Tag Archives: professional

Lessons from UN Cares re LGBTI inclusion in the workforce

UN Cares is the United Nations system-wide workplace program created to provide support for UN staff and their families impacted by HIV. In recent years, UN Cares has expanded its focus to also address the rights of LGBTI people working within the UN system.

Laurie Newell, global coordinator for UN Cares at the U.N. Population Fund, says in this Development Ex article that people have come to her over the years describing the UN as a “really homophobic place to work” and asking if there was something that UN Cares could do about it. She says that one of the methods that has worked well in changing UN workplace cultures to be more welcoming for LGBTI people at the UN has been engaging the most senior leaders, because these are the people that can delivery the message with authority and emphasize what the organization expects “in terms of building an inclusive workplace of dignity, fairness and respect, including LBGTI colleagues.” She also says that, if your organization works in the area of human rights or the Sustainable Development Goals, you should “align the purpose of your initiative to the larger goal of the organization,” borrowing language from the SDGs. “We can ‘leave no one behind.” That means starting in-house with making the goals of the SDGs a reality.

The entire Development Ex article is worth your time to read.

Being gay and working in a humanitarian agency is wrought with difficulties and risks, and the biggest challenges can come from co-workers, as this Guardian piece illustrates. Sexual harassment and violence against female aid workers while on mission is widespread, but what’s under-reported is that many gay male aid workers are also targets of such, specifically because of their sexual orientation, and the majority of perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment against aid workers, including blackmail, are their own male colleagues.

International aid agencies and NGOs have mandates that include deliberately, publicly supporting human rights, equality, inclusion, protection and social justice, yet these same agencies will often ignore conditions in their own work place that make it hostile to gay staff members, justifying their lack of action as respecting religious or cultural views of anti-gay staff – something they would not tolerate were those views about a different tribe or ethnicity.

LGBT Aid Workers is a very new online platform for LGBT aid and development workers to come together, share stories and advice, and get support from each other. It’s worth checking out.

I made a personal commitment years ago to be supportive of gay co-workers in my humanitarian and development work: I will staunchly, absolutely protect their privacy, I will never, ever do anything that could “out” them (to be “out” is their choice to do or not, it is not mine), I will listen to their concerns and ask how they would like me to be an ally, particularly regarding their safety, and I will speak out with co-workers if I hear anti-gay rhetoric, reminding staff – even a supervisor – that human rights includes all humans.

Also see:

Don’t use stock photos; make your own photo archive

One of the many online communities I’m on had a posting by someone from a nonprofit organization looking for stock photos of volunteers to use in a brochure they were producing.

And I cringed.

Stock photos are professionally-produced photos made available for companies and organizations to use to express a certain notion or idea. Stock photos are also of people who have no affiliation with the company or organization that uses them on their web sites, in their brochures, etc. You see stock photos in picture frames for sale.

A stock photo used by a nonprofit organization on its web site, in its brochure, or on a poster is obvious — and dishonest. To me, it screams, “These are professional models who don’t actually volunteer here/aren’t actually clients here!

Unless the identity of your volunteers or clients needs to be protected (and that certainly does happen — for instance, with domestic violence shelters), you should have a folder on your computer system (on your local network, in the cloud, whatever) filled with digital photos showing genuine volunteers, clients, staff and others, ready for use in your marketing materials and fund-raising proposals.

The good news is that you can easily compile such a photo archive!

Begin by ensuring that you have a signed photo release for every volunteer at your organization. Volunteers should be asked to sign such a form at the time they attend the first orientation or volunteering session or with their completed volunteer application. If you intend to take photos at an activity or event where clients will be present, you will also need to get a photo release form for any clients (or anyone else) who might be photographed. You can find samples of photo release forms by typing in this phrase into Google.com or your favorite online search tool:
photo release form

Next, make sure every paid staff member, every unpaid volunteer, every client and every parent or guardian of a client knows your organization’s policies regarding taking photos in association with your organization’s activities (again, just type photo policy into Google.com or your favorite online search tool to find examples of such), and within the boundaries of those policies, invite them to take photos in association with your organization’s activities and to share these photos with your organization. With most smart phones and other handheld tech coming with a camera, your volunteers and clients may already be taking photos. Remind everyone associated with your organization, via regular meetings or regular online or print communications, both of these policies and that you would like such photos shared with you (people need to hear messages more than once in order to have them in mind).

Note in your event or activity announcements if photos might be taken. Whoever takes photos should identify him or herself to those being photographed. This should be a part of your photography policies that you have communicated organization-wide.

When photographing at events where people may not know me, I ask that whomever kicks off the meeting to announce that I’m taking photos that could appear on our web site or in printed materials, and that if anyone does not want their photo used, they should raise their hand any time they see me taking a photo they might be a part of so that later, when going through photos later, I will delete any photo of a person who is raising their hand, or crop them out of the photo. This worked really well when I took photos at community meetings in Afghanistan (more about Taking Photos in the Developing World, a resource I developed while working in Afghanistan in 2007).

Frequently encourage volunteers, employees and clients to share photos they have taken at your events or during volunteering activities with your organization (they need to hear this message more than once!). The best way to share photos is, IMO, via Flickr (photos can be shared with just your organization, without sharing them with the entire world) or via Drop Box (don’t accept photos via email – it uses too much bandwidth and will slow your emails down!).

As photos come in to you, create a folder on your computer or drive for photos you might want to use on your web site, in a brochure, in a fundraising proposal, etc. Look for photos that have at least one of these qualities:

  • shows action
  • shows smiles
  • shows diversity
  • teens
  • seniors

If you don’t have software or an operating system that allows you to organize and search photos easily, create a naming system for photos, sub-folders and files on your computer so you can easily find photos for certain kinds of images, such as photos that show:

  • female participation
  • senior/elder participation
  • multi-cultural participation
  • physical action
  • enjoyment/happiness
  • caring
  • etc.

If you can afford to use a professional photographer and have photo setups, where volunteers pretend to be in the middle of a service activity, or where staff pretend to be engaged in their work, great! It’s okay to set up a photo — just use your own folks, not professional models.

Stay genuine! That attracts people much more than even the slickest of stock images.

Tags: communications, communicating, mission, outreach, story, news, volunteering, volunteers, community, engagement, volunteerism

International Association of Fire Fighters is anti-volunteer

Some of the most vocal opponents to volunteers being used to replace employees and save money are volunteer managers and volunteer management consultants.

Yes, the people who are in charge of promoting volunteer involvement in nonprofits and in singing the praises of volunteers are the same people who balk at the idea of paid staff being let go and replaced with unpaid staff in order to balance the books.

We volunteer managers and volunteer management consultants believe passionately that volunteers have a much more important value than saving money:

  • involving volunteers gives community members a first-hand look at organizations and issues important to their neighborhoods, environments and families.
  • involving volunteers gives the community a feeling of ownership in an organization or issue.
  • involving volunteers creates advocates for an organization or issue, advocates that a lot of government officials and potential funders will listen to with particular interest since they have no financial stake in the organization they are promoting.
  • involving volunteers gives a diversity of people a voice in the organizations that involve them.
  • involving volunteers augments the work of paid employees.
  • some tasks are more appropriate for volunteers than paid staff, not because of level of responsibility but because of the kind of task. This can include everything from mentoring programs to disaster services (the majority of services by the American Red Cross and Girl Scouts of the USA, to name but two organizations, are delivered by volunteers, and that is NOT to save money!)

We volunteer managers and volunteer management consultants continually speak out against volunteers used as replacements for paid staff in order to save money.

So it’s with a great deal of confusion, sadness, and even anger that I recently discovered that the International Association of Fire Fighters, a labor union in the USA representing professional firefighters, is against volunteer firefighters:

Let me be as clear as possible. We as a union, by Convention actions, do not represent or condone volunteer, part-time or paid on-call fire fighters… We as a union, by Convention actions, do not represent or condone volunteer, part-time or paid on-call fire fighters… Although an IAFF member may make a personal choice to join a volunteer fire department, that personal choice is one that can have serious consequences under our Constitution, including the loss of IAFF membership.

Harold A. Schaitberger
General President
International Association of Fire Fighters
September 20, 2002 letter to all IAFF Affiliate Presidents 1

Volunteer firefighters could have stood side-by-side with IAFF members and fought against budget cuts or efforts to replace paid staff with volunteers over the years. Volunteer firefighters could have fought together to ensure firefighting programs are fully funded. They could have been united in calls for firefighters, paid or volunteer, to receive all the training that is needed among all firefighters, paid or unpaid. Instead, the IAFF has declared war on volunteer firefighters — and volunteers in general.

In a meeting with a representative of the State of Oregon Fire Training Section last year, I was informed that the agency makes no distinction among professionals or volunteers when delivering or certifying firefighting training. To them, they are all firefighters, and they are judged on their official credentials and experience, period, not whether or not they are paid.

As it should be.

Before 1850, no city in the USA had fully paid, full-time firefighters.2 Cities began to employ full-time firefighters when people realized full-time firefighters were needed to deal with the number and kind of fires happening in large cities. The USA is now a mix of paid and volunteer-staffed fire houses. But at some point, some paid fire fighters in the USA decided volunteers were a threat. And the IAFF has made that schism official.

This is in stark contrast with Germany, a country that is frequently derided by various folks here in the USA for being too inflexible in its labor laws and government social safety nets, all of which are most definitely pro-labor. It may come as a shock to you, if that’s your point of view, that Germany has a much longer tradition of volunteer firefighting than the USA; many of its volunteer fire companies are much older than our own country. Paid firefighters see no threat from volunteer firefighters, and the firefighting union there happily allows professional firefighters to volunteer in fire fighting stations in their own villages where they live (in contrast to the big cities where they work). I can find no record of a professional fire station in Germany having been converted into an all-volunteer station in order to save money. Even now, Germany has more volunteer firefighters, per capita, than in the USA, and no professional firefighter has lost his or her job to a volunteer.

IAFF’s position on volunteer firefighters is outdated, misguided, outrageous and wrong-headed. It does nothing to protect the jobs of paid firefighters. The consequences of that stand are to the detriment of communities, citizens and environments — and even to paid firefighters themselves.

I could also write an entire blog about the fallacy of the word “International” in IAFF’s title, but I’ll save that for another time.

I hope that state and local volunteer management associations all over the USA will take a public stand on this issue. Please blog about it. Please put something in your Facebook status about it. Tweet about it. Put something in your newsletter about it. Maybe we can help IAFF see that volunteers are not a threat, that volunteers are, in fact, in support of career firefighters. Maybe IAFF members will seek new leadership that understands this.


1 Schaitberger’s comments have disappeared from the IAFF web site since this blog was originally published.

2 Ditzel, Paul C. Fire Engines, Firefighters: the Men, Equipment, and Machines, from Colonial Days to the Present. New York: Crown, 1976.