The second day of the Eastern Volunteers Community conference explored the themes of managing volunteers, volunteering diversity, as well as supporting people with mental illness and engaging community engagement.
The conference opened with an address by the Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS), which explored the challenges in creating social inclusion during economic uncertainty. The presentation highlighted the difficulties the community sector is facing, particularly in regard to ensuring funding certainty and maintaining a focus on the core vision of an organisation.
I delivered a plenary session focused on harnessing the changing times faced by community organisations through embracing technology and building capacity through governance and professional development.
There is a need for strong governance and consistent policies that are supported through the adherence of procedures. All levels of government, as well as many philanthropic organisations, are expecting increasing levels of governance and accountability from the not-for-profit sector.
Strong governance is critical to creating an environment that harnesses the potential of an organisation and fosters its development. This creates a positive environment for volunteers, as well as staff and board members.
Data compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics demonstrates that less are volunteering on a per capita basis and that they are volunteering less of their time. In addition, there is a substantial gap between the rate of volunteering within rural areas versus our capital cities, with volunteering being less common in urban centres.
This demonstrates the strength of community identity, which is more commonplace within rural areas. Given that establishing this sense of community is more difficult within largely homogeneous urban centres, there is a need for innovation.
This is where community organisations need to explore the use of technology, such as interactive websites, using Web 2.0 technology like blogs and Facebook, to establish a new sense of community. Virtual communities are particularly useful in recruiting younger volunteers, who are often seeking opportunities to further their experiences within particular projects.
Younger people tend to be project focused rather than organisational focused and as a result community organisations need to tailor the way they attempt to recruit volunteers.
Technology such as wikis, which allows editable content, can be utilized to retain knowledge within an organisation through encouraging staff and volunteers to document their experiences and freely share information.
The use of technology should not increase the workload of an organisation, but instead should help automate some tasks. As an example, web based content management systems, can replicate web-content onto social networking tools such as Facebook, encouraging interactivity without requiring duplication or increasing workloads.
The conference concluded with positive feedback and a desire from participants for further events. There is strong interest in the sharing of knowledge and it was great that the participants found the conference to be informative and useful.