Cultivating a culture of giving
It's been a tough year for many New Zealanders, but instead of the drop in donations of time, money and energy that might be expected during a recession, the reverse has turned out to be true.
In 2009 Kiwis gave more than ever - the monetary impact of the volunteer sector is estimated at $3 billion, and just over 1 in four Kiwis volunteers for something. If anything, the recession seems to have helped cement in people's minds the important things in life: like family, community and helping those in need.
Volunteering New Zealand has reported a large increase over the last year in people registering to volunteer, especially from those who are unemployed or have experienced reduced work hours. Some of the volunteer centres reported increased numbers of 50% or more on last year.
"Certainly there have been many more people registering interest through VolunteerNow," said Tim Burns, Executive Director of Volunteering New Zealand.
"Often it has been because people have lost their job, and while looking for a new one, they want to put their skills to good use and stay connected to a working community," says Tim. "In other cases, it's because people have been moved by stories in the media of the tough times out there."
Why do people give?
So what makes people want to give money, volunteer their time, or even donate something as personal as their blood?
For one, volunteering allows people the opportunity to try their hand at potential careers. Volunteer roles run the gamut, from getting their hands dirty - sometimes literally - by planting community gardens, or working with young people, to administrative tasks that keep non-profits running smoothly.
In a time when people are finding themselves out of work, volunteering means people can still put their existing skills to good work, learn new skills, or just feel like they're doing something worthwhile and sharing their expertise.
Employee of the Ministry of Social Development, and member of the Salvation Army, David Smith volunteers to teach music to children because music is in his blood.
"I've got some skills and ability, and I feel it's wrong to just keep it to myself," he says. "Volunteering is an opportunity to give them back to the community, and give them back to the church. I don't have a lot of money to give, but I can give some time and I can give some expertise."
For many people, going to work is one of the key ways to connect to other people. Volunteering serves the same purpose. Volunteers spend time with like-minded people who can become fast friends. A natural bond occurs when a just cause brings people together. They each feed off of one another's energy and strengthen each other's resolve.
Making the decision to get involved with a charity can come from a personal connection. For example, those who have been touched by cancer, either by a family member or themselves, are more likely to donate to a cancer research fund than another organisation. A sense of power comes with being part of a tangible solution (such as giving money) to a problem that could otherwise feel overwhelming. We all want to feel like we're doing our part. For some people, it's impossible not to heed the call of someone in need.
Businesses continue to give too
But individuals aren't the only ones that continue to give. Despite many businesses finding it tough during these times, there are still plenty of examples of creative and innovative giving from small and large businesses alike.
Signify, a Wellington-based web development company, budgets for monthly donations because they've factored in social objectives to how the business runs. This means giving is an integral part of what they do, whether it's monetary donations or pro bono work.
Though a gift of money is always appreciated, giving an experience is just as valuable. That's why Downstage Theatre decided to donate 250 tickets to children in care to watch acrobatic circus performance An Adagio Christmas.
Besides the knowledge that the tickets will encourage the imaginations and creativity of their captive audience, the troupe is promoting their show and bringing new fans into the theatre.
The Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) has chosen to donate their time to contribute to local communities. On November 4, they closed all branches so that their staff of almost 5,000 had the opportunity to work on community projects. Local communities were encouraged to suggest projects for the staff members, such as helping at a local SPCA or cleaning up a beach.
But while all the evidence suggests volunteering is alive and well in New Zealand, even in times of recession, there are still moves underway at a national and Government level to embed it further into our culture, and make it even easier to do.
New Zealand's Promoting Generosity Project aims to make the inherent gains of giving explicitly clear. The project, supported by the Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector, is a joint initiative with community and philanthropic organisations, including Philanthropy New Zealand and Volunteering New Zealand.
In November 2007, representatives from government departments, community groups and private sectors joined to form what they called the Generosity Hub. The Hub was created to implement a multi-sectoral plan to encourage giving and volunteering.
Hub members decided on seven key projects - including everything from educating young people about the benefits of giving to making payroll donations easier.
"The Hub is about creating supporting relationships between government, business, academic, philanthropic, and other non-profit organisations," says Community and Voluntary Sector Minister Tariana Turia. "The single most important focus is how, collectively, we can create a generous society through sponsorship, donations, employee volunteering and collaborative arrangements."
Set objectives have been created to laud and encourage giving in all its forms. This includes efforts on the individual's part, as well as contributions from government and businesses.
One project was created to find concrete reasons why people give their time and money.
The Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector recently published How do New Zealanders give: 2008 update, which compares the changes in giving and volunteering patterns from 2007 to 2008. The results show that the percentage of people volunteering, making ad hoc donations or committed donations, increased across all 26 sub-sectors of the non-profit sector in 2008.
The results indicate that the culture of giving in New Zealand is stable and looks to be strengthening, but there is always room for improvement, and the Hub hopes to use the outcomes of the research to better appeal to people's core reasons for giving. By discovering who gives, how often, and in what capacity, the Hub can tailor future projects to help people get more out of donating.
The introduction of payroll donations this year are one way the government is encouraging a charitable environment in New Zealand. Payroll giving allows employees to donate to charities directly from their pay, receiving one-third of their donation in tax credits immediately - no more waiting around until filing a tax return.
Approved employers deduct the do nation requested from their employee's pay, which goes directly to their chosen organisation. This change in legislation removes the maximum amount people could donate for a tax refund, and in effect, means if someone chooses to donate 100% of their salary to a charity, they would receive back all the tax they'd paid.
Ways to give are endless in New Zealand, and with the backing of the Government and not-for-profits, there is great support for all types of volunteering. But no matter what way we choose to give - time, money, or energy - we're really giving of ourselves.
As a man named Edward Lindsey so eloquently put it, "Nowadays, we think of a philanthropist as someone who donates big sums of money; yet the word is derived from two Greek words: philos (loving) and anthropos (man) - loving man."
"All of us are capable of being philanthropists. We can give of ourselves."