What is culture?
Culture is an all-encompassing concept. It’s the way we greet friends or a stranger, or which people we greet at all. It’s how we discipline our children, how we educate them, what we consider polite or rude, right and wrong. All these things, and of course thousands more, seem natural and normal and are what constitute our culture. But, to millions of other people in the world, every one of these things would seem strange, awkward, incomprehensible, unnatural or wrong. People may do many of these same things but they do them in different ways that to them would seem logical, natural and right – and that is their culture.
Why increase diversity in your volunteer program?
Are you an organisation that deals with recent migrants, or that could deal with new migrants? If yes, do you know how to meet your clients’ needs? You may be missing out on significant sectors of the population because your organisation has very little idea on how to identify and meet the needs of people from all these different regions. Take a look at your catchment area. Who are you providing services for and what is their cultural makeup? Building a strong, diverse volunteer program that mirrors your community will mean your organisation is much better placed to reach people who need or would value your services. As our communities become more diverse we need to realise that there are benefits to reflecting these changes and disadvantages to not.
Is your organisation a monoculture?
Organisations who do not diversify may be reducing their client base and begin to be seen as out of touch. When organisations are strongly mono-cultural, their internal environments are often not inclusive of people from other cultures. A way that organisations can become more inclusive is to increase the roles volunteers play and recruit from a more diverse demographic. This diversification can improve your public profile and help you to better serve clients by being responsive to their needs. In essence, you can’t serve your clients in the most effective manner if you don’t represent and understand their culture.
Working with diverse volunteers can add value to your organisation, create an inclusive environment, strengthen positive relationships with the local community, bring new perspectives and encourage people from different backgrounds to use your services. It will also
- Bring potentially useful knowledge of specific cultures and languages
- Increase your organisation’s cultural sensitivity
- Bring new and varied life experiences, building staff and other volunteers knowledge
- Promote mutual respect and understanding and work against racism and ignorance in the community
- Increase the volunteers’ own understanding of mainstream culture
- Increase the volunteers’ understanding of your organisations’ services
- Increase the pool of people you can recruit from.
Making diversity work
To ensure that cultural diverse volunteers are successfully integrated into your organisation, do your homework. You will need to take the needs of the volunteer into account. You may be dealing with people who do not have a concept of what volunteering is, who think they will get paid work from volunteering, who speak very little English or who find it very difficult to say no. Research and prepare, and both your organisation and the volunteers will reap enormous benefits.
Volunteering Australia CALD Training Manual