Volunteering NZ Report

Posted by Toby Parsons on Friday, May 17, 2019


A couple of months ago, Volunteering New Zealand (VNZ) were commissioned by New Zealand Search and Rescue (NZSAR) to review Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s (SLSNZ) strategic and operational volunteer engagement practices as well as other SAR agencies, such as NZ Coastguard and LandSAR. The review looked at current practice and identified opportunities for developing a 'volunteer workforce' to meet future SAR needs. The assessment covered SLSNZ’s strategy, culture, communications and access to tools, resources and training and made some recommendations that SLSNZ will, with the support of NZSAR and VNZ, look to implement in the near future.


What did VNZ do?

  • Examined organisational documentation, volunteer resources and policies including the PAM database
  • Interviewed SLSNZ management staff and ten SAR (Call out) squad coordinators
  • Sent out a customised version of their digital organisational assessment tool on best practice volunteering (InvolveMe 360) to a cross-section of 1000 SLSNZ volunteers, including all SAR squad members with a return rate of 18 per cent
  • Held follow up interviews with the National and Regional Life Saving Manager(s) to discuss the information gathered.


What did VNZ find?

In summary, VNZ found that;

  • Key motivators for members of SLSNZ are a love of the beach and water, community contribution, growth opportunities, friends, the family environment and fitness. These, along with the comprehensive training, sporting and leadership opportunities, provide an attractive offering for potential volunteers.
  • SLSNZ’s Emergency Call Out Squads (SAR squads) are skilled, senior lifeguards whose depth of experience and range of skills make a vital contribution to New Zealand’s Search and Rescue capability.
  • There is a need for the sector to recognise, position and invest in SLSNZ and its Search and Rescue capability as a core frontline SAR service.
  • The skills and experience developed through lifeguarding provide individuals with a solid foundation for working in any of the Search and Rescue organisations. A structured pathway to encourage SLSNZ members to transition into other SAR organisations would strengthen the whole sector.
  • Most volunteers have a long association with SLSNZ. With the general trend towards shorter-term volunteering, the challenge is to find meaningful opportunities for volunteers in support and shorter-term roles while maintaining a substantial core of volunteers prepared to make a longer-term commitment. 
  • The administrative and compliance requirements emerge as a dissatisfier for some members, which is amplified by SLSNZ’s federated structure with each club being an incorporated society.
  • A recognised strength of the club structure is the ownership and commitment of members and their connections within local communities.
  • Developing a volunteer strategy will enable SLSNZ to complement the comprehensive operational policies with volunteer (people) management policies to enhance the experience of volunteers and the operational effectiveness of SLSNZ. 


What did VNZ recommend?

The report contains the following key recommendations;

  • Develop a volunteer strategy and supporting plan with metrics to track progress
  • Develop resources and provide training in managing volunteers, including how to manage performance and behavioural issues
  • Develop pathways to support transitioning between other emergency and SAR services
  • Develop a quick and easy Health and Safety reporting method to encourage a culture of Health and Safety best practice
  • Develop a diversity strategy with a roll-out process to build an understanding of the need for, and benefits of, diversity.


What is SLSNZ going to do now?

SLSNZ welcomes the report and is pleased that the value that it’s members, Clubs and SAR Squads bring to the wider NZSAR sector has been properly recognised. VNZ recently presented their findings to a workshop of all SLSNZ Regional Managers and Club Development Officers. At this workshop, the CEO of VNZ indicated her commitment to helping SLSNZ because she grew up on the north Cornwall coast and she has family connections to the local Surf Life Saving Club.

SLSNZ accepts the recommendations in full and as well as celebrating the positive aspects that the report mentions, wishes to address the areas that need more work. Since SLSNZ received the report discussions have been held between SLSNZ and NZSAR on how to implement the recommendations. Similar talks have taken place with the other SAR organisations surveyed and collective discussions between all organisations have also taken place. NZSAR has made a commitment to support these organisations with implementing the recommendations and has appointed a consultant to help each organisation prepare a funding bid to NZSAR for financial support and increased resources. If SLSNZ were successful in receiving this funding, it would not be available until July 2020 but SLSNZ still intends to start as much of the preparatory work and look for other funding opportunities in the meantime. As such, the report and the recommendations will form part of the National Lifesaving Committee (NLC) meeting and lifesaving strategy planning workshop being held on 8th and 9th June.


The full report is being circulated to all clubs and is also available by clicking here.


If anyone would like to discuss the report, the findings or the recommendations then please contact Adam Wooler, Chief Operations Officer adam.wooler@surflifesaving.org.nz.

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