Aotearoa New Zealand has a wonderful culture of volunteering and giving back to the community. It is always reassuring to see that regardless of what else is going on in our country, this culture remains strong. Over 1 million people in New Zealand volunteer each year but there are still many misunderstandings about volunteering and all it entails.
Myth #1: You have to commit to volunteering for a certain amount of time, at the same time each week
Ok, it's true that there are a number of organisations that may still ask for volunteers to commit to giving a certain amount of time, but the reason for this is because they invest time and resources into the training of volunteers so they need to make sure they're getting a certain amount of return on that investment and that might mean a minimum time commitment. They also need to make sure they have the right number of volunteers, and the right combination of personalities, in place to deliver the best service to their clients.
That said, there are also a lot of organisations that offer very flexible opportunities, including one-off volunteering, short-term volunteering, online volunteering and more. The important thing to remember is that you should choose a role that suits you and the time that you have available. Be up front with organisations and work with them to make it work for everyone concerned.
Myth #2: Volunteering is free
Technically, yes. Volunteering is free insofar as volunteers are contributing their time without payment but it takes time and resources for organisations to involve volunteers in their programmes. To be able to engage volunteers effectively, organisations need to have someone in place to support and manage the people, they need to develop policies and procedures, they need to advertise the role and go through the recruitment process, and then provide training and ongoing supervision.
So...it might not technically cost - aside from expenses - but it takes time and resources for organisations to be able to provide a meaningful and enriching volunteering experience.
Myth #3: As soon as you find a suitable role, you can start volunteering
Here at Volunteer Marlborough we sometimes get calls from people who want to start volunteering that same day, and I'm sure that other organisations get the same thing. Unfortunately, despite the desire to engage volunteers, that's not usually possible.
When organisations involve volunteers, they usually go through a specific process for recruitment which often involves an application and interview stage. We do this to make sure that any volunteer is a good fit for the organisation and will be a match for a specific role and its requirements, but also to make sure the volunteer gets as much information about the organisation as possible and can make an informed decision as to whether its a good fit for them too. There's also often a period of training before being able to start in a role fully, not to mention any police vetting that may need to be completed. Generally speaking, organisations make every effort to ensure that the process doesn't take too long, and the good news is that if an organisation has implemented processes like this, the chances are that they're likely to provide a better overall volunteering experience in the long run.
There are almost always some volunteer roles that can be started quickly, specifically the one-off and virtual roles, but they're often the exception rather than the norm.