firefighters that are talked about in the news. Recently, a colleague passed on two articles to me:

Without volunteers, rural fire districts wouldn’t exist, laments the lack of volunteers in several rural areas of Oregon, and blames the problem on the attitude of young people, with comments like:

  • Young people don’t believe in an expectation that they will volunteer for their community
  • “Most of the younger folks say, ‘We don’t have time,” or ‘We’re too busy with class,'”
  • “It’s hard to get the volunteers to show up (to calls)…It seems like on training night they have something else better to do. If it’s in the middle of the night, the younger guys would rather sleep, so it’s just two or three of us that show up on a regular basis.”
  • “They want to be firemen and (then) they see something they don’t like. Like a wreck.”

The article never interviews any current or former volunteers, to find out why they have volunteered, challenges to their volunteering, why they left, etc. It never interviews young people to find out their attitudes about volunteerism and community service – it just takes the word of a couple of guys that do not represent that demographic. And those comments wouldn’t make me want to volunteer there if I were in my 20s or 30s, as they obviously don’t like people from that generation – they say so! 

And in the same publication is this: Coos Bay trying to buck trend of declining volunteer firefighters. It attributes lack of volunteers to:

  • the community’s aging population
  • economic problems
  • stricter standards for volunteers regarding their training
  • lack of monetary compensation
  • busier lives
  • lack of social interactions – it’s just work to do, no fun aspects, like there used to be when you could drink alcohol in the stations

Again, no current or former volunteers are interviewed.

These articles also leave out some other factors that are, no doubt, affecting the numbers of volunteer firefighters:

  • Firefighters don’t fight fires all that much. They don’t even do rescues all that much. The vast majority of their calls are medical calls. They do far more ambulatory/paramedic work than they do true firefighting work. Ask your volunteer firefighters, current and former, which calls they find most appealing – most will tell you fire fighting. Perhaps it’s time for the USA to look into the German model, where a separate, dedicated agency handles emergency medical calls? That greatly reduces training costs for firefighters – as well as equipment costs – and means firefighters get to be, mostly, firefighters.
  • The national union for career firefighters has stated it is against volunteer firefighters and would like to see all volunteers eliminated and replaced with paid people. A career firefighter in a big city is not allowed to be a volunteer firefighter in the small rural area where he or she lives, because of union rules as well. Volunteers feel this animosity from some career firefighters, and it creates a very unwelcoming environment in many stations. Unless this animosity is addressed, and statements about volunteers being valued because they save money stop, the number of volunteer firefighters is going to continue to drop.
  • Firefighters haven’t changed how they recruit. AT ALL. A sign out in front of a station that says “Volunteers needed” just isn’t going to cut it anymore. If there are young people in your community, there are potential volunteer firefighters, and you have to go where THEY are. You also have to have an ONLINE volunteering application. You have to be posting videos on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter of your firefighters in action, and reminding people via social media what volunteers do, how to do be one, and WHY to be one. And you have to reach out to people that speak languages in addition to English to make sure they know about volunteering opportunities and how to qualify.
  • Many stations do a substandard job of responding to inquiries aboutvolunteering, and applications from potential volunteers. Are you sure that EVERY person that calls or emails the city, the county, or your station about volunteering as a firefighter is getting a prompt, courteous, encouraging response? And are you sure every application is being responded to rapidly? Read Volunteers needed, but are they wanted? and Fire station turns away volunteers – & how it could be different for more on this subject.

As for the lack of a social aspect among firefighters today, that is HUGELY important for volunteer firefighters, particularly those that are not volunteering as a part of career exploration/advancement. Those volunteers hear all about all the work that needs to be done – but without some kind of social aspect, they aren’t going to last long. Also, social gatherings help to build cohesion among firefighters that can have benefits later during crisis situations. Could your station have a regular, unofficial meetup at a favorite pub once a month for all off-duty firefighters to play some darts, shoot some pool and just hang out socially? Would leaders at your station organize firefighter-only gatherings in their homes, such as potlucks or lawn games, even just twice a year? Would someone organize a rafting trip or a day trip to do bungee jumping for any firefighters interested in such? Creating a social aspect for your firefighters is tricky: activities have to be entirely unofficial, entirely voluntary, and regularly done in order to cultivate the kind of brother and sisterhood you want among all of your firefighters, volunteer and career. But without making a consistent effort, your volunteers will most certainly drift away, tired of being asked only to provide labor, and receiving no real value in return.

There ARE potential volunteer firefighters out there, even in your small town. You might be hearing a lot about how people are preferring microvolunteering, where they volunteer for only a few minutes or hours once, and have no requirement to ever volunteer again, but the reality is that there are also a LOT of people who are hungry to connect, hungry for a deeper, more substantial activity that connects them with the community and causes they believe in. Volunteer firefighting can have a great deal of appeal to today’s young people. But if you don’t have a welcoming environment, if you aren’t trying to reach them where they are, if you aren’t using social media, and if you are just talking about all the work that has to be done and the obligations to be fulfilled, those young people are going to go elsewhere. And that’s a shame, because they have a lot of energy, talent, ideas and strengths from which your fire station could benefit. Are you ready to evolve to involve them?

Of course, the only way to know for sure about the challenges for volunteers in any one fire department or association is to survey both current and departed volunteer firefighters – and perhaps those that applied to volunteer but never completed the process. And this kind of survey should be done at least every other year. Make a list of questions you want to ask these current and former volunteers, and then have journalism students from the local high school or management students from the local college or university ask the questions of the current and former volunteers – volunteers are much more likely to speak freely if it isn’t to the fire chief. Have the students compile all of the answers, and share it freely, openly, and welcome comments from everyone on what is offered. That’s your starting point.

Also see:

Requiring jobless to volunteer – reality check

John Albers, a state lawmaker from the USA State of Georgia, wants people receiving government jobless benefits to have to put in 24 hours of community service a week (read more about the story here).

Did he talk to nonprofits and government programs that involve volunteers and ask if they could involve an influx of new volunteers, putting at least one person to work for 24 hours a week?

No.

Does he know how much staff time and resources are required for a program or agency to involve volunteers, that volunteers are never free – and, therefore, will the government be providing funding to nonprofits and other organizations in order to fund the staff time and resources to involve volunteers in such large blocks of time each week?

No.

Did he do any research on how difficult it is for people who want to volunteer to find opportunities, that people report applying for multiple assignments on web sites like VolunteerMatch, over a period of weeks , sometimes over a period of months, before they ever actually end up volunteering?

No.

I’m all for people who are unemployed looking into volunteering as a way to build their skills for employment, as a way to make contacts that might lead to employment, as a way to get some accomplishments under their belt that would look great on their résumé, and as a way to counter the negative emotional pressures of unemployment.

But finding volunteering activities is hard. VERY hard. Much of my web site has been primarily focused on the organizations that involve volunteers, but I had to create pages focused on people who want to volunteer because of the OVERWHELMING number of people that post again and again to places like YahooAnswers, people who are trying to find volunteering activities and cannot find such.

Why do I get hired again and again to do training on how to involve volunteers? Why does Susan Ellis keep writing and selling so many books on volunteer engagement? Because thousands and thousands of nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), schools, government programs and many others do not know how to involve volunteers.

So, reality check, Mr. Albers. If you want organizations to involve more volunteers – and to involve volunteers in such huge chunks of time (24 hours a week – three full work days a week!), then start looking for money to give to these organizations – they will need it to fund the time (and perhaps even the training) of a full-time manager of volunteers who will screen, train, support and supervise all these thousands of volunteers you want to send their way.