February 3, 2013

A Back-Handed Lesson (2)

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professional Development tagged , , , , at 3:22 am by Sue Hine

if-not-now-then-when-1024x764I did not intend to write a follow-up to last week’s entry, but here’s a real-life story just come to notice.  I think it can teach us a thing or two.

Molly has volunteered for 25 years, delivering meals-on-wheels in a small country town.  She took her turn once a week for two months each year.  She’s a farmer living thirty minutes out of town and unable to volunteer more frequently.  Molly enjoyed the work and the folk she came to know.  Always her work was completed on time, no-one missed out and there were no muddle-ups.

Now Molly is 80 years old and would like to give away her volunteering days.  She is all set to advise the volunteer coordinator accordingly.  But the coordinator has not phoned, has not made contact, has not enquired about Molly’s well-being or otherwise.  So Molly has been cast adrift with never a thank you note to acknowledge the years she has been serving in this rural community.

Too often we hear the tales of agony from managers of volunteers faced with scenarios of elderly volunteers who avoid recognising their age-related deficiencies.  But to abandon a volunteer who has not put a foot wrong by simply ignoring them?  Not on, I say.

Of course Molly might have picked up the phone herself to let the coordinator know she would not be coming back.  Well, I’ve been on the end of such conversations with managers of volunteers and felt the pressure to change my mind, to keep on volunteering because the organisation needs me so badly, is so short of volunteers, and I’m so good at what I do, and the clients just love me.  Molly doesn’t need such flattery.  Nor is she feeling aggrieved, and is not about to blab about her experience to friends and neighbours.  That’s a blessing, because in small town rural New Zealand where people and their business is known to all, that would spell damnation for the coordinator and the service.

The irony is, the coordinator is now delivering meals herself because she is unable to recruit more volunteers.  That’s what we should really be concerned about – the colleague who is struggling, who needs support and probably a heap of good advice.  And there is no Volunteer Centre to call on.  What should we do?  Stand back and watch everything go from bad to worse?  Or take time, find some resources to lend a hand, or at least offer support?

I’ve got some ideas, because I know the area and there’s one or two contacts I can call on.  OK, it could be tricky, but it is important to try.

Because one person’s plight is a bell tolling for all of us in this profession.  Managing volunteers is more than running a good programme – it’s also an occupation that needs muscle and political strategising to maintain respect and value for volunteering.  We need to look out for each other as well as the volunteers.

January 20, 2013

Prospecting for a New Year

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Annual Review, Best Practice, Managers Matter tagged , , , , , , , at 3:43 am by Sue Hine

Happy-2013[1]  It’s that time of year for reflection, to look into the pool of 2012 and to assess the prospects for volunteers and their managers in 2013.

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.

November 18, 2012

A Fair Price to Pay

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professional Development tagged , , , at 5:49 am by Sue Hine

A couple of weeks ago I was asked for information on the salary band for a manager responsible for 600 volunteers.  I’m not really the best person to ask, but the question set me thinking, again.

The first thing I note is that the topic of pay packages for managers of volunteers is like a squeaky wheel that never gets oiled.  There are regular queries and laments, but resolution always remains in the too-hard-basket.  Some themes of the debate can be found in articles listed in Energize archives.

International data from the Global Volunteer Management Survey (2008) revealed the extraordinary range of full-time annual salaries: $US9,600 – $US90,000. The average yearly income was $US45,296: New Zealand managers of volunteers earned 10 – 15% less than this average.  For 63% of respondents the handicap to growing volunteer management is that “volunteer managers would never be paid the equivalent of other professions who manage people”.

Management Matters, New Zealand-based research (2009), found the median annual salary of full-time managers is in the range of $NZ40,000 – $NZ59,000 ($US32.792 – $US49.183).  At this time the mean income in New Zealand was $NZ43,836 ($US35,919).

In 2011 a professional survey attempted to establish real market value for managers of volunteers in New Zealand but results were inconclusive.

Aside from research, there’s a rule of thumb that reckons NFP salaries are 10% lower than for-profit businesses, and you can take off another 10% to get the going rate for a manager of volunteers.  The devil is in the detail, the complex nature of the sector, the range of responsibilities, job titles and hours of work.

Managers of volunteers may be employed full-time, part-time or be an unpaid ‘volunteer manager’ or coordinator (full- or part-time).  A full-time employee may be assigned part-time responsibilities for managing volunteers.   They can be known variously as manager, director, administrator, or coordinator.  The scope of the role is relative to the nature of the organisation’s mission and scale of operation, and operating budget.  Being a manager of volunteers can be part human resource management, part line management, part strategic development.  It may include skills in community organisation and project management, and certainly communication and relationship skills.  And it will be nothing without leadership ability.

All these factors influence pay rates.  The Managers Matter survey also found salary differences relative to job title: ‘Managers of Volunteers’ attracted higher rates than ‘Volunteer Coordinators’, regardless of paid/unpaid, full- or part-time status.

As for the numbers game, I cannot find a correlation between numbers of volunteers and manager salaries.  The Managers Matter study showed that even with 200+ volunteers there were still 23% of managers unpaid.  We need added information on how the volunteers are engaged: for weekly assignments or for annual events, a fixed term or ongoing involvement.  We also need to take into account those people who squeeze volunteer responsibilities alongside other areas of work.

The concerns for low pay levels and unrealistic expectations remain.

So I was pleased to see included in the Volunteering New Zealand Best Practice Guidelines the following clause: Paying people with responsibility for volunteers a salary comparable to other managers with similar responsibilities within the organisation.

Which just begs the question: who, in the organisation, has similar responsibilities?  Who else undertakes the range of tasks, covers the territory, and handles various roles like the manager of volunteers does – whether paid or unpaid?  Is there anywhere an equivalent job?

Looks like the problem goes back to the too-hard-basket again.

But there is more to think about.  It’s not just the complexity and the variations in organisation size and function, and the job title and employment status of the manager.  There’s a perception that NFPs relying on the charity dollar should not be profligate in spending on salaries.  Some organisations lack understanding and appreciation of volunteers, which is too easily carried over to the pay and respect accorded to their manager.

It is going to take more than the efforts of managers of volunteers to make a difference.  It’s going to take the whole organisation.  Discovering the true worth of managers of volunteers will also tell us more about how volunteering is valued.

October 21, 2012

An Opportunity Missed

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Organisation responsibilities, Professional Development, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:06 am by Sue Hine

There are a lot of disappointed people around the country this week.  There were just not enough of them to prevent cancellation of the conference planned by Volunteering Auckland for the beginning of November.

Let’s Get Connected aimed at bringing together people from across sectors – community, business and government – to listen and discuss topical issues relating to volunteering.  Just what we needed in times of change.

Just what we need when every day there are new stories about business sponsorship and partnerships with NFP organisations.  Just what organisations need, in order to get to learn more about social enterprise.

There has never been a better time to Get Together, to take the opportunity to sit at the same table and to listen and learn from each other.  Getting community, business and government together could have kick-started new relationships and collaboration.

We have missed out because registration numbers were too low.  Because, it is said, there is little money available for training and development in the current economic climate.  I hope reference to the recession is not a euphemism for organisations giving low priority to a conference related to volunteering and managing volunteers.

That would mean a big mistake as well as a missed opportunity.  It’s also a bit of a worry for future conference planning.  Prospective sponsors and funders may look twice at a group that could not muster the numbers for a conference in their own best interest.

In the UK one writer refers to present state of the third sector as a ‘great unsettlement’.  Certainly in New Zealand there are signs of potential transformation.  The government’s Better Public Services report promotes a focus on results and outcomes, greater efficiency and effectiveness, and getting value-for-money.  A responsible businesslike approach for the 21st century you could say – with an inevitable flow-on impact on community organisations providing services under government contracts.

Streamlined contracting arrangements are to be welcomed for reducing compliance costs and duplication.  Meeting conditions of provider capability, and more rigorous performance measurement will undoubtedly test organisational capacity to meet new arrangements.

This is no time to doubt community resilience, responsiveness and volunteer readiness.

This is where forging connections with business and social enterprise, as well as government, could stimulate new models of development in community organisations.  There’s a helping hand in a new report offering information and tools to help businesses and charities work better in partnership – produced by the government’s Department of Internal Affairs.  Let’s Get Connected, indeed!

In real life we can curse a bit when we miss a travel connection: it’s simply a frustrating delay till the next bus (or whatever) comes along.  But missing an opportunity to consider new ideas and new ways of operating is like leaving the rugby field open for others to score all the tries.

October 14, 2012

Diversity in Action

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Good news stories, Leading Volunteers tagged , , at 3:41 am by Sue Hine

Promoting diversity is a significant industry in New Zealand.  The Human Rights Commission (HRC) works for a fair, safe and just society, where diversity is valued, human rights respected, and everyone is able to live free from prejudice and unlawful discrimination.  Commissioners for Race Relations, Equal Employment Opportunity and Disability Rights are included in the office of HRC.

Of course it is in the public interest (and the Government’s) to celebrate cultural diversity, to promote equal rights, to foster harmonious relations, and to meet the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi.  And it should be of no less interest to managers of volunteers.

There are some tactical advantages in aiming for a volunteer team that represents diversity in the community.  One is the signal to donors and the public that the organisation is open and community-friendly.  Better still is the opportunity for a wide spread of information and good tidings about the organisation – which in turn can generate more goodwill, and donations, and a steady stream of volunteer applicants.  And when users or clients of the organisation come from diverse backgrounds it makes even more sense to recruit a broad range of volunteers.

This approach means the manager of volunteers is faced with applications from people aged 19 to 90, job-seekers to corporate professionals, people wanting social contact and others paying social debts, those on a mission and those looking for one, the able and the disabled, and people new to town or new to the country.

All those differences matter not a jot when there is a common goal, and when the differences have nothing to do with volunteer tasks.  In other words the manager plays on volunteer commonalities.  Difference and diversity does not have to mean lack of ability to work together.

But I think there is a point where demonstrating openness and community representativeness in a volunteer programme is overtaken by attention to inclusiveness.

Selection procedures will screen out people on solid grounds, according to the nature of the service or the particular volunteer roles.  There is never a place to rule out the applicant who ‘does not fit the mould’.

Inclusiveness is what happens when the application from a wheelchair-user is not declined because of disability, but assigned to a role according to ability.   Stumbling with communication when English is your second (or 3rd or 4th) language is no obstacle to volunteering on a beach clean up or to planting trees.  The bright-eyed school leaver could be just the person to take cups of tea around to elderly patients.

Inclusiveness is what happens when the organisation offers a contribution to travel costs, or makes allowances for child care schedules.  To do otherwise is to exclude people from volunteering. Inclusiveness is taking a volunteer’s good idea and running with it instead of saying it can’t be done.

Nobody has said embracing diversity would be easy.  Nor commented on the amount of juggling a manager does to harness the diversity of volunteers.  But the end result is creating a community of volunteers working together for the good of the organisation.  Which in turn generates a flow-on impact on relationships in the wider community.


The fern represents the growing cultural diversity of New Zealand. Starting from the base of the fern, the motifs are as follows:

  • Traditional kowhaiwhai pattern from a painted panel. Manutuke church. (1849) Rongowhakaata Tribe.
  • Fleur de Lys design loosely representing the European population, taken from hinges on St Patrick’s Cathedral, Auckland.
  • Samoan pattern from tapa cloth.
  • Traditional Chinese character found on silk cloth. The character ‘shou’ means longevity.
  • Indian paisley, used in henna (mendhi) designs to adorn the hands.
  • Vietnamese motif from a piece of woven fabric.
  • Middle Eastern motif (Iranian).
  • Baby fronds symbolising new growth.

October 7, 2012

The Volunteering X Factor

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, volunteer experience tagged , , at 4:00 am by Sue Hine

There are no definitions for the X factors of volunteering.  There will never be a TV reality show for the unseen and unsung qualities that make up the best of volunteering and its management.  Mostly it is chance encounters that tell us something of the outcome of our work.

Three times in as many weeks I’ve been reminded of the influence a manager of volunteers can sometimes have on the lives of volunteers.

The first is a story about a volunteer and his wife, told fifteen years after the event.

A few days later I get to hear, long after I have left the workplace, how my words at a group induction session are still ringing in a volunteer’s ears:

“You don’t think you will gain anything from volunteering?  Keep your hearts and minds open and you will discover all sorts of rewards.”

You know, the volunteer says to my successor, I’ve never forgotten that, and by heck, she was right!


Then Andy Fryar, who has his own remarkable story of unintended influence on a volunteer, puts up this poster on his Facebook page, noting it is something he raises regularly in training sessions.


None of us set out to be inspiring or to make a difference in the lives of volunteers.  It’s a by-product, and we are merely catalysts for that inspiration to take hold, or that change to happen.

And mostly we never get the feedback.

I’ve been volunteering for yonks, and worked in a variety of management roles.  My one experience in managing volunteers was in a hospice, where I discovered there was still much to learn about volunteering and management.  Hospice volunteers taught me about the work they did, how they did it and why.  Simple – serving cups of tea and dishing out meals.  But it was the way they provided these services that showed me how volunteering is a whole lot bigger than ticking off a task sheet.

Because reports from patients and families indicated how the supporting words and gestures from volunteers touched them at just the right moment.   When I gave this feedback to the volunteer there was usually a shrug and a comment like “But all I did was listen, and it was only for a few minutes”.  No big deal for the volunteer, yet an inspirational spark for the family.

Now it’s my turn to tell a story about a volunteer and what comes after.

Mary had been volunteering for some time when I met her – Wednesday lunch service, regular as clockwork, a close buddy with her volunteer partner.  She liked things neat and tidy, liked knowing what was what.  Always Mary was someone you could count on to let you know if she could not come, wanted time off for travel, or if something was bothering her.  Sometimes the bothering could be personal stuff, outside the volunteering bit.

Now Mary the volunteer has become the patient.  Pinned on the notice board by her bed in the hospice is a letter I wrote to her eleven years ago, alongside the certificates issued in recognition of her years of volunteer service.  Such little things, such small gestures from the office of a manager, to be received and treasured in ways I never anticipated.

All of us can touch other people’s lives in unknown ways.  It’s part of being human.  Sometimes we can turn the cliché of ‘making a difference’ into something real.

But always, in times like this, my mind flicks to the line that says:

You are the last person to understand the effect you have on other people. *

And I wish I did not always have to be the last to know.


* William Boyd (1990) Brazzaville Beach

September 23, 2012

Why Else Would You Volunteer?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Language, Motivation, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 4:46 am by Sue Hine

At the beginning of this month I was extolling the nature and philosophy of volunteering, quoting words like Citizenship, Engagement, Generosity, and a Felt Sense of Community.  No question, these words represent the best concepts of volunteering.

Except….  Unless….  Until….  I start thinking about the other reasons why, in this day and age, people give their time and skills and energies, for free, for community benefit.

I have banged on a lot about the Gift Relationship, spoken in hushed words about the virtues of Altruism and the Spirit of Community.  You see, all these words (they deserve no less than Capital Letters) are the true representations of volunteering.  Except….  Unless….  Until….

Now it is time to get real, time to see just how inclusive volunteering and volunteer programmes can be, outside the Goodwill and Community Solidarity philosophy.

At the local Op-Shop the customer service volunteers are pretty much all older people.  They tell me their time here is the social highlight of their week.  Yes, they are unpaid, and all there by free will, though their ulterior motive is socialisation, to meet and greet people, have a conversation and a bit of a laugh.  And maybe a chance to pick up a bargain as well.

Also on the staff at this Shop are the sorters and cleaners, a right mix of volunteers.   There are young people looking for work experience to put on their CVs.  There are migrants and refugees practising English language skills.  There are the people working off community sentences.   Others are there as evidence of job-seeking in order to retain their welfare payments.

In the administration office of another organisation I meet the ‘interns’, mostly students on placement for their applied degree qualification, and a fair smattering of new migrants.  Unpaid internships are welcomed as work experience to improve job prospects, especially for these groups.

And then I come across the team of Corporate Volunteers who are out on their ‘day-release’ programme, that annual event that demonstrates ‘corporate social responsibility’.  They have engaged with the Department of Conservation to check out bait traps in a protected reserve.  Whoa, I think.  The exercise is likely to be a whole bit of hiking, and possibly encounters with some health and safety hazards in the not-so-nice parts of the day when dealing with captives in the traps.  It is quite a bit different from their day job.  Next time they might prefer to offer pro bono services of their professional skills in governance, or in organisational management and administration.

Volunteering is not what it used to be.  The ideas of ‘free will’ and ‘compulsion’ have been mixed and stirred in a blender.  (I can even confess to volunteering as an escape from tele-marketing calls.) Take a look at Volunteering Tasmania and how they are describing volunteering for our new age:

  • It has a direct benefit to the community and the volunteer (whether the benefit is tangible or intangible);
  • It is undertaken by choice; and
  • It is unpaid. (However, the volunteer may receive reasonable or appropriate reimbursement for expenses incurred that are associated with the role, and/or may receive a monetary or other incentive/reward.)

That’s the commonsense reality of volunteering in the 21st century for you.  Volunteering is always a two-way stretch of reciprocal benefits.

Because, whatever the reason for volunteering, the experience of working for nothing is also an exposure to community services, to the values and commitment supporting development in our communities.  Many a volunteer has extended self-interest to an employment career in the community and voluntary sector.  Or a corporate volunteer programme has introduced people to organisations and opportunities for on-going volunteering.

Understanding these details gives you a head start in recruiting volunteers, and in knowing how to reinforce the rewards, and how to retain volunteer support.

September 9, 2012

Volunteer – At Your Own Risk

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism, volunteer experience tagged , at 4:17 am by Sue Hine

My present work focus is updating a basic guide for managers of volunteers which can serve as an introduction for new people and also a reminder and refresher for the old hands.  It’s amazing how much has changed, or shifted over the past five years.  This new edition will go on line, keeping up with technological advances and it will certainly be more user-friendly.

The hardest part of this update is ensuring accurate information on legislation relevant to volunteering – all the Health & Safety stuff, the Privacy and Human Rights provisions, and Employment law, and a few other things besides.  I am getting a headache from trying to assimilate all the information.  That’s when I think about the bundle that managers of volunteers have to absorb into training programmes and in their daily practice.

It is also a huge responsibility for organisations who engage volunteers (and paid staff), and exposes a number of risks.  Ideally, all organisation policies would cover the work of volunteers as well as paid staff.

Trouble is, the law vacillates a bit when it comes to volunteers.   Yes, they are included (with some exceptions) in the organisation’s ‘duty of care’ – the obligation ‘to take reasonable care not to cause injury or damage to a person or property’.  There’s some very clear guidance about this duty to volunteers under Health & Safety regulations.

On the other hand Employment law specifically excludes volunteers.  There is no recourse to employee rights, no option to be heard at a Tribunal or Employment Court.  But hello, the provision to be a ‘good employer’ extends to volunteers!  Except there is no one recipe or template for being a good employer.   At best we can follow a guide that includes examples and initiatives.  All of these are pretty much common sense – though sometimes we need to be reminded of common sense practice.

So a risk management strategy is an important ingredient in best practice for managers of volunteers.  Yes we have some guidance from existing law.  Yes, we are blessed in New Zealand with Accident Compensation, providing comprehensive, no-fault personal injury cover – though this will not excuse us from ensuring volunteers are informed about all the health and safety information relevant to our organisation.  Yes, the legislation on Human Rights and Privacy give us a good steer on how to be inclusive in recruitment, and how to protect volunteer privacy.

What worries me is the short cuts that can be taken when recruiting volunteers, in implementing a programme that has not developed all the necessary policies, in short-circuiting volunteer training, and failing to monitor volunteer practice and experience.  If you want to know more about the risks of legal liabilities read Sport NZ’s account.  Better to skip the worst case scenarios and go for the straightforward information and advice from Keeping it Legal or CommunityNet Aotearoa (see p 13).

We can cover risks and protect volunteers through a signed agreement relating to the job description.  We can hold to a Code of Practice, outlining commitments by the volunteer, and by the organisation.  Or ensure everyone knows their Rights and Responsibilities in a document that spells out the entitlements and obligations of both volunteers and the organisation.  Undertaking Police Checks of volunteer applicants is another safeguard for those working with vulnerable people.

There is no way I am suggesting we become fearful risk-aversive managers of volunteers.  Nor are volunteers saying they want to be wrapped in cotton-wool – indeed some people object to learning about all the regulations and policies.  Volunteering to make cups of tea is not as simple as it used to be, they say.

The bottom line of risk management has to be ‘beneficence’, the practice (in medical ethics) of ‘doing no harm’.  Or, to use the word in its conventional sense, the business of community organisations and the work of volunteers are about ‘doing good’.  Let’s not lose sight of that!

August 26, 2012

Enlightenment (Take 2)

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Managers Matter, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:12 am by Sue Hine

I’m doing a double-take on the word Enterprise. In recent years the word has been thrown around like it is newly-minted. Yet the business of enterprise has been around for centuries, since history began. Business entrepreneurs have driven industry and economic growth for generations. They invented consumerism, though I daresay the global market of people avid for the new and different accelerated the process, and the profits. Entrepreneurs and enterprise have created corporate and multi-national organisations, and, let us acknowledge, contributed to the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) in less-than-honourable dealings.

I am sobering-up from last week’s high at the conference on Social Enterprise. Yes, creating a business that turns a profit for social interests is a sea change from creating wealth for private shareholders. And yes, there are a heap of good intentions and good results in ‘doing good’ and collaborating for sustainable outcomes.

Here’s the Big But:

• I did not hear acknowledgement or recognition of NFP organisations, though their representatives dominated the ranks of those attending the conference

• Volunteering and management of volunteers did not get a mention

• And everybody ignored history

Here are my Reminders:

• Social Movements have stimulated more social change than any corporate enterprise. (OK, that claim could be debated…) I am thinking of organisations and programmes established on the back of global activism in Civil Rights, Feminism, Disability, the Environment and hundreds of others at local community level. Or cast your mind back to early crusaders on slavery and poverty, and to pioneers like Florence Nightingale and Henri Dunant.

• It was Community-based Social Enterprise that created local support services and long-standing organisations and community change – achieved by Volunteers, and funded in the past simply by cake stalls and raffles.

• NFP organisations have been operating Social Profit enterprises since Oxfam opened its first High Street op-shop – though it seems most NFPs continue to rely on philanthropic largesse or the caprice of a government contract.

Operating a charity is not the same as running a for-profit business. Yet financial stability is of primary importance for both sectors. Just think what a community organisation could achieve if it could rely on a sustainable funding stream. That’s where social enterprise could really be Doing Real Good.

And here’s another thing: I read that “strong leadership is crucial for social enterprises”, including a list of recommended attributes:

• Have passion and purpose
• Trust and be trustworthy
• Be pragmatic and prudent
• Share the lead
• Never miss the opportunity to praise and say thank you

Which sounds to me just like the qualities of many a worthy manager of volunteers. When I think about the enterprise involved in running a volunteer programme I would call the managers Social Entrepreneurs. And even if volunteers do not come for free they can reap huge profits in terms of goodwill and service delivery, and in fund-raising.

August 19, 2012


Posted in A Bigger Picture, Conference communication, Language tagged , , , , at 4:47 am by Sue Hine

There were two days this week of intensive concentration. Two days of learning new ways of expressing old ideas, two days of interpreting new inspirations for a new age.

There were two events: one was a national conference, and the other a brief breakfast session at Parliament hosted by Jacinda Adern MP, on behalf of ComVoices. Both covered common elements: community engagement and citizenship; the business of funding community projects and enterprise; and different models of operation.

Nothing is forever. We live in a world of constant change. There’s something new every day. Yes, I know all the clichés. But there is something more going on here.

The meanings of ordinary words are revitalised:
Citizenship is you and me and the responsibilities we have to our community and to each other;
Participation is being engaged in our communities and networks, and engaged in the process of change;
Sustainability is creating something that is not just a one-off attempt, and it is also the big word in better management of our environment;
Collaboration and Partnership will drive the operations of community groups in times of austerity; and are the key facilitators in developing a social enterprise.

Hackneyed terms and phrases are revisited and rephrased:
• The old catch-cry of Making a Difference morphs into Doing Real Good, implying there are tangible results in what you do. (And begging the question of defining what we mean by ‘Real Good’.) Well, we are learning fast about outcomes and results-based funding conditions.
Community gets to be described and understood as a philosophy, a collective value, and not just a blanket neutral term for everyone out there, or the generalisation for why our organisation exists. There are many different forms of ‘community’.

When we turn these words and ideas into action there is a whole new vocabulary to learn, and new ways of doing business. The new vocabulary begins with Social Enterprise, and the new business model is based on collaboration and partnership between business, philanthropy, government agencies and communities and community organisations.

That’s the beauty of the new ways of thinking: we can escape from our silos of Public, Private and Third or Non-Profit Sectors (and eliminate perceptions of community as third-rate, or non-anything) to find the new view and new solutions. It’s happening now, somewhere close to you. Go find out more, and be a part of the change. Or read about the international trend for NGOs to embrace profit-making social enterprises.

Going on three hundred and fifty years ago there was an earlier Enlightenment, a period of awakening in Europe, of the beginnings of formal science, philosophy, economics and the rise of capitalism and industrialisation. It was also called the Age of Reason, because it was argued that rational thinking provided more answers to the mysteries of life than religious beliefs. One of the facilitators of this new age was the invention of the Coffee House, where you could enjoy the new stimulant brought by the merchant traders from Africa and South America. Here was the place where intellectuals met to discuss the issues of the day, to form political policies and to plot the French Revolution.

Next time you go to a business meeting at your favourite café give some thought to how your discussion might influence the new Enlightenment.

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