by Dennis Roberts

One of the greatest challenges faced by Not For Profit organisations is how they hold their volunteers accountability for their contribution. It can be quite tricky to rely upon the good graces of a volunteer workforce. NFP’s are not exempt from customer service standards and in being accountable for producing outcomes.

In the relief efforts relating to the Queensland flood disaster a veritable army of volunteers has enrolled. There are three primary challenges in engaging in relief effort. They are logistics, communication and productivity.

Perhaps the easiest part of leading a relief effort is motivation. Unlike engaging corporate stakeholders there is little challenge in motivating the workforce. Similarly selling them into the vision doesn’t require much energy either. All change programs require a level of strategic thinking and in the case of the relief effort much of that is assessing the risk and prioritising tasks.

With floodwaters present and/or receeding crucial supplies like power and water are of paramount concern. And the DR ABC training they teach you in basic first aid training is paramount - Danger Response, Airways, Breathing, Circulation.

The basic tenet of first aid is “Don’t become a victim yourself.” The graphic footage of an attempted yacht rescue on the Brisbane River was testament. A good Samaritan paddled his dinghy alongside a yacht in distress only to become embroiled himself and end up in the drink.

If you find yourself organising a community event whether it be a social gathering, charity fund raiser, sausage sizzle how do you hold people accountable for doing what they say they will do?

Ask the volunteer at the outset, “What are you volunteering for?” and “What contribution do you bring to the volunteer effort?” All volunteers support the cause. The challenge is to match skills to task. For basic tasks like a barbequeing sausages, collecting cash, elling raffle tickets, handing out food parcels and general rubbish clean up the tasks are not overly complicated and require minimal supervision. These tasks lend themselves to a more directive style of leadership. They are about delegation not empowerment.

In the flood recovery effort restoring power supply is an urgent priority. It is a skilled and potentially dangerous task that must be managed with due care and is something only suitably qualified electricians should undertake.

If a well-meaning volunteer fronts up and says “I’m an electrician. I’m here to help.” Do you take them at their word or insist upon sighting their work card? Imagine the ramifications if someone dies as a result of an unlicensed tradesperson restoring power. The challenges with logistic and speed of response must be balanced with prudent risk management. The volunteer effort must be managed and skill assessments quickly made.

by Dennis Roberts