Seven years ago on his initial trip to do training on volunteer management in the United Kingdom, Steve McCurley encountered a question that absolutely baffled him. The audience was a group of program staff, most of them representing very old-line, traditional membership-based volunteer programs (this was before the intensive growth of interest in volunteer management that has hit the UK in recent years). Many of them were initially suspicious of any suggestions from the United States, but eventually warmed enough to become interested in any possible new ideas and began asking for possible answers to some of their problems.
The baffling question was a simple one: "What do you do about volunteer induction in the US?"
Now in the United States the word "induction" is used almost exclusively in reference to military service. It implies the formal enlistment of personnel. It also refers to the use of the draft to enlist individuals for military duty. You won't, however, find it in any volunteer management text as a recommended practice.
For a moment Steve had visions of several of these old-style programs engaged in a process of either forcibly requisitioning volunteers or else formally arraying them in uniforms in some official welcoming ceremony, complete with marching music. For a somewhat longer moment he was speechless, much to the amusement of Rick Lynch who was sitting in a corner pretending that he had nothing to do with delivering the training.
Five minutes later, after an intriguing discussion of differing practices, it became apparent that the focus of the question had to do with what is generally referred to in the US as "orientation."
With this issue of e-Volunteerism we start our second year of publication. It was our intent - from the beginning - to publish something of value to colleagues anywhere in the world. We wanted to engage contributors and readers from as many countries as possible, representing a wide array of settings. Volume I did indeed offer the thoughts of volunteerism leaders in over twenty different countries (and all continents). Perhaps the most exciting capability of the Internet is simultaneous access to materials (allowing for some difference in server updating). No matter where you live on this planet, when e-Volunteerism goes online, you can read it at the same moment as everyone else.
With these successes have also come challenges, many of which we didn't anticipate, some of which illustrate the difficulties of being truly international.
The Little Things
It's the little things that have made us aware of how hard life must be at the United Nations! Despite our best efforts, we showed some geo-centric tendencies. But we also learned from our mistakes. For example:
We began by referring to our issues as Fall, Winter, Summer and Spring, until we realized that what season it is depends on whether one is in the northern or southern hemisphere! We only realized this because Susan was in Australia doing a training and cogently noticed that it wasn't "Summer," even though she was editing that issue. We are still stumped on what to do about this, but are glad that Volume I, No. 4 or Vol. II, No. 1 can designate a particular issue unconnected to any particular weather phenomenon.
We routinely used the American style of shorthand dating, in which 9/3/01 signifies the 3rd of September in the year 2001 - to us - but the 9th of March in the year 2001 to most of the rest of the world. And, admittedly, this is a much more rational dating system, progressing elegantly from the immediate day through the larger month to the much grander year. Clearly we in the US have been doing this incorrectly for some time. Equally clearly, the US will adopt rational dating about the same time we move to the metric system. We at e-Volunteerism have solved this dilemma by avoiding a numbers-only date and using 9 Sept. 01 as the universally-understood date.
We have had to learn how not to use the word "international" simply to mean "outside the United States" (a common blunder Americans tend to make). First, "international" is a matter of perspective. So an article by someone in Cambodia about Cambodia is not "international" to that author. The better way to distinguish one country from the rest of the world is to say "non-American" or "non-Cambodian." We therefore try to use the word "international" to mean either something in which representatives from two or more countries are participating, or something that has application to many countries in the world, or something that truly generates "inter"action among countries.
Humor is also culturally based. We find ourselves periodically wondering if Steve's dry wit "translates" well (not that he is going to stop giving us his wry commentary!) or if items such as the Beatles song parody in the last issue has universal appeal. Further, we really want to find more humorous items (cartoons, parodies, etc.) for the journal because laughter can both relax and teach. Will we all find the same things funny? If any readers have ideas for where to find humorous pieces, please let us know and we'll test ourselves.
The Question of Language
We have taken our first global steps successfully, but also recognize the obstacles we still face. Of course we realize that our major limitation is language. For better or for worse, the publishing editors were most fluent in English and so this began as an English publication. We have directed readers to the Web's translation sites for help with some languages, but know that those tools are inadequate. As a long-term goal, we would love to simultaneously offer each issue of the journal in several languages. We also like the idea of publishing articles in an author's native tongue (whatever that may be), along with an English translation. If any of our readers has a suggestion about translation to offer us, please get in touch!
And, of course, even within the context of "English" we have encountered difficulties. The connotative use of phrases in American, Canadian, British and Australian "English" are many and subtle. We've blundered our way through. As we all know, American English is not British English and, in some ways, every English-speaking country has its own tongue. This refers to idiom usages and also to spelling and punctuation. We have decided to allow each author to maintain his/her native style. So you'll see "organization" AND "organisation," for example, in the same issue of the journal. We felt we can all live with such inconsistencies!
Steve's experience with "induction" vs. "orientation" raises another language issue about the terms we use for everyday aspects of volunteer management. Susan had a similar UK experience when asked her opinion on "redundancy," "secondment," and volunteering. Not being in favor of unnecessary repetition, it took a while for her to realize that "being made redundant" referred to employee layoffs. Similarly, secondment (pronounced se-cond-ment, with the emphasis on the second syllable) is the practice of sending employees on work-release community service, in which they get paid but are able to be "volunteers" for community agencies. Secondment is often used as a pre-retirement option.
Fortunately for us, we're actually somewhat experienced in the problems of translation. Between them, Susan and Steve have books which have been translated into Korean, Chinese, Ukrainian, Japanese, French, Hebrew and British English, and training materials in Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and an array of other languages.
At least we think they've been translated….
What We Call Ourselves
A more difficult challenge is posed by the titles practitioners assume in this field. In North America, there has been much debate about NOT using "volunteer manager" or "volunteer coordinator." Why? First, because this causes some confusion about whether the word "volunteer" is a noun or an adjective. If the latter, then this title implies the person is a manager who is unpaid, which is often not true. Second, the implied "meaning" of these phrases is a person who focuses on management of individual volunteers, not on direction of the entire program for volunteer involvement within the organization. So, in North America, the title of choice is some variation on "coordinator of volunteers," "volunteer program manager," "director of volunteer services," etc.
Now, to complicate matters further, in the UK we learn that consensus has adopted "volunteer coordinator" as the most generic title! And, although this is a translation issue, the new professional organization in Japan is called the Japanese Volunteer Coordinators Association. Further, because of the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA), many local networks use the acronym "AVA" with some geographic designation (NCAVA, MAVA, SAAVA), but in these cases the meaning is "North Carolina Association of Volunteer Administrators." Guess we just don't know how to do anything simply in this field!
For e-Volunteerism, we have made a conscious policy decision to encourage readers to adopt the "larger" title, feeling it important both to understanding the true nature of the task of involving volunteers effectively and explaining the scope of that task to others in the organization.
Continuing to Learn
We are trying to learn from our mistakes and hope you will both remain tolerant and inform us of what we unconsciously do that reflects our own geo-centrism. In particular we know that many of you have cultural-exchange experiences similar to our own and invite you to share them with other readers. This issue is important to us at e-Volunteerism, but also has bearing both on attempts to welcome new immigrant populations into volunteering and on efforts by programs to expand to other countries.