Volunteering your time to help others is part of our Kiwi culture – from coaching kids’ sports teams, to running the local marae or contributing to your church or school.
However the way in which we’re volunteering is changing.
“It’s no longer just the traditional volunteers,” explains Volunteering Bay of Plenty’s General Manager, Helen Stewart.
“There are a lot of young people coming through who are interested in ‘micro-volunteering’. They want to volunteer based on skills and it might only be for a one-off or short-term project because sometimes people are time-poor. They come and go; they’re not the people who turn up every Tuesday morning for three hours.”
Corporate volunteering is another growing trend where businesses give their employees one paid day a year to work for a local charity. In these instances, Volunteering Bay of Plenty acts as the ‘go-between’, matching willing volunteers with organisations that need a helping hand.
“For example, a local kiwifruit company wanted to give us 160 staff in groups of two to 10 over the quiet period of their season. Often their staff are migrants so it’s a great way for them to find out more about New Zealand’s culture, meet people and learn new skills.”
Volunteering Bay of Plenty, or VolBOP for short, is committed to raising the standards of volunteering in our region through training, support and sharing best practice methods.
“It’s become a very different scene in the last 10 years and we’re always looking for new ways to meet the demands of both organisations and volunteers,” Helen says.
“We are redesigning our website and database to meet the changing needs and we’re going to explore an app that makes it easier for people to volunteer and see what positions are available locally.”
The organisation, which was established in 2005, is also keen to set up satellite centres across the Bay of Plenty to help raise VolBOP’s profile and reach. “People like locals supplying local solutions and local services. We’ve got a pilot project launching in August where we’re working with Katikati Community Centre. We will use our resources and have one of our volunteers based on their premises to help people find out about local volunteering opportunities.”
While the nature of volunteering may be changing, the joy people get from helping others remains the same, Helen says.
“It’s about transforming communities and transforming lives. Volunteering brings a genuine smile to people’s faces and there are more people wanting to give back. People just want to get together to make a difference in their community, whether it is putting in children’s swings in a playground, building a bridge, planting an area on an island or raising money. People tend to have a great time and feel good, whatever they’re doing.”
Volunteering helps people feel less isolated particularly if they’re older and living on their own. It can also help boost self-confidence and help people acquire new skills.
Government figures show 1.2 million New Zealanders volunteer in some capacity, the highest per capita rate anywhere in the world. “Our community literally wouldn’t function without volunteers,” Helen acknowledges. “We want to focus more on upskilling the volunteer coordinators and the people who lead volunteers so there’s more recognition, reward and advocacy happening in this sector.”
Big Celebration Planned
One major initiative is a brand new festival to educate, advocate and connect organisations with volunteers. ’VOLFEST 2019’ will be held at the Historic Village on 9th November and Helen hopes it will become a major annual event.
“The objective is to showcase the many opportunities for people to give back, learn new skills and connect with organisations they may not have thought about volunteering with. Volunteering comes in many different forms whether it’s organisations like Youth Search & Rescue, Blue Light education programmes, emergency services like Coastguard and St John, environmental groups, disability groups, sports groups or working with animals like Assistance Dogs. The options are endless.
“The plan is to build on the festival each year so it becomes a significant event. We’ll have lots of music, opportunities to upskill and entertainment so people are welcome to get in touch if they’d like to be involved.”
BayTrust has recently approved a new multi-year grant to support VolBOP – $35,000 annually for the next three years ($105,000 in total). Helen says the money will be used to cover operational expenses and fund initiatives such as new satellite centres, VOLFEST, website and database upgrades.
“We are delighted and it’s very welcome news,” Helen says. “It’s always lovely to have the certainty of multi-year funding and we’ve found BayTrust is really great to work with. We wouldn’t survive without our funders and their enthusiasm for what we do.”