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Questions from Red Cross people

Our CEO Judy Slatyer hosted a webinar to talk about how we can build an inclusive, diverse and active humanitarian movement based on voluntary service. This is our first goal in Strategy 2020.

Here’s what people asked

Some of the questions asked in the webinar were similar, so in some cases we’ve merged two different questions into one. If you don’t see your exact question, don’t worry, we haven’t ignored you – you should be able to find what you’re looking for through one of the questions below.

Do we have a current picture for each of the three objectives, so we can comprehend the size of the challenge and appreciate our progress over time?

Yes, we do have a current picture but it is based on how we see things today and is quite narrowly based on who we have formally signed up as volunteers or who are members etc. To achieve the goal of ‘2.5 million Australians, reflecting the diversity of our society, taking humanitarian action with Australian Red Cross’, we will have to rethink what volunteering will look like in this century and how it will work. For example, we held an event recently which involved approximately 50 people spending their whole weekend coming up with practical ideas on how to help refugees. We don’t currently think of them as ‘volunteers’ but they are taking humanitarian action. I can imagine there would also be many, many examples of humanitarian action taking places across Australian communities which we don’t formally think of as volunteering.

So, if we just go by how we formally define taking humanitarian action, we would have somewhere in the region of half a million Australians, but we don’t know the broader picture.

We have a sizeable challenge ahead, but we are starting from a solid base – in terms of those who are already involved and those Australian communities who work with us in different ways.

One way we’ll work towards this is by opening the doors to new ways of self-organising. At the moment many of our membership branches are proactive in self-organising local initiatives, such as the Bindaring Clothing Sale in Perth (which raised $150,000 in 2016!). But we want to invite more ways for people to take local actions that go beyond fundraising and include providing local services and advocating for vulnerable groups. We obviously need to do this in a way which is consistent with our 7 fundamental principles so we are going to pilot a framework first before rolling it out more broadly.

A key outcome of Goal 1 is that Australians trust and respect Red Cross and, to this aim, we already have some reliable data suggesting that we are respected a great deal. We monitor public opinion through an annual brand tracker organised by our marketing team, and we also keep track of how we’re discussed in the media. Of 51,000 mentions of Red Cross in local and national media from July 2015 to June 2016, 99% were of positive or neutral sentiment.

Student volunteers pitch in at the 2016 Bindaring Clothing Sale in Perth. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Caroline Arundell

Given we are predominantly a voluntary workforce, there are currently minimal resources and support for those who are managing volunteers. Will we be increasing resources to support our 2.5 million goal?

The short answer is yes! To start with, we’re looking at how we can improve our systems for recruiting and inducting volunteers so that joining us is a faster, simpler and less bureaucratic process. We hope this will also make it easier for culturally and linguistically diverse volunteers to join us. We welcome your ideas for how we can make further improvements as we continue, both for volunteers and staff who manage them. I have also just announced a change to the executive team which will now have a person responsible for volunteering as part of that team and reporting to me.

How will Red Cross gauge diversity and inclusion improvements inside the organisation and among volunteers?

It’s really important to us that we reflect modern Australian communities, so that we’re able to support all kinds of people from various walks of life. We want our volunteers and workforce to include people of all different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, ages, sexual and gender identities, and abilities. One of the reasons we opened up an ideas platform to our volunteers, members and staff was to strongly send a message that we value the ideas of all Red Cross people; it’s not about hierarchies or status or roles.

We’re still working out exactly how we will measure success in this outcome, but we’ll be looking to increase the proportion of Red Cross people who identify as culturally and linguistically diverse or of minority groups. We also want to provide more opportunities like the ideas platform for everyone to get involved, no matter what their role is at Red Cross, so that all voices are equally heard.

How is REDS going in improving volunteer management?

The Rostering, Events and Deployment System (REDS) was released in 2011, primarily to support emergency services with rostering for emergency activations. Since then, states and territories have also used REDS for other events such as training, workshops and exercises. It has improved volunteer management in emergency services by making it easy for volunteers to access their Red Cross profile, update their details (address, phone numbers, emergency contact details, etc), availabilities for activations, and hours worked.

Stepping back from that, we know we need to lift our game in volunteer management overall. This is a bugbear for everyone – volunteers and staff – so we’ll keep working on it to improve it.

Red Cross volunteers Bill (left) and John visit Sydney’s northern beaches to check in on residents of Narrabeen following the East Coast Low in June 2016. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Lara Cole

How much does Red Cross get involved with universities to form Red Cross clubs and recruit volunteers?

We’re involved with many universities, but normally we only refer to them as ‘university clubs’ if they have Red Cross youth members attached to them. For example, we have a strong and longstanding Red Cross club at the University of Queensland which has over 250 members, and they’ve been involved in everything from fundraising events to activities raising mental health awareness among fellow university students.

We have relationships with some universities without a formal Red Cross club, such as the University of Tasmania, where we hold the annual Red Cross Oration.

We’d love to see more clubs growing in universities around Australia. Orientation Week is a great time to launch a Red Cross club or join one that is already existing. See our website for more information.

What about primary school and high school presentations?

In the last year we have engaged with over 970 schools, with the support of more than 500 volunteers.

We supply a wide range of curriculum materials, lesson plans and school resources covering topics including emergency preparedness, celebrating diversity, banning the use of nuclear weapons, restoring family links and understanding the red cross emblem.

We also run some programs in schools including Good Start Breakfast Clubs, In Search of Safety, the Pillowcase Project, save-a-mate and programs run in conjunction with the Blood Service. Many branch members and volunteers also make one-off local presentations at schools on topics like first aid and preparing for emergencies.

Schools are great supporters of our fundraising campaigns and appeals – over 400 schools helped us raise money last year.

In addition to the above, we’re involved in a wide range of activities in schools on a local rather than national basis. For example, in Tasmania, school students have the opportunity to enter an art competition about international humanitarian law.

We want to make our engagement with schools even stronger in the future, and it’s likely we’ll be calling on members and volunteers to get involved.

Primary school students enjoy a healthy start to the day at their school’s Good Start Breakfast Club. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Grant Higginson

Red Cross has traditionally been rather controlling of its volunteers - understandably wanting to protect the brand. Now you envisage empowering individuals and communities to self-organise while representing Red Cross. How do you envisage striking the balance between supporting volunteerism and ensuring quality and integrity?

One of the things we’re considering is how to free up the role that Red Cross people play in their communities, so that being involved with Red Cross is less about rules and more about being part of a movement and adhering to its principles. We want to become the place where people come to volunteer and take humanitarian action. We’ll increasingly allow people to organise themselves – so for example if they wish to inform people in their community about international humanitarian law, or get refugees involved in local initiatives, they can get information and resources from us to do just that.

With empowerment always comes some responsibility, and in the case of self-organising with Red Cross, the responsibility will be to champion our seven fundamental principles. While we’ll be freeing up our volunteers to take action under the Red Cross name, we’ll expect that they’re open and transparent about what they’re doing, and able to show they’re operating with neutrality, impartiality and inclusivity.

We’re currently choosing four communities where we will pilot this approach, and from there we’ll develop a model for how we can roll out greater volunteer freedom and empowerment across Australia.

In order to respond to rapidly changing needs, Australian Red Cross requires a 21st century organisational structure. When was the structure last independently reviewed and updated to accommodate the needs of the 21st century?

Here are some thoughts from Judy: “The way you change approach and structure is by the actions you take every day. It’s by every conversation you have, it’s by every little shift that you make, so that progressively the whole organisation changes.

“The ideas platform where we asked all Red Cross people, all staff, all volunteers, all members, all of our board members, all of the members on the divisional advisory boards, to come in and give their thoughts and ideas – this is one of the biggest demonstrations of how we’re shifting our structure away from hierarchy and silos and rules. We’re giving oxygen to great ideas, helping people collaborate, helping people come together to solve things that are really hard to solve on your own.”

One of our multi-talented volunteers uses her sewing skills to repair clothes at Moonee Ponds Red Cross Shop. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Aysha Leo

I was involved with emergency services for four years before realising there were dozens of other volunteer positions available. How do we get this range of options out to the public?

We currently list all volunteer opportunities on our website, but we recognise this isn’t an accessible way to engage with us for everyone. In the future we want to provide a single place where any volunteer can go to register their interest in various areas and find available roles, as well as linking with other partners in the volunteering sector to share information and opportunities. We’ll be using more online tools, but we’ll remain mindful of the need to marry the virtual with the physical so that those who are less technically literate are not disadvantaged.

How are we to include our ageing volunteer demographic in the discussion when the current use of technology isolates the majority of our core people? How do we capture their thoughts in today’s world of transition and how can we bring together the wisdom of the old ways with the enthusiasm of the new?

We’re mindful that many of our volunteers and members are older people who have supported Red Cross for decades, and we want to ensure that our use of online platforms doesn’t exclude them. We’re grateful to those members and volunteers who worked together with others who aren’t used to being online to make sure their suggestions could be represented on the ideas platform. We’re also aware that age isn’t necessarily a barrier to using modern technology. Recent research shows that while their level of engagement is lower when compared with other age groups, the vast majority of older Australians are participating online, and this has increased in the past five years.

Judy says: “I have been amazed at how many people are online, irrespective of age. Having said that, it doesn’t overrule what you’re asking, which is a really good question.

“I would imagine that when we try the next ideas pilot, which will be in a couple of months, we might actually use it as a great way to connect much more, connect in a really human, physical way, so that in the lead-up to it we are actually out there asking our volunteers and members and talking with our clients, asking: ‘Okay, this is coming up, do you want to contribute your ideas, what thoughts do you have, how do you want to engage?’”

This is another challenge where we encourage you to share your ideas with us. We’re confident that we can come up with a solution together to ensure that everyone can contribute with Red Cross, regardless of their level of technical literacy.

Regarding ‘local action’, will there be a set of guidelines/parameters developed to help our people understand what would be seen as 'appropriate action', as the last thing we would want to happen is for our people (units/branches) undertaking action, only to find out later that their actions were seen as questionable.

We’re actually trying to move away from having too many guidelines or parameters, so that local action can be as free as possible – because it’s only on the ground that the real needs are truly understood. It’s going to be more about principles and transparency: the expectation will be that any actions taken on behalf of Red Cross will affirm our fundamental principles, and we’ll have some kind of platform – possibly on the web – where people can share a summary of what’s being done. We expect that transparency will bring with it accountability.

Toni (right) is one of our many everyday hero volunteers. She volunteers to visit isolated elderly people in aged care homes, including May (pictured left). She also makes phone calls to older people to check on their welfare, and gives regular blood donations. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Rebecca Mansell

The phrase goes 'culture eats strategy for breakfast'. So how are we improving our culture and is this a priority for the leadership team?

Again, Judy emphasises the importance of everyday changes. “My way of thinking about culture is it’s what you do every day, it’s the conversations you have… culture is all about the ways we work. I’ve never experienced having a culture plan that is successful; most of my experience relates to making everyday changes.”

We think our culture is evolving for the better every day, and we hope you agree!

As usual, please get in touch with us through the Supporter Services Centre via email at or by phone on 1800 RED CROSS to share your thoughts.