Managing volunteers can always be tricky, and being aware of cultural differences can add to an already volatile mix. Susan J. Ellis, a consultant and expert on volunteer management in Philadelphia, Pa., maintains that the issues facing volunteer leaders have more in common than one would think.
Among those issues:
- The effect of a nation’s political system and the interrelationship of its citizens with their government. Democracies might help to foster an atmosphere of volunteering, but individuals coming from repressive systems can believe in the influence of change as well. Underground movements are led by volunteers, too.
- The traditional and current role of organized religion. Every major religion preaches the value and moral obligation of helping others, especially the poorest. One possible difference is that a country dominated by one religion might offer fewer choices for distribution.
- Traditions of helping family, helping others and helping self. The role of the individual in society can have an effect here.
- The role of women. When women were limited by legal or social restrictions, they have found volunteering to be a path to power.
- Political influences. Mandated community service is becoming an international trend, including alternative sentencing, welfare-to-work programs and student engagement. Politicians often depend on volunteers.
- Concern for infrastructure. This means providing adequate resources for those bodies that support volunteering and provide technical assistance and tangible service.