January 20, 2013
Prospecting for a New Year
Posted in A Bigger Picture, Annual Review, Best Practice, Managers Matter tagged business, Civil Society, community leadership, community-led development, Managers of Volunteers, Organisation development, Qualitative outcomes, social entrepreneur at 3:43 am by Sue Hine
Looking good from last year was the continuing increase in numbers of volunteers, especially from youth cohorts. There was a lot more corporate volunteering too. I was heartened by the increased support and recognition for International Volunteer Managers’ Day (November 5) and for International Volunteer’s Day (December 5). And it seemed there was greater and more effective use of the e-waves than previously – for recruiting volunteers, for creative news reporting on volunteering, and for producing better and brighter organisation websites.
Volunteering New Zealand stepped up with the publication of Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations, outlining a steer on supporting managers of volunteers, getting the best from a volunteer programme and enhancing organisational attraction for volunteers and paid staff. I am looking forward to the next publication, the Learning and Development Pathway for managers of volunteers.
But there is no time to rest on our laurels. At the top of the search list for my blog, again, is Bad Volunteer Experience. Again, it shows how many people miss out on good practice in management of volunteers. More disheartening are the continuing accounts of raw deals for managers of volunteers, overburdened and under-appreciated, by organisations that should know better. So work on promoting and educating on the basics – the essentials – of managing volunteers will continue to be a priority in the coming months. Business as usual, you might say.
I picked up some signals last year that are going to be my worry-beads for 2013. I am not alone in my concerns:
Volunteering is becoming more transient, more promiscuous, more blurred
Convergence between NFPs and the business sector is not the panacea for all ills
Volunteering is an unloved child generally but was particularly so in 2012
Volunteers are demanding to be led – not managed
Resources are being drawn away from volunteering for investment in fundraising
These quotes come from different sources and could all be placed under the rubric of The Great Unsettlement. Here are the features I reckon are the ‘big-picture’ issues:
- Corporate social responsibility has spawned corporate volunteering, and also sponsorship and partnerships with NFP organisations. Good stuff, and sensible in cash-strapped times. Except there is potential risk to maintaining organisation branding and identity if relations with a corporate business are not well-managed. Worse is the way volunteering and the management of an ongoing volunteer programme seem to be sidelined in preference to scoring big business patronage. This is particularly evident in marketing and managing fundraising events.
- ‘Social enterprise’ has risen in popularity stakes as a business model for social outcomes. Yes, good for the national economy, and more sexy than ordinary everyday volunteering – which (if you need reminding) has promoted social outcomes for generations. I sigh, because the definition of volunteering is up for debate, again.
- Government out-sourcing of social services has turned many NFPs into NGOs over the past 30 years, introducing an active if unequal interface between government and community. Proposals for new models of funding such as social bonds will put a whole new agenda in front of many organisations, again challenging the place and the contribution of a volunteer programme.
- Accountability, the business of measuring performance, not just inputs and outputs in dollar terms, has been around for a while now. The current attention to Social Return on Investment (SROI) is more serious, more intense and we’d better get to know about it. Except the impact of human service delivery is difficult to formulate, expensive to administer, and risks turning volunteering into a commodity.
The political and economic environment rules – OK? So it seems, and in the process that part of social structure that is called Civil Society, or the Third Sector, or simply ‘the community’ becomes marginalised. What’s a manager of volunteers to do?
Top of my wish-list for this year is to get beyond the hand-wringing and to turn questions of ‘what can we do?’ into ‘how do we get there?’ Notice how ‘we’ reminds us of the collective and the collaborative approach to action. There is the stimulus, to seek out allies in local networks and to enlist support from the progressive organisations that were pilots for the Best Practice Guidelines. Take some leafs from marketing and fundraising strategies: cultivate news media contacts, and never let up on social media plugs. Become social entrepreneurs in the sense of community-building for social innovation, for volunteering and volunteer organisations.
There are already pockets of volunteering enterprise in various communities. Just think what volunteering could become if we stitched those pockets into overalls. There is our challenge for 2013: to gain a stake in the future we need to stake a claim, on our terms, for the territory of community and for volunteering.