Super group volunteers' secret to success

Volunteer Ian Brown and Fundraising Coordinator Karen Gemmell have had success setting up a super group of volunteers in the Bay of Plenty.

Fundraising Coordinator Karen Gemmell was a few months into a short-term contract at the Cancer Society when she had an email from volunteer Ian Brown that, although she didn’t know it at the time, would eventually lead to a local team combining their skills and strengths to form a super group of volunteers.

IMG 3345Ian, a retiree from the banking sector, had recently moved from Auckland to Tauranga when he got in touch with the Cancer Society in early 2018.

“I helped at a collection point at one of the supermarkets near where I lived in Orewa and when I came to Tauranga, I knew I wanted to do more. Daffodil Day was coming up, so I contacted the Cancer Society and offered my support.”

It was perfect timing for Karen, who was planning her first Daffodil Day and finalising plans for exactly where she needed resource, and when.

“By the time Ian and I made contact I was aware I needed extra help and knew he’d fit right in. Once we got to the week of Daffodil Day, Ian had already been so generous with his time – he was just amazing.”

“We worked hard together that week and by the end of it I had to take stock of how much Ian and others had done for us – on the one hand it was amazing, but on the other it got me thinking about how I could enhance the experience for all volunteers so that they get the very best out of it.”

The two thought they could extend what they’d learnt about working together on such a high-profile and important project and formed a super group of volunteers for the next years’ Daffodil Day, where everyone came together as one but also had their own bit or ‘chunk’ to manage.

Ian says this worked excellently as it made it easier to anticipate and manage logistics and planning in a group where everyone collaborates and knows what the big picture is but can also see their contribution at a more micro level.

“What I noticed from the sidelines as a volunteer initially was just how busy Karen was during the week of Daffodil Day and how much of a huge logistical exercise it is. I absolutely take my hat off to her as I do for the other volunteers – I am in admiration of them. We’ve learnt so much and to be honest, had a lot of fun doing it, and now we can turn up to events or take part in projects and know exactly what to do because we’ve been talking to each other, sharing information, and learning about the things people want to do with their volunteering time because they enjoy it. All the super group are fantastic.”  

“There were nine of us in the super group this year. We created logistics for everyone, where individuals had responsibility for their own areas and other volunteers had the opportunity to have those people to liaise with” adds Karen.

“The added bonus is that it means over the next five to 10 years we’ve built up, so if someone is to leave we’ve got a group of experienced people that have shared Daffodil Day experience with each other and that if one or two drop off a year and a new person comes in there’s going to be that ongoing succession planning.”

Both Karen and Ian are passionate about good communication – they say it’s the secret to the success of the super group.

“The confidence I have in all the volunteers and the super group is that they want to be here, they want to be part of the team. I don’t need to worry about things because there is complete trust,” says Karen.

“We try and have regular super group meetings, about once a month or every six weeks. It’s an open forum and everyone comes up with suggestions on how to run something a bit better – it’s great because so many people have so much experience and so many ideas to contribute and it’s a good platform for them to do it.”

Ian says one of the highlights of working with the Cancer Society and Karen in particular is that everyone wants to create a fun, open, and rewarding environment for people to be involved in as a group, and for there to be opportunities to meet people and connect.

“That’s what the super group was designed to do. Now we all sit down for a long coffee at the end of an event and it’s become a great, friendly group, with a nice social element.”

“Volunteering is something that I felt I could give back to the community because a lot of people in my life over the years have suffered from cancer one way or another and we have some friends currently going through it. I feel as though this is just a little way to help those people. It goes back to assisting others who aren’t as fortunate as I am in terms of health and helping them through their journey.”

“At the same time, I get to meet other volunteers and working with an organisation that I feel a personal connection to and enjoy spending time with.”

Our thanks to volunteer Lisa Gibbison for writing this story.