Let me be clear from the outset - I believe that when you donate to an organisation like, say, 'Comic Relief' you are being very charitable and indicating your support for a good cause. However, when you volunteer by doing, say, a fund raising project for the same good cause, you are consciously taking things to another level. In deciding to do this, I suspect you may well have asked yourself, 'What's in this for me if I do this?'
In this article, I will not be going into how any organised charity work could raise your visibility in the community and have real benefits for you - which it will - I shall, instead, confine myself to the need for you to do voluntary work that will advance the turfcare professions, i.e. your efforts would help all turfcare professionals (especially you) to achieve greater recognition and better pay and job security.
Why do people volunteer?
I suspect that there are lots of reasons that cause people to volunteer. These can be personal, social and spiritual. I also believe that different combinations of factors cause people to give up their time and effort. In my experience, these factors can be grouped into four main facets:
1. The aim of the voluntary work is meaningful to them, i.e. to advance their profession
2. They feel a sense of loyalty to the cause, or its leader, or to other volunteers
3. There is something in it for them personally, i.e. recognition, responsibility, social rewards, and development opportunities.
4. Fear of the consequences, i.e. 'If I refuse what will people think of me?' (or) 'If I don't volunteer, who else is there who can do a quality job?'
How do turfcare professionals volunteer and what do they volunteer for?
In my twenty-two years working in this sector, I have noticed unique characteristics which play a part in how volunteering takes place. We tend to notice the more visible work of those who volunteer for the two turfcare membership organisations - the IOG and BIGGA. We know that these volunteers attend local or regional meetings, they organise training days, social events; they feed information and ideas into their HQ functions in Milton Keynes and Yorkshire. Then there are the elected volunteer Boards serving at different levels that are held accountable by the memberships every year for the key decisions they have or have not made in the year.
But, in my experience, a majority of turfcare professionals are not naturally collaborative. They do not take easily to committees, meetings, public speaking and debate. It seems to me that they are discharging their desire to volunteer by doing regular and unpaid mentoring of younger or less experienced staff.
Again, in my experience, a majority of turfcare professionals love to coach and guide people to a higher performance level or into a position of greater job security. This desire to help people in our profession is not always seen in other professions where people are more competitive and more jealous of their achievements and, therefore, are not willing to share their wisdom with others.
Many turfcare professionals volunteer by running turfcare classes, year in and year out at their local college. Others work up an enthusiasm or an expertise in a particular aspect of the profession, and then speak at local education days or at Harrogate Week or Saltex and, increasingly for Pitchcare.com, at various events throughout the year. At the Golf Industry Show in Orlando recently, I observed that at least 80% of the seminars were run by volunteers. Turfcare professionals will travel miles to hear the practical 'dos' and 'don'ts' of their experienced and knowledgeable peers in the profession.
Voluntary work in pursuit of these ends (to advance the turfcare professions) is a constant need. Without the efforts of passionate people in the past there would have been little or no progress and there is, I suspect, little prospect of greater advancement without more passionate volunteers in the future.
Speaking personally, I have to confess that, on more than one occasion, I have volunteered for something purely on the grounds that the work needed might not get done at all if I did not volunteer or, worse still, might not get done to a standard that I would find acceptable!" Whilst this may sound egotistical, I know I am not alone in having this particular motivation.
Looking beyond my concerns about the likely end result, I have had to accept that my motives have been selfish to some extent. Perhaps in my impatience, or my arrogance, I could not rely on anyone else to do something that I thought was important for the profession.
If I do a good job, or at least show willing, I also get some recognition or acknowledgement for my efforts, which might make me feel good about my labours or myself. My three main positive points though are that:
1. People will often do good works like volunteering for selfish motives
2. It should not really matter what motivates people to do positive acts
3. Our concerns about motives should not prevent us beginning - or doing more - voluntary work.
On the downside of volunteering there are at least three main issues:
1. Compassion fatigue, i.e. 'I keep giving, and all I get in return is more demands on me'
2. Building a dependency on yourself, i.e. 'No one else does it as well as you do - keep it up'
3. Losing the balance in your personal life, i.e. your family life and your health start to suffer
Addressing the downside of volunteering
How are organisations, which rely on volunteers, addressing the downside of volunteering?
At Harrogate Week in January, the very first 'Volunteers Workshop' was run. It was well attended with experienced volunteers of all ages, from the UK and abroad, mingling with people who were just checking out if volunteering was for them or not. The workshop proved to be both inspirational and motivational for speakers and attendees alike.
The list of speakers was an impressive one, with individuals who have volunteered for their membership organisation (BIGGA etc.) at all levels from local right up to national and even international level.
It was interesting to hear each speaker either imply strongly or explicitly state that volunteering for their membership organisation had greatly enhanced their promotion prospects in the turfcare sector, given them greater confidence in difficult or challenging situations and brought greater meaning to their lives. Not a bad return for helping people out a little!
I am left wondering why everyone is not volunteering their time and effort!
I also wonder why some people volunteer first for everything, why some people volunteer for just certain activities and others never volunteer for anything? Perhaps it is a matter of personal courage and confidence.
Yes, there are high rewards but, clearly, some effort is needed for us to access the career transforming and life-changing experiences of the practised volunteer. Or are volunteers a class apart from the majority? Does it take a special person to do voluntary work?
In my experience the majority of volunteers are ordinary and not exceptional people, although their voluntary work can expose them to experiences that are transformational. In addition, I believe that volunteers (perhaps like everyone else) need the motivation that success brings. I know many volunteers who feel discouraged when a social or education event they have organised does not get the response they had anticipated.
I also know that spending time with experienced and successful volunteers can be very motivational, hence the need for a 'Volunteers Workshop', where people can learn from those who have, for example, increased local event attendances from less than thirty to 130 people in less than a year. In this respect, I am encouraged that the BIGGA Board wants to roll out this motivational workshop to all its sections nationally.
If you are looking for people to volunteer, let me share with you what I said at the recent FEGGA (Federation of European Golf Greenkeeping Associations) Conference in Reykjavik.
First - that an organisation's senior volunteers are not at all like the majority of its members, in that they are usually middle aged. They are usually very confident and have a more highly developed sense of duty and responsibility. They are often at, or near, the top of their profession (strong evidence there of what volunteering does for your career).
Second - if my first point is true then senior volunteer Board members are probably, as a consequence, 'out of touch' with the majority of their members, particularly their younger members.
Third - better and younger people are needed as volunteers if the turfcare professions are to advance
Fourth, and perhaps most significantly - the main reason better people do not volunteer?
People do not ask them. I was able to put this to the test in Reykjavik recently. I met only one person who volunteered to help advance his profession of his own volition. The rest I spoke to were all asked to volunteer. On this point I would add that it is no good asking for volunteers in a crowd or a group. It is much better to ask a person at a private one-to-one meeting.
So, finally, may I take this opportunity to thank all those people who have volunteered their time as greeters, poster makers, email list compilers, hosts, refreshment providers, coaches, mentors, trainers, speakers, donors, sponsors, reporters and supporters of every kind. Thank you for all that you have done and all that you will do in the future. May you be blessed with many, many additional volunteers to help you in your great work for the turfcare professions. Remember these people are just waiting to be asked!
Frank Newberry has been helping volunteers in the turfcare sector for over twenty years. If you (or someone you know) has the desire to do some voluntary work in order to advance the turfcare professions then please contact your membership association. If you can offer your experience and expertise at Pitchcare seminars contact Christine Johnson at email@example.com
From April to September each year Frank 'volunteers for volunteers', i.e. he trains and mentors volunteers in the UK and abroad pro bono, i.e. his work for volunteers is fee free in this period.
You can contact Frank by email or by telephone via the contact tab of his personal website which is www.franknewberry.com