“Never Doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.
The IHC volunteer movement advocates for the rights, welfare and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. Its goal is to support these people to live satisfying lives within the community. IHC began in 1949 with just 22 members, but it soon became one of the largest voluntary organisations in the country.When IHC was founded, the intellectually disabled of New Zealand were completely ostracised by society. They lived out their days in institutional care facilities. But a snow-balling number of committed volunteers worked hard over decades to bring positive change and end this segregation.
It was a huge challenge and a difficult journey—but they succeeded! In this article, JB Munro, a former chief executive for IHC and a volunteer-coordination guru, kindly shares with us a little of what he learned about making volunteer organisations world-changing effective along the way.
Five World-Changing Tips
1. Create Stability for Success.
“To have volunteer organisations within a society is a highly desirable situation. It is not easy though, because a lot of people who have the skills or the motivation to help have families and other commitments of their own. They have to work to sustain these and so forth, which all limits the amount of time that people have. You have to in fact ensure that both the volunteers and the organisations are in a viable position before you can start changing policies. If you can meet all the needs, then any volunteer organisation is a great community or national asset.
“There was a lot of pressure, getting volunteers elected onto the local committees but then finding they could not stay in the role due to other family or employment commitments. Volunteers enabled us to have services in the smaller communities which hopefully met the needs of the people with disabilities who were accessing them. But it was and still is an ongoing challenge.
2. Enable Collective Responsibility
“There is a continual need to lobby the government and local governments to assist and encourage communities to take responsibility for their local needs. Also, there is always the risk that key volunteers will find that they have got to give up volunteering. Age is one obvious problem, and succession planning is the strategy to have in place in that instance.
“The volunteers themselves need to understand the bigger picture of how things work. It is the volunteers who keep things running. Rather than feeling that you should be having enough money from the tax payer to employ people, organisations and communities must understand that the real drive in community work relies very much on volunteers.”
3. Change Tactics with Changing Times
“It is an ongoing challenge to understand these processes and how best for them to work. The landscape has changed over time. For example, with IHC, at one stage we had 58 branches, and now it is down to about 25, which sounds like a great cutting back, but we should not get too upset about that because with improvements in technology and communication it is still possible to operate a very effective organization with smaller numbers volunteering.
“Fund Raising is another challenge. Creative thinking helps; you have to be able to see the opportunities as they appear. For instance, we took part in the Telethon back in 1981, with all proceeds going to disabled people, and we raised over six million dollars. From that alone, there were probably 200 modified vehicles around the country that the taxi companies provided for disabled people to travel in, and the government assisted by paying 50% of the ordinary taxi fare. Teletext, which has now been surpassed, was another technology we were able to utilize effectively.”
4. Help the Community to Validate Volunteering
“The development of volunteer organisations often stems from people being informed, able to know where to go for help and support. When the need in the community is great, we have to ask the dear old tax payer to assist us in the ongoing work. It is never enough, but some of the organisations that run a fund raising program alongside their work are doing very well because the community recognises the efforts that the volunteers are putting in.
“Volunteer organisations are employing more people now, but what they are producing in terms of how to ensure the flow of resources is still pretty good because people still recognise the efforts of volunteers.”
5. Many Hands Work
“My main thrust in regard to people who wish to volunteer is to continue to encourage them to become members of organisations. The volunteer sector is very dependent on incorporated groups where local volunteers take the responsibilities, and that has been fantastic over the years, not recognised as much as I personally believe it should be, but it is hard to make news from the daily grind of voluntary work.
“That is the challenge that the volunteer movement has, along with the ability to identify resources so they can in fact employ some people in order to create a stronger stability. But at the same time, there are just a huge number of folks who do volunteer work day-in and day-out, week after week, assisting others. To those I would say, ‘keep up the good work!’”
Read more about JB’s experience of ending the institutions with IHC, or contact the organisation if you would like to join or help them in their amazing work.
Alternatively, check out Volunteering Otago’s local list of admirable organisations and worthy causes, and help change a little more of the world today!