May 6, 2012
Whose Side are You On?
Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Organisational gains from volunteering, Role definition, volunteer experience tagged leadership, Managers of Volunteers, Qualitative outcomes, social capital, volunteer contributions at 1:19 am by Sue Hine
We can talk about management of volunteers forever. We can have endless conversations that wander through the ins and outs of competence and tasks. We can venture into the thickets of community issues and political pressures and questions about sustainable funding. We can do a moan about the lack of recognition for our work (and volunteers). But it’s not very often that we stop to figure out the fundamentals of the role of a manager of volunteers.
What is the purpose of the role?
Last year I wrote a clear statement:
The purpose of being a Manager of Volunteers is to contribute to the organisation’s mission, to facilitate delivery of services. So my role function is to attract, train and support (etc) volunteers to carry out tasks that will do just that.
Now I want to take the opposite position:
The purpose of the role of Manager of Volunteers is to develop the very best team of volunteers and to ensure they have the very best experience of volunteering.
A good volunteer experience takes precedence over the organisation’s mission and delivery of services? Yes, absolutely.
So the volunteer benefits at the expense of the organisation? I knew you would jump to that conclusion! Let me persuade you otherwise.
Think about developing a team of volunteers. There they are, knocking at your door, keen to ‘help’ the organisation. They are a mixed bunch, with a dozen or more different motivations, and another dozen or so skills and aptitudes. That’s your raw material, and you are not into conveyer-belt production. Your job is to meet their expectations, as best you can.
So the training programme is designed to sustain volunteer enthusiasm as well as to introduce them to boundaries set by organisational policy and the roles they will be undertaking. That is, there is a framework to follow, and enough flexible space within it for volunteers to flourish in their work.
The devil for ensuring a good volunteer experience is always in the detail.
Communication is the big No 1. Follow-up, check in with volunteers, ask them how they’re doing. Communicate regularly via various media to keep volunteers informed, to help them feel part of the organisation. At the same time, be visible and proactive in advocating for volunteers with paid staff, including supporting staff who work directly with volunteers.
Continuous improvement for volunteers also needs to be on the agenda. Volunteers may want to move their skills to another level or to try something different as much as paid staff. The volunteer who does not ‘fit’ need not be turned away if you hang on to your sense of innovation. That’s where management of volunteers becomes an art, way beyond the confines of human resource management. Volunteers are a source for inspiration, not just a resource or an asset for exploitation.
Feedback on performance is as important for volunteers as it is for paid staff. Get beyond the regular (and sincere) “Thank you” to add positive reinforcement of a job well done:
I was impressed by the way you….
Or try extending skill experience by adding:
Next time you could think about having a go at ….
This is not just buttering up a volunteer ego, it is demonstrating your confidence in volunteer competence and ongoing capacity for development.
An annual review for each volunteer is another string to maintaining volunteer satisfaction. Not so much a review of performance as a self-assessment of present involvement and future aspirations – and always including reflection on how to improve the volunteer programme, management of volunteers included.
Don’t forget the exit interview. That can be another strand for comment on possible improvement and change. Keeping a record of ‘reasons for leaving’ will draw a useful picture on turnover and levels of volunteer satisfaction, which could be incredibly useful in indicating to senior management and boards on the state of the organisation.
So what is the pay-off? Why is a good volunteer experience important? You will get any or all of the following:
Support for organisation mission ADDING VALUE TO SERVICES Retention Loyalty Commitment Public Relations
Ambassadors in the Community CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
Volunteers pilot new ways of delivering services INNOVATION
Volunteers build Civil Society Community Development
SOCIAL INCLUSION Service enhancement
Get the best team of volunteers and enable their very best volunteer experience and you will find volunteers contribute OTT to organisation mission and service delivery. All round there is a Win-Win outcome.