December 7, 2014
Events took place all over the country. Various social gatherings, award presentations, a march down the main street of a regional town, and if you can call social media an event there was a field day of on-line interaction. The stories about the work of volunteers and by volunteers describing their own journeys just kept on coming. One contributor’s advice was ‘Milk it!’
There were public declarations of thanks and appreciation. Some statements illustrated why it was this day is important.
National organisation, health sector:
We could not deliver what we do if it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of volunteers. They contribute in many different ways, such as assisting with land and water based exercise classes, volunteering at children’s camps, helping at seminars, working in our offices, being on support groups, supporting us on our regional and national committees, advocating for our services, assisting with our annual appeal, and much more.
Government Minister for Sport and Recreation:
These volunteers – coaches, umpires, referees, the people who wash the uniforms, transport the teams, organise sausage sizzles and clean the clubrooms – they are the heart of sport in New Zealand. They also have a key role to play in the success of major sporting events.
Another health sector organisation:
About 2500 people have generously offered up their time in the past year, contributing more than 15,000 hours of unpaid work collectively. That’s a huge amount of time our volunteers have freely given up to shake buckets, help at events, carry out administrative work and speak at public events on behalf of the organisation.
A Regional Council responsible for environmental issues had this to say:
The volunteers have been involved in a range of projects throughout the region and in the past year. They have collectively given more than 26,500 hours of their time to activities such as fencing, planting, plant and animal pest control, building visitor facilities, bird monitoring, litter collection, mangrove management, sign installation and promoting safe boating. Through our combined efforts in the past year 106 ecological sites, 188.8km of waterway margins and 1449 hectares of highly erodible land has been protected. More than 100 tonnes of rubbish has been collected and many, many thousands of native plants have been planted and cared for.
Hurrah! Now we are starting to hear what we are thanking volunteers for, beyond their time and $$ saved for organisations.
And then there is the opportunity to put a stake in political ground. Another parliamentarian wanted to “celebrate volunteers by opposing regulatory burden”:
The current Health and Safety Reform Bill would treat volunteers – even casual ones – as workers, forcing organisations to take liability for the safety of people who have chosen to pitch in for events like tree plantings and disaster clean-ups. The practical effect of this regulation is obvious: it will be harder for communities to mobilise volunteer action. Ratepayers in particular will be hit hard, as local councils currently utilise volunteer labour for many vital services and initiatives.
We also got a reminder from Volunteering New Zealand and Volunteer Service Abroad (NZ) that volunteering is not just about domestic issues, and how the need to promote volunteering never ceases:
Every year, more than one million New Zealanders volunteer here and overseas, in their own communities and in countries facing hardship and poverty. Their goal is to work with those who wish to improve their lives, and the lives of others, in some way. On International Volunteer Day, the international volunteering community renews its call for volunteering to be seen as key to international and national development.
At the end of the day I was able to kick back with colleagues from Volunteering New Zealand. We toasted our achievements for the day and looked forward to imminent holiday time.
Quote of the day comes from the Chair of Volunteer Wellington’s Board of Trustees:
It’s hard to measure the impact of volunteering, but it’s easy to feel the difference we make.
The image above is by Ken Samonte, for Positively Wellington Tourism. See more here, especially re volunteering.
I’m signing off now for the year. I’ll keep beating my drum in 2015, though probably less often.
November 30, 2014
This week there’s that global day to honour volunteers (IYV), and I’ll be joining the crowd in Wellington to hear our praises sung and the inspiring stories about volunteer journeys.
Right now there’s also a raft of KiwiBank medals being awarded throughout New Zealand to Local Heroes, those people doing extraordinary things in their local communities.
We’ve even got our own set of awards for Wellingtonians – the Welly’s – which include an award for Community Service.
And Volunteer Centre websites are carrying regular pages for Featured Volunteers, or Volunteer Testimonials, or Volunteer Profiles.
Fantastic! To shout out about volunteers and volunteering, and rewarding people for their service to a cause, or their creative initiative, or for the difference they have made in their communities – for all these reasons it’s important to ensure we give public recognition where it is due. A newspaper editorial (Dominion Post, November 22, 2014) puts it like this:
New Zealand has a long tradition of modesty. Not for us the big-noting of brasher cultures. Strutting, boasting celebrities who too often are all sizzle and no sausage are unwelcome. Instead, achievements should speak for themselves. Which is all well and good, but sometimes it is important to praise those among us who have succeeded.
Yes indeed. At last the Tall Poppy Syndrome is on the wane. We can get rid of that fateful Kiwi term, the Clobbering Machine. Some time ago I wanted to nominate a volunteer for an award, but the idea was vetoed because you can’t single out one volunteer, you must not imply that one is above the rest. So the whole volunteer programme misses out on being noticed, and neither is the impact of volunteering on community well-being.
Sometimes volunteering awards appear to be given out on the basis of length of service. Working for the same organisation for twenty or thirty years is admirable of course, but I hope it is the particular achievements over time that are being recognised, not just longevity and loyalty.
The citations of awards bring to public attention a great deal of the volunteer activity in our communities, including the whole range of volunteering fields – sport, working with youth or needy families and disabled people, a training course in prisons, emergency services, local communities and environment issues, or the arts. Recipients are also as diverse as the volunteer population: young people gain as many awards as older people; disabled people and an ethnic mix are included. These unsung heroes are our Tall Poppies, demonstrating what can be achieved.
So let us rejoice, and cheer on all volunteers – whether they win awards or not. Their stories need to be told, because here is all the raw data to illustrate the outcomes and impact of volunteering. Get the measuring process right, and we’ll be able to find out just how valuable volunteering can be.
Let’s keep on telling the stories and making sure the poppies grow tall.
November 23, 2014
IVD is a global celebration of volunteerism, honouring people’s participation in making a change at all levels.
This statement is a tag-line on IVD 2014 website. December 5 is the day to ‘applaud hundreds of millions of people who volunteer to make change happen’. The Volunteering New Zealand whakatauki for the day (in the banner above) conveys a similar meaning.
Yes, I know it’s hard on the heels of International Volunteer Managers’ Day, but the two go together, don’t they? It’s a moot point on which is more important: managers of volunteers will not exist without a volunteer programme; and you will never get the best of volunteer contribution and achievement without a switched-on leader and manager of the programme.
Even then we can run into trouble. How can we measure the outcome, the effectiveness and the impact of volunteer work? That’s the question that’s troubling the community and voluntary sector at present. Counting hours of time delivered, perhaps adding in transport and travel costs as donations in kind, tells us simply the amount of free labour an organisation has enjoyed. When the hours are translated into a rough (read basic hourly rate) $$ amount we can shout loudly about how much money volunteers have saved us.
That is not real appreciation for volunteer effort, not what most volunteers set out to do. That is not ‘honouring people’s participation in making a change’.
So what are some better ways to acknowledge the real work of volunteers? When the question is put like this the answers are obvious:
- What is the real work volunteers have been doing? Describe it.
- Add in how this work has contributed to organisation mission.
- How does the work of volunteers enable higher staff performance and overall service provision? (Please don’t say staff could not manage without volunteers.)
- In thinking about why volunteers are engaged in your organisation, what has been impressive in the way volunteers carry out their roles.
- Go to consumers and ask them for stories about volunteers – the school kids who are coached by a volunteer; the homebound older person who relies on meals delivered by volunteers; the guests at the soup kitchen; the person whose cat was rescued from a tall tree by the volunteer fireman.
It’s hard to cover everything volunteers undertake. But the more specific we can be in celebrating volunteering the better we can demonstrate our understanding of volunteering, and how we value it for its non-monetary worth.
When December 5 comes round I do not want to be disappointed by the raft of blanket statements proclaiming volunteers as the organisation’s backbone, or the backbone of society. Volunteers are not skeletons!
November 16, 2014
The difficulties of volunteer recruitment never seem to go away. The plaints of being short of people or not getting the ‘right sort’ of people keep on being raised. I am still seeing notices in community newspapers or on social media and on websites about ‘wanting’ and ‘needing’ volunteers – which do little more to attract people beyond relying on the organisation’s reputation and public profile.
Well if you have not read the small print in the image above take a look at it now.
This notice reportedly delivered 5000 responses to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment of a crew for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914. The original advertisement has never been located so there is doubt about its authenticity. Nevertheless it is a great story, alongside the subsequent adventures and heroism of the men on the expedition.
Yes, the message is based on men wanted (remember this is pre-Women’s Lib days), but it was the era of Antarctic exploration, and maybe the name of Shackleton drew attention (he had already made a name for himself). Maybe all those men were looking for adventure, not knowing there was a different sort of adventurous expedition that would be announced in just a few months time.
For managers of volunteers the point of any recruitment advertising is (1) grabbing attention and (2) understanding the range of motivations that draw people to volunteer. Add to that some basic principles of marketing, along with the organisation’s well-articulated reasons for engaging with volunteers.
What sort of salvo from a voluntary organisation would deliver the impact that Shackleton achieved?
- Unleash your talents!
- Want to apply your under-utilised skills?
- Opportunity knocks!
- Make friends and influence people
- Join our fun-filled team at….
It’s the impact that counts – one that attracts attention. Offer a taste of the kind of work available – which does not have to be accompanied by the kind of conditions Shackleton was describing. Add in other attractions: the rewards of volunteer work, like Shackleton’s ‘honour and recognition’, or the flexible time arrangements, or the benefits of skill development and work experience. Yes, you can make much of the worthiness of your organisation’s cause, because many volunteers will sign up to pursue their passionate interests. But do avoid messages that sound like you are desperate for help. That plea makes me wonder why volunteers are not signing up and to ask if there is something wrong with the volunteer programme.
All of these suggestions tap into standard volunteer motivations. They are also pretty similar to anything found in Sits Vac columns or job-seeking websites. Let’s not forget that volunteering is a job, is real work – and not simply stuffing envelopes and making cups of tea. And we do it for free, for all sorts of different reasons.
Two more recommendations (but note, there is never a last word on recruitment): (1) include a name, a real person to contact beyond the phone number or email address; and (2) ensure a quick response to messages and expressions of interest. That’s the most important start for a conversation that could lead to a long career as a volunteer.
November 9, 2014
I’ve never thought too much about job satisfaction in my working life. I’ve taken the rough with the smooth, got on with it, and found small pleasures where I could. And most of the time the roles I’ve undertaken have offered scope for applying skills and finding creative responses to all the challenges. I don’t think I would be amongst the 40% of New Zealand’s workforce that are reportedly unhappy in their jobs these days.
But I am not surprised by this figure. The nature of work and employment has been changing for decades. Full employment went out the window more than 30 years ago and worker rights keep on being eroded. Technology has changed the level of knowledge and skills required for the greater part of the workforce, and unskilled work gets harder and harder to find.
The bit in the news report that got my attention was this:
[P]art-timers seemed to hold less attachment to their job and were more likely to look for a new role or career in the pursuit of happiness.
For those employing large numbers of part-time staff, it is vital to build a culture of inclusion and make sure employees feel their contribution is valued in order to inspire loyalty and retain good staff.
Of course! Managers of volunteers have known that forever, haven’t we? Our job is all about ‘part-timers’. We work hard to ensure volunteers feel their contribution is valued; inclusion is what you do to help people feel they belong to the organisation. Hence the attention paid to interpersonal communication, and all the newsletters and social media posts aimed at keeping in touch.
Because for a volunteer the counterpoint of being valued and included in an organisation amounts to dissatisfaction and departure – and a risk to the organisation’s reputation in the community.
From where I sit it seems employers of part-time staff could learn a lot from managers of volunteers and their approach to good relations with volunteers. Go ask them: they’ll show you how to enhance part-timer commitment and job satisfaction.
This claim is supported by research that showed paid staff wanted improvements to provision of career development, the work environment (particularly culture and morale), and to their welfare (stress levels, feeling appreciated and engaged). Such negativity resulted in 32% of the research sample intending to leave their jobs in the next three months. The most important traits employees wanted in their managers were openness, honesty, and good communication skills.
Of course there are plenty of executive managers who can demonstrate these qualities (see this post). I’ve also commented a few times on employer practice that offers lessons for managers of volunteers (see here, here and here) – and vice versa.
These principles are even more important for organisations involved in the voluntary and community sector. Good people management is not just for staff and volunteer job satisfaction – these skills are also essential for working with service users and in wider community relations.
So while the manager of volunteers makes every effort to develop volunteer inclusiveness and job satisfaction, I hope the organisation’s executive managers are also working to ensure a happiness culture for everyone.
November 2, 2014
We all know there are a few principles (quite a few!) to follow in leading volunteers. So when you are asked for your best tips, what you have learned from experience, what would you be putting at the top of your list?
A couple of people presented me with acronyms recently. Just a couple of single-syllable words that say pretty much everything we need to note in relationships with volunteers.
CARE: Communicate; Appreciate; Respect; Engage
CLAP: Communication; Listening; Acknowledgement; Participation
Pretty simple, huh? We care about volunteers, right? And we want to clap and cheer them for their work? So what do we need to know about the words that make up the acronyms?
Communication comes at the top of just about everybody’s list. Volunteers want to know and understand what is expected of them. Some volunteers work well being told in person what the specific tasks are, others enjoy working off a list on the whiteboard. Some (oh joy!) like to use their initiative to identify other tasks that might also need to be done – that is when you chalk up real value-added service. A huge part of communication comes from the manager knowing and understanding the volunteer, in listening and really hearing what is being said, in getting to know the person, warts ‘n’ all, not simply as more grist for the organisation mill. Communication is the art of connecting with people, more than regular news updates about organisation matters.
The importance of showing appreciation and acknowledging the work of volunteers can never be underestimated. Saying ‘thank you’ with meaning, in as many ways as possible should never be an add-on chore. A special email sent out after a particular job is completed, a small note left on the board with a smiley face or a surprise plate of biscuits can all remind a volunteer that ‘yes’ the organisation appreciates their contribution.
Treating everyone with respect, regardless of their position or the hours and the effort they put in goes without saying. When the manager leads by example in demonstrating respect, the standard is set for everyone else.
Engaging with your volunteers shows that you are an integrated team, working towards the same goals. That means you don’t shy away from working alongside them, or checking in on how the weekend went or what the family is up to these days.
Because ultimately, volunteers are in and of the community, and participation in a community-based organisation enhances the connection between them. Volunteering is a way to realise our existence in a wider world.
So here’s a big thank you to Tara and Laura for encapsulating a big part of the role of managers of volunteer in well-crafted acronyms. Here is an alliterative last word from Tara:
Clap for the victorious vital volunteers, for their valued vigilant vivaciousness!
And when it comes to November 5 this week, we will be letting off a few fireworks in praise of managers of volunteers in our communities, and doing some clapping for the way they care for volunteers.
October 26, 2014
Celebrations for the fifteenth international day for managers of volunteers will happen at a place near you on November 5. It’s a day to acknowledge the skills, talents, leadership and downright doggedness of managing volunteers. And by proxy, to understand how volunteering makes magic happen in our communities, in organisations and in all the services supported by volunteers.
On Facebook we are spurred to consider what elements of volunteer management drives our passion. And what is our vision for an ideal world of managing volunteers?
It’s all very well to dream up future scenarios, and to repeat that quote attributed to GB Shaw:
You see things and you ask “Why?” But I dream things that never were, and I ask “Why not?”
Well – Susan J Ellis taught me a long time ago how the history of volunteering is the history of the lunatic fringe: volunteers often work at the cutting edge of change. Managers of volunteers are part of that fringe, forever seeking new chemistry that will enable volunteering to adapt to changing conditions.
For the moment I am keeping my feet on the ground. I am thinking about the drivers that keep managers of volunteers keeping on. What is it that the stayers among managers of volunteers love about their work? Here is my sampling:
- When the shy and nervous volunteer turns into a confident and well-respected member of the team.
- When you are charged with organising a huge event, and the volunteers just keep on turning up and turning their hands to what needs doing. They know how to manage themselves.
- When you find heads nodding in a training session covering organisation mission and values – not because people are falling asleep or because it’s boring – because the mission and values is what has attracted them to the organisation in the first place.
- When thank you letters from grateful clients are sent to the Chief Executive, and they include volunteers alongside paid staff. It’s even better when they mention the volunteer by name.
- When a volunteer steps up to manage an unexpected crisis situation, showing how all that training and support pays off.
- When staff get to understand they have responsibility to support and guide volunteers on their team, and they cease running to the manager with complaints about volunteer performance.
- When International Volunteers’ Day or National Volunteer Week happen, and staff and senior managers organise an appreciation function for volunteers. Or they set up a Post-it board to pin up messages of goodwill and recognition of good work.
- When volunteers get due acknowledgement at Annual Meetings, and in the Annual Report – more than a few words or a last page paragraph.
- When people stop saying how wonderful volunteers are and uttering platitudes – when they start talking about the real work and accomplishments of volunteers.
- When we finally get a means to measure the impact of volunteer work that is more than a record of outputs translated into $ values.
You will notice this litany is all about the product of managing volunteers, not what has to happen to achieve these credits. But that’s just it – job satisfaction comes from the outcomes, seeing how the manager’s ground work produces great results. You will also see how volunteering is people-centred, dependent on personal service and performance. And at last, get to understand how great volunteer programmes do not fall out of the sky: it takes a visionary manager to make them happen.
October 19, 2014
Volunteering New Zealand held a workshop for managers of volunteers in Wellington last week. Raising the Bar was the first of a number to be held around the country, drawing on the Best Practice Guidelines to ask What does Best Practice look like and how do we get there?
My long memory recalls the origins of this workshop, the tiny germs of ideas that got translated over time into a working group, to a VNZ project, to publishing the Guidelines, and now to working on getting them implemented.
Back in 2009 the VNZ Conference theme was Volunteering Unleashed, and there were two streams: Volunteering Tomorrow and Inspiring Leaders – two sides of the same coin you might say. With presentations like ‘Unmasking the role of volunteer management’ and ‘Awaken the hero leader in you’ there was plenty to inspire and unleash imaginations for future effort. At the final session I asked “What happens next?” to which there was a smart reply: “What would you like to happen?”
A few weeks later a meeting was convened with a bunch of other people who were asking the same question. The Management of Volunteers Development Group was born, if not right then, but over the next few meetings. I’ve written about its progress several times:
Raising the Bar was the theme for VNZ’s conference in 2011, and a principal stream was devoted to ‘Developing the Leaders’. Sessions covered a range of regular practice for managers of volunteers, and included focus on leadership – because managing volunteers is nothing without leadership.
The present round of workshops on Raising the Bar is another step to encourage managers of volunteers to take on strategic leadership, and to advocate for implementation of the Best Practice Guidelines. At the same time there is a parallel effort going into nominating champions of managing volunteers, the executives of organisations that demonstrate and promote understanding and recognition of volunteering and its management. Yes, we need to promote these champions so others may raise their sights, to include the value of volunteers and their managers in their vision.
The workshop this past week raised a real buzz, a community of managers of volunteers sharing concerns and their ideas and information, using the material of the Best Practice Guidelines. There was plenty of diversity in this group, both in size of organisation and in sector interests. The old hands mixed with the newbies, and there was learning for everyone.
At the end of the day what happens next is up to participants. They’ve got their take-home message and intent for action, but we’ll have to wait to see results. Strategic leadership for change and development takes skill, courage and determination. And time.
How high does the bar have to go? We’ll know when we get there, for sure.
October 5, 2014
I’ve seen a few job vacancies lately, opportunities that make me sit up and take notice. These are senior positions in national organisations, charged with strategic management and development of volunteer programmes.
Words and phrases like ‘leadership’ and ‘integrating volunteer work with service delivery’ and ‘best practice processes and resources to maximise voluntary service’ leap out of the published blurbs. These jobs are close to Executive Team level, offering opportunities to lift the profile of volunteering and its contribution to organisation operations. Candidates are expected to competent in strategic planning and project implementation, and in leading transformational change. Being able to undertake surveys and analysis could be useful too. And of course, being experienced in developing and maintaining good relationships with both internal and external stakeholders is another given.
Yay! Management of volunteers has come of age! At last, there is recognition for the rightful place of volunteering within organisations. And yes, the relevance of strategic leadership, as outlined in Volunteering New Zealand’s Competencies for Managers of Volunteers, gets acknowledged.
And then I start looking at the fine print. What are the qualities and qualifications these organisations are expecting in candidates? “A relevant tertiary qualification” can be anything from community development to health, including human resources and psychology. Or in research and evaluation. Or in ‘social services’, or management. Take your pick. Your experience is likely to count for more – say a minimum of four years in social service management. The list of desired experience includes leadership and people management. Desired communication skills extend to coaching, conflict resolution and group facilitation. While all these skills and experience are relevant and important, any reference to direct experience in managing volunteers is a lesser consideration.
By now you might be able to sense my raised eyebrows.
Yes, I know there are people out there with qualifications and experience that could foot any of these positions.
And yes, management is management, and leadership likewise, regardless of the field.
And yet, a toehold at executive management level is still precarious for volunteering.
Unless the executive team has their own experience of volunteering, unless they understand fully what volunteering is about, the new strategic manager is still in the position of advocating for volunteers, still arguing their cause and how to engage fully with them. That’s a hard road, where expectations and big ideals can get sidelined when the organisations are struggling to meet contract obligations and to secure funding to cover the shortfall. It is even harder if the appointee is not steeped in volunteering philosophy and practice.
What if the new position is more about taking control and command of volunteering, ‘using’ volunteers as a utilitarian tool in service provision? That’s a risk, specially without direct experience of volunteering. And volunteering will be the poorer for that.
Because at bottom there are big distinctions between working for pay and working as a volunteer. I need to earn a living, so a paid job is a necessity. When I volunteer it is by choice, to follow an interest or to support a cause. There are set hours for paid work; volunteer work can happen at all hours, including weekends. Volunteers set their own ‘leave’ schedules; paid workers must apply to take time off. Paid workers fit into designated positions, limited by organisation budgets; volunteers will be assigned to particular roles, but these are limitless. Numbers of volunteers can outweigh paid staff 5:1 and more.
So there are big challenges for the person taking on an organisation’s strategic development of volunteering. How to meet the challenges is a story for another time.