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Valuing the backbone of The Salvation Army – our volunteers

Salvation Army volunteers can often be seen on the streets of our cities, assisting people in need.

Ciska Burrie has been part of the Volunteer Resources team for more than eight years, and in the position of Volunteer Resources Developer for the past 12 months. Along with her team, Ciska works to support those who manage volunteers, overseeing annual volunteer recognition campaigns – National Volunteer Week and International Volunteer Day, and working with International Headquarters to recognise volunteers across the world each year. Salvos Online reporter ANTHONY CASTLE spoke with Ciska about the importance of volunteers, the value they offer, the common obstacles in supporting them, and the future of volunteer engagement for The Salvation Army.

Ciska Burrie, the Salvos’ Volunteer Resources Developer.

Anthony: For a moment in 1878, The Salvation Army was almost titled ‘The Volunteer Army’ in recognition of how much it relied on volunteer support. What’s the impact of the volunteer presence in our communities and services today?

Ciska: Volunteers are advocates of our organisation. There’s more to their involvement than just servicing a need. They are important in a way that’s different to employees, motivated by their belief in what we’re doing, choosing to be part of our movement with no remuneration. Volunteers come with more than just rolled-up sleeves; they bring a different kind of value to our clients who see volunteers differently from a staff member. It’s an organic aspect, a humanity, that volunteers bring by choosing to be there for clients. It’s all these qualities that we don’t think about when we think volunteers are just helpers. They are also three times more likely to donate to the organisation than a non-volunteer.

Volunteers can be found in corps communities, social programs, emergency services and retail. Can we underestimate the reach that volunteers have for many who engage The Salvation Army?

When someone engages The Salvation Army, they’re more likely to meet a volunteer first. The majority of volunteers are in the Salvos Stores, and in corps retail stores. The second biggest cohort would be corps-based social, Doorways, ‘meeters-and-greeters’, those helping out on Sundays. A volunteer is the most likely person for a community member to meet. There are 20,000 ongoing volunteers in the organisation, particularly in our retail stores. Volunteers represent The Salvation Army in the high streets of Australia.

Volunteers can be soldiers, retail workers and specialists. Is there a stereotype around volunteers – a preconceived notion of what they can bring – and how to support them?

There are the classic volunteers, people who have retired and want to do something meaningful. When we talk about those who are retired, it can often be those who’ve had an amazing career, and there are skills there that are not being tapped. There’s something that we can recognise more. We engage students as well; some studying to be professionals in social work, with very specific skills and potential solutions to a social program. We recently had a university student assist with some national policy as a volunteer. There are some specific things we can get volunteers to do. It’s not just ‘how can I get volunteers to help in my store?’

The Salvation Army Emergency Services (SAES) relies heavily on volunteers during times of disaster as they meet the needs of displaced people.

How can we change thinking around the function of volunteers and the value they can bring?

Sometimes I think about making a t-shirt that reads ‘volunteers are humans too’. We need to understand that volunteers have the same human needs as any paid worker, to be recognised, engaged meaningfully, to be treated equally. When I write about volunteers, I stop and check myself. I swap the word ‘volunteer’ with ‘employee’, and ask ‘would we say this about an employee?’ If it sounds wrong, I change the sentence. It really is stopping, being more expansive in our thinking. You can dream big. Recently, we needed policies and procedures to be aligned across Queensland-based services but didn’t have the capacity to do it. We advertised for a project-based volunteer role, and a young professional based in Sydney answered the ad. Without leaving their home, they liaised with all the different sites across the state, distilling the policies and procedures into a cohesive single set. This is the power of virtual volunteering.

What can be done so that managers and staff can better support volunteers? What opportunities are there to learn more?

I manage the content on the Volunteer Resources toolkit (an internal site to support managers of volunteers), as well as a website that volunteers can access called VolHQ. It’s a way to communicate directly with volunteers, where they can explore all the resources, benefits and training to support them whilst volunteering with The Salvation Army. To better support managers of volunteers, we’ve been creating learning resources consisting of a growing library of topic pages, along with instructional and podcast-style videos as well as group learning, quizzes and self-reflections. What we have produced is quite comprehensive so we can support our managers to engage volunteers using best-practice and to meet the National Standards of Volunteer Involvement. Volunteer engagement has to be a win-win situation. They’re not being enriched by a pay packet but by an experience. We’re giving them a set of keys to our organisation, an insider’s look. When volunteers have a positive experience, they become advocates for the organisation, even when they’ve left. They continue to be advocates for our organisation.

Managers and administrators of volunteers can find more information at the Volunteer Resources Toolkit. Anyone wishing to volunteer can get involved here.

To read the story: ‘Five minutes with Volunteer Resources Advisor Lorraine Prakash’ click here


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