Van Gogh and Volunteering

1 May 2021 | Magazine Articles

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things put together”. Believe it or not, those words were penned by the great artist Vincent Van Gogh – a man who spent much of his life struggling to achieve good mental health and find the recognition he sought and deserved. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime – it was not until after his death that people came to see how great his talent was. This frustrated the heck out of him, so much so that he wrote “A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it – and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke”.

National Volunteer Week (June 20 -26) is a great time to give volunteers the recognition they deserve - acknowledgement, reward and feeling valued are all things that help keep volunteers in their roles. For Volunteering Waikato, this week signals the culmination of a process that began way back in March - the Volunteer Excellence Awards, otherwise known as the red-carpet night for our region’s volunteers. This year some extra wonderful people have been nominated by their organisations to be part of our awards process which means we get to profile them and learn more about work they are doing. Definitely a chance to acknowledge and recognise – and see more than a wisp of smoke!

It can be daunting when you read the summaries of those nominated to our Awards – some have volunteered formally for 20, 30, 40 years – others are just starting out on their volunteer journeys. Volunteering is not just for people who can give years and years, or be superstars in some way. Volunteering is for everyone and anyone and there are volunteer roles for everyone too, and yes, most of these roles will involve a series of small things put together.

Van Gogh said “Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it” – this is a quote that resonates for those of us who work in the volunteer sector. You see, volunteers are often changemakers – they don’t take the path of normal – they advocate and take action for change and bring new ideas and ways of working into our communities. Volunteers can be disrupters; they may challenge the status quo in order to make something better. Many, many charitable organisations have grown from grass roots informal groups of people who have seen a need and been prepared to do something about it – we need disruptive thinking to make progress.

Volunteering Waikato has some fabulous roles available for people who want to influence and change the lives of people in our communities. There are roles that tackle inequity – addressing issues to do with literacy, access to health services, and food security. There are roles that enable physical environments to be improved and preserved, roles that support people to live enhanced lives and participate fully in their communities. There are governance roles, hands on roles, leadership and “behind the scenes” type roles. If you are looking for that next chapter in your life – want to try something new, want to just get out of the house, want to meet some new people – now’s the time to take the plunge. If you are not too sure what would work for you, then give us a call and we can talk over the phone about opportunities – or better still, come in and meet with one of our experienced interview team.

According to Volunteering New Zealand, 1 million people volunteer for an organisation and contribute $4 billion to the national economy. This is a measure of formal volunteering – and we know that there are many more people who participate in informal volunteering – at least a third of people in Aotearoa. This contribution makes volunteers one of the most significant contributors to GDP and to creating and sustaining healthy communities.
Van Gogh penned the quote - “There is nothing truly more artistic than to love people”. It reminds me of the often used and fabulous Maori proverb - in answer to the question “What is the most important thing in the world? “He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata – It is the people, it is the people, it is the people”. Who knew someone from the past could shine a light so clearly on what motivates the volunteers of today!

To find out how you can get involved, visit or phone 07 839 3191.

Chris Atkinson - Regional Advisor - for Seasons Magazine