March 23, 2013

Looking Both Ways

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , at 11:48 pm by Sue Hine

looking both ways

No, this post is not a lecture on Road Safety, nor is it about peripheral vision.  I want to talk about how a manager of volunteers needs two lines of sight.

Because it’s all very well to design and develop and run a programme for volunteers in an organisation, and to take to heart the mission of ensuring the best experience for the volunteers – but if you have not looked the other way to see how the volunteer programme integrates with other organisation functions and policies then both volunteers and the organisation can end up being short-changed.

Over the years I’ve listened to the sorrowful song-book presented by managers of volunteers.   Here’s a small sample:

  • Volunteers are regarded as second-rate workers
  • Managers of volunteers don’t rate it as ‘managers’, nor as ‘professionals’
  • They are lowly-paid and inadequately resourced
  • No support for professional development
  • Lip-service recognition of the volunteer programme, and volunteer achievements
  • ‘They’ just don’t get volunteering

It does not have to be like that!  And it isn’t of course, as the champions and leaders of our profession can demonstrate.  There are also Chief Executives who know and understand volunteering and its importance to the organisation, ensuring volunteers get a fair go and respect for their work.

So what can you be doing to get away from the moan-and-groan stuff?

Simple answer: you get strategic.

Help!  I don’t know how.

Yes you do! You have thought through what was needed for the programme, developed policies and processes, set everything in place for the recruitment and training of volunteers, and how volunteering would work in the organisation.  You connected with your communities, and with the local network of managers of volunteers.  Now you can do it all again, in the other direction, developing the connections and the strategies that will show senior management how to embrace volunteering and your management and leadership within the organisational fold.

Where do I start?

Hang on a minute.  Before you get to action you have to do the planning.  And before the planning, you need to figure what it is you are trying to do.  You want the organisation to get volunteering, and the importance of good management and leadership of volunteers, right?  What do you mean by “get volunteering”?  What is it that people need to know about volunteering?  What do you want to tell them and what is the best way to do it?

Now you can start thinking about your strategic plan – the key areas to work on, and the goals you have identified.  You will be taking into account what is working and what doesn’t and what is missing.  For instance, does volunteering get more than a mention in the organisation’s strategic plan and its business plan?  How would you write up volunteering in these plans?

There is more: being strategic includes identifying potential allies, formulating the key points you want to communicate, and considering the channels open to you.  You might, in the first instance, start reporting on volunteers and their activities, telling their stories and successes – and circulating the report to key players in the organisation, and especially the chief executive.  Be bold, and go further by offering to meet and discuss the report.  Even suggest what more could be achieved by volunteers.

Is this enough to go on with, to give you a kick-start?

If you want more info and other perspectives, go see how volunteer programmes can get Messed Up and what to do about it; or the observations of a group UK Managers of Volunteers.  For details on how-to-plan, and what should be included, see this chapter of the Community Resource Kit or get the basics from Sport NZ.

One of the slogans I hear frequently is “managers of volunteers are advocates for volunteers in the organisation”, though I hear little about results of advocacy.  The plaint of getting volunteering gets much more air time.  Quite honestly this is the biggest foot-fault of our profession: wishing others would see our point of view is wishful thinking and accomplishes nothing.  It is time to change our ways, to work on making looking-both-ways a key dynamic in the life of a manager of volunteers.

March 10, 2013

Breaking Bounds

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Motivation, Organisation responsibilities, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 2:57 am by Sue Hine

DSC06810Last weekend I followed my Sunday habit to visit the fruit and vegetable market held at the local primary school.  You have to admire the enterprise of schools these days for hiring out their space and facilities to Churches, Sunday sports for kids, and for the market.  That’s what you have to do to maintain a cash-strapped “free” education.

At the school entry I encountered a woman struggling to open the security gate.  The gate had been a puzzle for me on previous weeks but I had it sorted now.  I opened the gate for the woman and remarked “We never had to master this sort of barrier when we went to school”.  The woman nodded vigorously, acknowledging both the import of my comment and our shared age bracket.

I went on up the path, the back entrance to the school.  There was another security gate to gain access to classroom areas and the market stalls.

The gates were not so big they could not be opened by the average-sized six or seven year old child standing on tip-toes.  They offered more of an impediment than a barrier, and certainly no real obstacle to adult visitors.  But when a couple of four year old boys leave their day-care centre their adventure is called an ‘escape’.  From what, you might ask.

I start thinking, again.  I am really bothered that we have become so dependent on legislation and regulations around hazards and safety precautions that kids these days never get to use their instincts for self-preservation, never learn to evaluate risk and the limits on their own capacity.  It’s all done for them by adults who bend over backwards to ensure nothing bad happens.  No wonder teenagers think they are bullet-proof when they get behind the wheel of a car, or get tanked-up to go on the town.

The community sector is also plagued by regulation, as I described a few months back.  Volunteers are known to become tetchy when restrictions seem unreasonable.  Over the past ten years I have noticed a creep of limitations placed on the roles and tasks of volunteers: can’t have them doing personal cares for people in a clinical setting; huge risks if you let volunteers loose on Facebook; volunteers are not the same as staff; can’t ask them to do extra; but we’ll keep them on to work the phones and do the cleaning.

I exaggerate, just a little.  For all the stories of restrictions there are also accounts of volunteers going beyond the call of duty, and many times we can see how collective volunteer actions have created a community fabric.

You see, that’s the bounty of volunteering.  Volunteers get up and go, they can experiment with new ideas and different ways of doing things.  They see a need or a gap in community services and they are free and flexible enough to devise an immediate and sometimes a long-term response to the presenting problem.   They are risk-takers, big-time.  That’s how our major NGOs and NFPs got started in the first place – read their histories.

So please, do not wrap volunteers in cotton-wool.  Give them credit for intelligence and sensitivity and responsibility, and especially for their humanity.  Give them space to be innovative and creative in the best tradition of community development.  And remember that ‘humanity’ involves trust and respect and dignity – qualities that are never going to be measurable in pursuit of volunteer impact, yet can be diminished by over-regulation.

Perhaps I should have titled this piece ‘Stretching Boundaries’.  I do not wish to make light of school security, nor of the tragedies that have created the armoury of protection for students and stringent screening for visitors.  Nor am I suggesting volunteering should be turned into a laissez-faire free-for-all.  I just want to make sure that too much bureaucracy does not shut down the whole point of volunteering.

March 3, 2013

The Fruits of Our Labours

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Management of Volunteers Project, Professional Development, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 3:15 am by Sue Hine

harvest-and-preserves-23441280255023VyNQMarch is the month for the beginning of autumn in my southern hemisphere, though current sunshine levels have not yet arrived at the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’.  We are getting close however, to harvesting a project begun more than three years ago.  In a couple of months Volunteering New Zealand will publish the Learning and Development Pathway, a guide to professional development for managers of volunteers.  This document will sit alongside the Best Practice Guidelines for volunteer-involving organisations.

The need for skilled and competent managers of volunteers has been a universal catch-cry for decades, alongside attaining due recognition and appreciation for the work entailed in enabling volunteers to play such a huge role in delivering community services.  We are not alone in raising the concerns we have in New Zealand.

The project started from a vision that Managers/Leaders of Volunteers should be valued, well-resourced and competent professionals.  Research and stories of experience was showing managers of volunteers were (and are) struggling for recognition and for resources for professional development.   The flow-on effect was that volunteers may not get the best possible experience from their work, thus impacting on job satisfaction and recruitment, and not least on the services they provide in community organisations.  We were also keen to put paid to the self image of being just a volunteer or just a volunteer manager, phrases which carry the imputation of lesser value than others in the organisation.

What took us so long – in getting to start the project, and then three years of consultation and debate?  The original cry was Enough! following a Volunteering New Zealand conference.  Then we engaged in a collective debate to determine goals and lots of sharing skills and knowledge.  It was an empowering process, encouraging people to respond to the challenges and to think about breaching some of the barriers.  Good things take time, and given the diversity of volunteering and community organisations it was important to discuss plans as widely as possible.

Of course getting a learning pathway to publication stage is not the end of the mission.  Follow-up promotion will be needed, pressing for acceptance and action on recommended practice.  There are plenty of opportunities to meet a range of training needs, but maybe some persuasion will be needed for organisations to see the benefits of supporting professional development – through fee reimbursement or paid study leave, for example.  Managers of volunteers who may be reluctant to take on formal study, can note they could gain credits via Assessment of Prior Learning (APL).

So what will we be seeing in a year’s time?  At the very least, there will be wide-ranging conversations about recognition and training for managers of volunteers.  At the very least, organisations could be acknowledging the relevance and importance of their volunteer programmes, and considering how to enhance them.

Whether by small steps or big strides Volunteering New Zealand has started something that could end up being a whole lot bigger.

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.

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