It is fairly obvious to anyone involved in a genealogical society or an historical society on a local level that these organisations would be ‘not for profits’ run in the main by volunteers.
Some of the larger, well established organisations may well employ staff but they are still managed by a voluntary board and the bulk of the operation of the organisation would be dependent on the donation of skills, expertise and time by a sizeable portion of their membership base.
Volunteering is key to the existence and survival of these organisations and, in some cases, the ongoing preservation of historical buildings and the collections housed therein. Where would we be without those passionate committed people who give so willingly? Some might suggest up the proverbial creek in a barbed wire canoe without a paddle.
I recall attending an event some years ago celebrating the International Year of Volunteers in 2001 and the then Victorian Premier remarking that volunteers contribute hours worked to the value of over $6m a year. I thought at the time it was an underestimate of the true value of volunteers as it appears his calculations were based on minimum wage figures and it certainly didn’t embrace all areas of volunteering within the community nor the level of expertise brought to those organisations by its volunteers.
Volunteers have rights and responsibilities which have been defined by Volunteering Australia and by each of the state governments. In Victoria, guidelines for volunteers and the organisations who rely on them can be found on the Volunteer Vic website here.
Why should all this matter? It matters as I have seen, first hand, the effects of some of these rights and responsibilities being undermined and abused, not only by paid staff in not for profits, but also by other volunteers of their fellows.
It is not acceptable to ask a volunteer to perform, for no remuneration, a specific duty of a paid staff member.
It is not acceptable that other volunteers take advantage of the generosity of a fellow volunteer and remove donated goods from the premises for their own private use.
It is not acceptable for a volunteer (often persons of limited financial resources) to be asked to provide refreshments for other volunteers and members of public and receive no compensation for out of pocket expenses.
Volunteers are, by nature, generous people. It is important that they be treated with respect and that their generosity not be exploited. Volunteers should remember that it is acceptable to say “NO” particularly if you are asked to do something with which you are uncomfortable.
Volunteers do what they do because they want to and choose to – whether it is because they are passionate about their local area, keen to support a local team, able to offer skills and expertise that can be put to good use by a local cause, wanting to support less able people to maintain a healthy lifestyle or even just make good use of their spare time; their contribution to our community well being and our lifestyles cannot be undervalued or underestimated.
It behooves us all (paid workers and other volunteers alike) to respect their work, their contribution, their skills and to remember that they deserve our thanks. It doesn’t take much to say ‘Thank you’ and a volunteer will be happy knowing they have done something considered worthwhile.