Volunteers and Their Impact on Associations

volunteersLast night, I was an observer to something I term as “Volunteer abuse”. I was so intrigued that I have spent quite a bit of time considering Volunteers, their importance to an association, and how the treatment of volunteers will impact associations.

As the President of SUNA, volunteers are our life line. In simple truth, we could not financially operate long term without volunteers. This fact, is also the state of affairs with the clubs that play netball at SUNA. In case I have ever missed saying thank you to our volunteers, I publicly here, want to thank you all for your support.

I also volunteer for the RSB, and listening to a speech given by the past Governor General of South Australia; Mr Keven Scarce during Volunteers week, he was very clear on the impact that volunteers had on our society. This statement was backed up by Mr. Stephen Yarwood, Mayor of Adelaide two weeks later at a RSB anniversary cocktail evening. Where it was expressed that RSB employs the assistance of hundreds of volunteers and in simple terms they could not offer the services that they do, without them.

So here are 2 associations – quite different, who I personally know, value, need and utilize the services of volunteers.

During my consideration of the events of last night, I realized that age may have an impact on volunteers. I bring this up, because the Anglican Church I attend and BCA (Bush Church Aid). have an average age of 65+ for their volunteers. Whilst SUNA and the RSB have a really varied age range, from teens to 80+ year oldies – with a good balance. While considering this aspect I discussed this with my husband Henry, who is on the Federal board of BCA. He stated that at the last couple of federal meetings, the age of volunteers had been a topic of discussion. It was now clearly understood by BCA that X generation volunteers will back a cause and will only volunteer long term, if they are clearly getting what they need (e.g. status, accreditation, or positive feedback). That BCA were now changing their ways to make sure that they will get X generation volunteers as they strongly need the support of volunteers to continue the good work that they do.

However this brings me to my example last night; which was related to the Anglican Church. Where I was an outside observer to Volunteer Abuse.

colourful-volunteer-vectorThis is what I was witness to:

  • This person (who I was the observer of) is a full time worker and volunteers on a church council.
  • This volunteer was summoned to a physical meeting with same business day notification – not asked, timing checked, or even given a reason for the meeting. Just spoken to and expected to comply, like a naughty school child.
  • When the volunteer expressed his inability to attend for business reasons,was there any understanding? NO! In fact this volunteer received an email from the Arch Bishop the Most Reverend Jeffrey Driver, that basically questioned why he could not as a volunteer just jump when expected, and that maybe he should have considered this when volunteering to be on the church council.

As an on looker, as you can imagine – I was quite taken back,with this expectation and treatment of a volunteer.

In short, I believe that the Anglican Church if it relies or needs volunteers, that they are really going to struggle to keep volunteers unless the volunteer has a need to be treated like a school child, and given no respect of their voluntary status. In fact, it does make me wonder, if this treatment of a volunteer by the head of the Anglican Church of Adelaide is an example of why the numbers at church have radically declined, and why most members are elderly. It could also be a reason as to why sexual abuse has hit headline proportions in Christian churches (people that like power plays, and poor treatment). However these are topics for another blog. But as they say, it all starts at the top, and now I have observed this treatment from the top of the Anglican Church at the Adelaide Diocese.

The outcome of all my considerations is that I will volunteer where I am appreciated, my skills can be well used, and I can see a positive outcome for the effort I put in. I will not offer any support, to associations who abuse and do not appreciate those that purely offer their services as a volunteer. Remembering it is an offer, not a demand. An offer that can be accepted or declined.

I advise people to look around at those that are volunteering for that group and only offer your services, if you can see others with similar needs to yourself supporting. If they are not, then there is likely a good reason why they are not. For those seeking volunteers – take heed – generation X is here for a while to come yet.

As for me and the Anglican Church here in Adelaide – I believe they will reap what they sew, and we can all witness the outcome of this harvest. But I as I don’t like being treated like a naughty school child, they won’t see me offering my services as a volunteer.


Cate Schafing is a successful Australian business woman in the IT field serving as CEO of Accede Holdings Pty. Ltd. makers of Ezymeetz, ICE and Virtual Gym. She develops innovative new technological products as a programmer and entrepreneur. In gratitude for her success her company supports NFP’s by donating $5000 per month in programming time for NFP’s requesting work.