Friday, November 09, 2012

The Bureaucratization of Volunteering

At Volunteer Ireland's national conference I was asked to be part of a panel on the bureaucratization of volunteering. Below were my introductory remarks that a few folks though I ought to share on my blog.

I see the bureaucratization of volunteering as a little like the changes that occur in the relationship of a  couple, beginning in courtship and dating, and through marriage and beyond.

In the beginning of the relationship, everything is new and exciting, and the possibilities seem to have no boundaries. Both parties might have some similar ideas about where the relationship is headed, but they might have different ideas about what the most important milestones are. One party might want to jump right in while the other has vetting process that has to occur.
Although the process might start with episodic encounters one of the parties eventually begins to feel that the casual nature of the relationship can only go on for so long that there ought to be some form of commitment.

And so we find ourselves in the engagement phase. There are still some freedoms but the boundaries are becoming clearer. Definitions of what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t might not be documented but frequently we learn that there are things we can’t do any more.

As the organization or relationship grows, a pressure emerges to follow the path that others before us have followed, that being to bring some form of contractual agreement to bear.  At this stage, while some boundaries become firmly documented, others  seem to simply grow over the passage of time.

In some situations, the rules that have become entrenched seem to get in the way of why the two parties came together in the first place. Sometimes a volunteer wonders if volunteering with another organization might bring back some of the fulfillment, seemingly lost in the current arrangement.

In other situations the two parties stay together, despite it not being good for each of them any longer. Without meaning to, or perhaps even realizing it, both parties stand in the way of what the other could accomplish and also, accept a lower standard for themselves in what they could achieve. 

In some situations however, the formalization of the relationship brings about a stability and foundation upon which something tremendous can be built. Despite the formalization, there is a conscious effort to avoid status quo thinking, and also to avoid restricting the aspirations and actions of the other party.

So if the bureaucratization of volunteering as a little like the changes that occur in the relationship of a couple, we ought to strive for just the right amount, and in doing, have the perfect marriage.