January 22, 2012

Good Governance, or Good Grief!

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Annual Review, Best Practice, Managers Matter, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , , , at 4:11 am by Sue Hine

In the mode of New Year wishes there is just one best thing I want to happen in 2012: the application of good governance – and good executive management – in organisations that don’t.  At the end of this year I want to find committees, boards and executives have lifted their game and can demonstrate a better understanding of volunteering and of managing volunteers.

Is this too much to expect?

What I do not want to hear at the end of this year are more sorry stories of people hired to ‘manage volunteers’, only to be pulled and pushed into a whole lot of different roles and tasks that end up making the job untenable.

Not good to be all steamed up so early in the year.  Not good to be hearing another sad-sack story of a manager of volunteers who resigned from a situation that amounted to workplace bullying and abuse, and ultimately a constructive dismissal.

Not good to find my most viewed post of 2011 is once again about a bad volunteer experience. It is almost worse to be writing now about organisations which lack basic understanding of employment law, let alone understanding how to apply best practice in HR management.

OK – the community and voluntary sector is a large amorphous collective. There are organisations that could be called corporations for their size and their budgets and their scale of operations.  There are local, regional and national organisations delivering services under contract to government.  There are many more organisations existing as small entities serving local community interests and particular social, political or cultural goals.

It is important to remember that more than 90% of 97,000+ NFP organisations in NZ do not employ staff. On one hand this statistic illustrates the miracle of volunteering, the power of the collective, and the strength of Civil Society. On the other hand there is the potential misery of good intentions going awry, perhaps from ignorance of the resources that are available to set an organisation on the best practice track.

There are opportunities out there for training in Governance.  There are guidelines and information and training programmes available online, much of it for free. You can get the basics from OCVS, and a bit more detail at CommunityNet Aotearoa.  For a really comprehensive (and lengthy) document on the Nine Steps to Effective Governance go to SPARC.  Occasionally Volunteer Centres can offer a workshop on governance in association with Unitec’s Graduate Diploma in Not-for-Profit Management.

The best immediate advice comes from American educator Betty Stallings.  Her recommendations for 12 Key Actions of Volunteer Programme Champions are based on research undertaken with Chief Executives, and there are some powerful messages in this short document.

On the flip side what I do want to hear about is employees finding courage to stand up for their rights, to show organisations there are other ways of managing work conditions and programmes, and to doing better in meeting the organisation’s mission and values.  Even if they have to take their case to the Employment Court – an option, please note, not available to discouraged volunteers.

So to all people out there engaged with volunteers and in organisations providing community sector services through volunteers, take heed of the message expressed in this proverb:

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!

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