VOLUNTEER ORGANIZATIONS: THEIR SOURCE OF SUCCESS

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 14 May 2009

Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.

    In virtually every community we find several organizations of one kind or another. Some are political while others are religious; some may be academic while others merely recreational. Some may be profit-making while others may be non-profit, which are usually composed of volunteers. In this presentation we are concentrating on the latter one. In particular we will concentrate on their very source of success in the local community, the nation and the world at large.

Zero Politics at Work

    Volunteer organizations do not form cliques whose job is generally to outsmart each other. This means such volunteers do not become entangled in politics through manipulation and deceit.  They simply work on the principle of zero politics. They concentrate on achieving the goals and objectives of the organization the best they can, rather than on who is in charge now and who will be in charge next. Once they work genuinely to secure the prescribed goals and objectives in the best interest of all people that would be all that matters.

    In the sphere of politics we always have self-interest groups forming up with a hidden agenda that they would do anything to implement. The sad thing about this lies in the fact that quite often such a hidden agenda is really not in the best interest of everyone involved. It benefits only a selected few to the exclusion of others. So they would do anything to grab power to boss others around in a variety of ways through needless struggles.

    This is abusive to say the least and criminal to say the most. In politics special attention is made on the individual personality along with the titles that are carried. However, in the absence of politics, the individual personality along with the titles that are carried do not really amount to much since all that matters amounts to the achievements of the set goals and objectives. Hence, one of the sources of success found in non-profit volunteer organizations lies in performing everything on the principle of what is termed to be zero politics.

    Since volunteers work free-of-charge, they are merely motivated not by money but by an urge to do something positive and constructive with their lives. Those in charge, regardless of their title, are merely coordinators to give guidance when needed and to offer greater opportunities to those that are anxious to contribute more with their work for the benefit of all people without exception. If some volunteers feel they need to change the way the non-profit organization functions because they visualize a personal advantage and benefit, then it would be better for them to quit and join another organization.

Zero Bureaucracy in Operation

    Another source of success found in non-profit volunteer organizations is viewed to be the principle of zero bureaucracy. Whenever we have bureaucracy we always tend to slow down in our effort to get things done fast and smooth. When good ideas come up among volunteer workers that, if implemented, would make the goals and objectives of the organization be achieved faster and more effectively, there is no need to go to the supervisor for approval and in turn the supervisor goes to his. This would be time consuming and it may not be in the best interest of the organization in the long range.

    Zero bureaucracy does not imply that everyone in the organization may do what one likes. It simply means that those working as volunteers already know what needs to be done in line with the goals and objectives of the involved organization. What is important is not viewed in approvals to get things done in the best interest of all people. What is important is revealed in the fact that the volunteers are doing their very best to achieve by all means the prescribed goals and objectives of the organization, nothing more and nothing less.

    In a volunteer organization we need to keep in mind that those in it are there because they feel fully interested in the work that is involved and because they do feel fairly competent to handle such work without any needed supervision, if possible. Of course, if some volunteers were to have questions as how to handle some involved items, then it would be logical for them to ask those in charge for assistance and inspiration. This is merely common sense. Many volunteers love their work dearly because they do feel a challenge. They often wish to explore ways to render their work better and more effectively.

    In several governmental organizations things tend to go slow because of the bureaucracy that is involved. And there is not much to do about it since those in charge are paid a salary for their bureaucratic procedure. In fact, statistical studies reveal that those working in a bureaucratic atmosphere tend to reveal somewhat less initiative and less creativity.

    In putting into operation the principle of zero bureaucracy, it does not mean that volunteers are on their own to do as they please in the work they are assigned. Prudence always dictates that if we are not fully sure of what we are doing we are always expected to seek for advice and guidance from those who know. Bureaucracy, wherever it is found, even in schools, always tends to be a hindrance in one way or another for the fast development of one’s creativity in the modus operandi. We may now realize and understand the nature of this second source of success in volunteer organizations.

Zero Budget in Perspective

    The third big source of success in volunteer organizations is referred to as the principle of zero budget. This vital principle seems to have been the most misunderstood. It does not mean, like some said, that volunteer organizations should ignore money in anything they do. It simply means that volunteers would not make money as a “condition” to carry out vital programs that relate to the organization’s goals and objectives. With or without money, the volunteers would proceed with designated vital programs the best they can.

    After all, in this world plenty of money with no people would lead us to nowhere. Money without people would be literally equivalent, for all practical purposes, to toilet papers. On the other hand, when we have people but without money we still can get a lot of things done. Volunteers may still build modest houses for the homeless, and grow food for the hungry and the poor. They can still communicate with others across every continent and discuss appropriate approaches to the manifold problems they face.

    Moreover, zero budget does not mean that volunteers should ignore money or avoid it like it was something bad. Far from it! It simply means that volunteers would not make money as a “condition,” as already stated, to get crucial and vital things done. With or without money they proceed to get such crucial and vital things done by all means. Surprisingly, each time volunteers followed this practical principle of zero budget, money always popped in from anywhere sooner or later, at a time least expected.

    Just to quote an instance, the International Association of Educators of Educators for World Peace (IAEWP) has functioned on these three principles since its official inception in 1969. Since then it organized many peace conferences around the world and its members published many books and numerous articles that served as source of inspiration to many. Its members never really had a budget in anything they did but once they started a project, with determination and self-confidence, money always came, sooner or later.

    Volunteer organizations tend to attribute their success to the principle of the three Z’s: zero politics, zero bureaucracy and zero budget. Since actions speak louder than words, let us give some illustrations of concrete evidence. Years ago, Dr. Takashi Hanada of Sendai University in Japan was then the IAEWP National Chancellor who later became the Association’s President. He started the yearly journal Peace Progress and organized an international peace conference and he appointed groups to work for the success of these ventures.

Some Convincing Evidences

    When two foundations noticed the dedication of such IAEWP members they were so impressed that they financed these two peace ventures. As a result, several of the participants had their air tickets paid and the speakers received an honorarium. Later, Dr. Takashi Hanada was succeeded as IAEWP President by Dr. Prachoomsuk Achava Amrung of Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. She proceeded to organize another world peace conference, again on zero budget, that is, not making money as a “condition” for such an international event.

    She invited many prominent people, including the President of the Ford Foundation in Bangkok who remained so much impressed with this peace event as to feel curious and ask: “Who sponsored this successful peace event?” To which she replied: “No one. All participants took care of their own expenses.” Then he remarked:”Last year we gave $35,000 US dollars to an organization in Germany for a similar event. It was not so well attended and not as much successful. If there is anything I can do for you, please do let me know.”

    Later, Dr. Achava Amrung printed the proceedings of this peace event in a book form to have it sent in selected university libraries around the world. Again, she did this on zero budget, which means, she did not first collect money and then she went to have the proceedings printed. She simply proceeded to print a few thousand copies. When the proceedings were ready, the publisher gave her only five copies saying, “You will get the rest after you pay and handed her with a bill of quite a few thousands of dollars.”

    Then she went to see the President of the Ford Foundation and presented him with a copy of the proceedings. Once more, he told her: “If there is anything I can do for you please do let me know.” To which she replied. “Well, here is the bill we just received for the proceedings.” He took the bill, got out his check book and wrote a check directly to the printer.” This is what zero budget is all about. You do not make money a “condition” to proceed to do something of paramount importance. You just proceed with the projected work with determination and self-confidence. In other words, you do your best and God will do the rest.

__________________________

Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.
President, International Association of Educators for World Peace, NGO Dedicated to United Nations Goals of Peace Education, Environmental Protection, Human Rights & Disarmament
Professor Emeritus, Alabama A&M University

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 May 2009.

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