Guest Blog: Living with Shattering- Five Actions for Volunteer Managers

Martin J Cowling is a knowledgeable and popular international trainer based in Canberra, Australia. He possesses over 20 years of management experience with organizations including UNICEF, AFS Intercultural Programs, The Smith Family, and Victorian Relief. Today he gives is the five actions volunteer managers need to do right now.

Today, as one of the members of our household took out the recycling, one of the glass bottles slipped from their grip and hit the tiled floor shattering and sending shards everywhere. There are now tiny glass segments scattered across five metres. After many minutes of sweeping, it is still risky to walk barefoot in that area. For many of us, 2020 has been like this. Everything we have been used to, has been shattered and we are living with trying to reorder the world and avoid getting cut by a shattered piece.

Through volunteering, people have always been helping fixed shattered lives, shattered individuals and shattered communities. From Food Banks to animal rescue organisations to Civil Defence to literacy to Samaritans, volunteers have always faced fractured situations and provided advice, support, clean up and repair. In this current crisis, many volunteers continue to serve in some way.

Managers of volunteers have always had multi functional roles. Through COVID-19, this role has to shift into a new space, whether our volunteers are mobilised or furloughed. COVID-19 is proving to be a test case for effective leadership as managers of volunteers shine by leading in new ways.

There are five actions for volunteer managers:

1. Look after yourself. Acknowledge that this is not normal and that we may never see the same world again. I have been scheduling 2 to 3 virtual face time or zoom coffees a week with inspiring people I respect.

2. Develop a clear, hierarchical list of priorities for your organisation, yourself and your volunteers. Focus on what is really important right now. You could not do everything before the virus emerged and you cannot do it now. What will most make a difference?

3. Communicate calmly, honestly and be empathetic to your volunteers and clients. It is very rare for people to over communicate in a crisis. Say the same thing in different ways repeatedly. Remind volunteers that they are important, give them affirmations and statements about what the organisation and volunteers are doing.

4. Encourage innovation to deliver crucial services. This will be the time people will learn to Skype, to face time. Volunteers can do many things from their homes using phones, computers and even drones. Let them suggest new ways to do their work.

5. Write down and document your stories and learnings from this.

We cannot fix that shattered bottle but our actions can help us live through the shattering.

COVID-19 Volunteering: Looking at the numbers

Volunteer Ireland CEO Nina Arwitz takes a look at the numbers around COVID-19 and examines a phenomenon seen in Ireland and many countries around the world – that there are more people signing up to volunteer than there are available volunteer roles. 

We have seen a huge outpouring of support from people across Ireland wanting to offer their help to others in response to COVID-19. Thousands of people have signed up to the national volunteering database, I-VOL, over the last 2 months. Given the large number of people willing to volunteer we haven’t been able to find a role for everyone and that can understandably cause frustration. People want to help but sometimes there is nothing for them to do. But why is that?

The main reason is actually a pretty great one. Ireland already has a really strong culture of volunteerism. On average, over 1 million people in Ireland volunteer their time for others each year. We’re in the top 10 in the world for volunteering! This means that a lot of organisations already have a full complement of volunteers and were able to respond to COVID-19 immediately. This is really good news for our communities and our most vulnerable friends and neighbours.

Along with us, the network of Volunteer Centres and Volunteering Information Services, work with organisations and volunteers all year round – supporting them, advising them and matching them. Thanks to this vital service, many organisations had an existing support system in place.

Unfortunately, the onset of COVID-19 meant that many organisations had to suspend their services until restrictions are lifted meaning that the requirement for volunteers has been much lower than normal. It’s important to remember that as we move to the ‘new normal’, many organisations will once again be in need of volunteers to support their services, which will be in demand more than ever.

One piece of comfort is that we are not alone. Having spoken to colleagues across Europe and as far off as North and South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand – they are all in the same boat: more people want to volunteer than are needed right now. While it can be very frustrating if you want to volunteer and there is no role for you, it’s good to remember that this is actually a positive thing – that so many people are willing to help!

Gaisce at home with Orla Leahy

Orla Leahy is a student from Cork who is currently going for her Gaisce Gold Award. Here she tells us how COVID-19 has affected her, how she has adapted her Gaisce challenges and how she’s been volunteering from home.

What’s been the hardest thing about the current situation?

The toughest thing right now is not being able to see my friends and extended family, especially my grandparents. I would have visited my grandparents regularly. I think the biggest thing we all probably miss is our freedom. I had just passed my driving test before the current restrictions were put in place. I was extremely lucky to be able to do my test, and to pass, but it’s been a bit anticlimactic not being able to drive anywhere. It’s such a rite of passage to learn to drive in the first place. I was hoping to drive to the gym and swimming pool to undertake the Physical Recreation challenge area for Gaisce, but now I’m confined to doing all my Gaisce at home. You really have to get creative!

How are you spending your time?

I’m currently studying for my Leaving Cert which is taking up a lot of time of course, but I’m making sure I’m taking lots of breaks. My family created two raised beds in the garden where we’re growing things like onions, courgettes and herbs. We’ve also built a greenhouse which has been very a very exciting project as we’ll be able to grow things from seed.

I’m making sure I keep up with other things I love too like my GAA skills. Before the outbreak, I used to train the local U12 girls football team, which I miss doing an awful lot.

How is doing Gaisce helping?

I find doing Gaisce has been a welcome distraction as it’s something else to focus on other than the Leaving Cert and the current restrictions. It’s hard when you’re at home all the time to stay positive, but I’m finding working towards my Gold Award keeps me motivated and gives me something to look forward to. Gaisce for me is a way of promoting positive mental health and I think it’s bringing an air of normality to daily life which I welcome wholeheartedly!

I’ve had to change two of my Challenge Areas due to the current restrictions, my Community Involvement and my Physical Recreation. For my Community Involvement I was training the local U12 girls in Gaelic football, but now I’m knitting for the Innocent Big Knit for Age Action Ireland. My mom has been knitting too, so it’s something we can do together. My nana taught both of us how to knit which is nice as it brings her closer to us even though we can’t see each other.

I’ve had to change my Physical Recreation from gym work and swimming to Joe Wicks classes. They’re easy to follow along with and my family join in too which is good, because we’re not able to do our usual exercise.

Luckily, I’ve been able to keep up my Photography for my personal skill. I’ve been editing photos I’ve taken on my laptop, which is very relaxing and another way I can unwind these days.

What’s your best advice for other young people coping in this situation?

Three friends and I had been planning our Gold Adventure Journey for this summer in the South of England. Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that that will go ahead, but we’re adamant we make alternatives. It may be next year or going on an Adventure in Ireland instead, but having something to look forward to beyond the Leaving Cert and Covid 19 restrictions is of huge benefit to all of us.

Otherwise, I recommend that everyone tries to stick to a routine, I’m certainly finding the routine of Gaisce beneficial. Plan what you’re going to do for the week and try to stick to it as best you can.

If you want to learn more about Gaisce at Home, check it out here.