December 2, 2012
It’s coming to your place this week, this annual splurge to celebrate volunteers and volunteering. It’s a day established back in 1985 by United Nations General Assembly to:
Promote the work of volunteer-involving organisations and individual volunteers
Promote their contributions to development at local, national and international levels.
There’ll be civic functions and a ministerial speech or two, maybe presentations of service awards, and lots of nice words said about volunteers and their work. We can say thank you forever, and of course we do that a lot more than one day a year.
Big question: Will International Volunteer Day really be about promoting the work of volunteers and their contribution? Saying thank you is not the same as doing a marketing programme.
Second question: Has anyone thought about what volunteers really want? Has anyone asked volunteers this question? Not why they volunteer, but what volunteers think is important to get the best out of their volunteering. Because in the midst of all the applause for volunteers on December 5 I know there are continuing complaints about volunteering that does not go well.
Here is a check list for measuring expectations:
- I want to know what the organisation stands for, its mission and values – who, and what, I will be working for. And I want to know what is expected of a volunteer.
- I want information about volunteer opportunities, job outlines, training programmes and support. That training had better be good too, for me to do a good job.
- I’m happy to fill in all the forms, answer the questions, reveal all that info that can be checked via an official database, and I want to know why you want all these details, and the about the security of your security systems. (Disasters in other fields in New Zealand this year have made me a bit nervous.)
- Yes, I shall complete all the training, but please explain why that health and safety stuff is important, even if all I will be doing is making cups of tea.
- I would really like to be buddied with another volunteer until I feel confident in doing what you expect of me.
- That’s why knowing about back-up is so important. Can I get answers, have a conversation, feel free to call in when I need to?
- I want to feel included, in the volunteer programme and in the work of the organisation, so I never have to say “I’m just a volunteer”.
- It would be good to know what my rights are too. Do I dare lay a complaint if things go wrong?
- I get a real buzz when people say ‘thank you’ to me – service users and staff – and it’s also nice to go to those functions like IVDay where I can meet up with other volunteers. Please keep this up!
- I really like the newsletters that keep me informed on what is happening in the organisation, always including a bit about volunteers. And yes, I follow the Facebook page too.
That’s the basic stuff I go for when I volunteer. I had to learn it the hard way, through the best of times and the worst of times.
That’s how I learned about management of volunteers too. And I keep on learning from volunteers who tell me what they want.
One more thing – there’s a lot to be learned when volunteers are asked some good questions in an annual survey, and specially when they leave.
October 28, 2012
I can raise a smile at the slogan which is a contradiction in itself. How do you keep your cool when the job of managing volunteers is chaotic most of the time? Even the bold red colouring suggests keeping calm is about keeping the lid on stress that is best kept out of the chaos.
Lest you think I am indulging in cynicism, let me start again.
In the list of knowledge, skills and attributes for a management position I have never seen any hint of a required ability to manage stress (in self and others). Yes I know stress comes with the territory whatever the field of management, but why should it be reported so frequently by managers of volunteers?
There could be a number of reasons:
- Position responsibilities have not been properly scoped, leading to task overload
- The appointee is not adequately qualified or experienced for the position
- No proper induction
- No professional development programme
- No volunteer policy to give meaning and direction to the volunteer programme
- Senior management fail to understand and appreciate the value of the volunteering
These factors are organisational matters: feeling stressed and overwhelmed under these circumstances does not derive from personal shortcomings.
Raising questions about extending part-time hours or engaging administration assistance too often gets the reply (after the standard ‘lack of resources’ response): Make a case to justify increasing the budget for the volunteer programme. It’s not hard to guess what happens then: I haven’t got time, and I’m too tired. A few months later there is another notch to score in rate of turnovers for the position.
We could, in the face of adversity, Keep Calm and Drink Tea. Or we could Keep Calm and just Carry On. Volunteers deserve more, and they need good management and effective leadership.
There is no denying the role is diverse and demanding. The art of multi-tasking, being multi-skilled and with demonstrable leadership qualities turn the job into something that could be called ‘multi-management’.
That’s where a tool-kit of Survival Strategies is useful. The load gets lighter when it is shared:
- Engage volunteers for administration support
- Establish volunteer team leader positions for support and communication with volunteers
- Recruit or train-up volunteers to interview new applicants, or introduce group-screening
- Seek out allies within the organisation to help promote and advocate for volunteers
- Check out Volunteer Centre training opportunities and make a point of attending
- Find a mentor, or join a mentoring group
Adopting some or all of these strategies will then give a little space to address organisation shortcomings regarding volunteering and its management. Further help will be available very soon: Volunteering New Zealand will launch Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations on International Volunteer Managers’ Day, November 5. Join the webinar to learn more.
Nobody has ever said being a manager of volunteers is an easy job. But there are many people who love the work, and who make it a long career. It’s worth the effort to make it worthwhile. That’s the spirit of managing volunteers.
July 29, 2012
I have been rabbiting on for ages about the relevance of volunteering and the importance of good management of volunteers in the community and voluntary sector. I have been on about organisations that just don’t get volunteering, about boards and management that take volunteers for granted, and who fail to recognise that volunteers might be just the true deliverers of organisation vision and values.
Volunteers live the organisation’s mission; they have organisational values at heart; and they put up their hands to work for free without expectation of a pay package or other reward.
What if, I venture to ask, what if we turn running the organisation over to volunteers?
I can hear the objections shouted down the e-waves:
- The board members / trustees are all volunteers! Isn’t that enough?
- Volunteers are part-timers, mere bit-players in service delivery
- Volunteers are unreliable, take time out, have other commitments and priorities
- Volunteers do not have the necessary professional knowledge and skills
- Come on – volunteers are not the answer to everything!
- Lots of them are merely getting work experience, or fulfilling their employer’s obligations for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
- Open Sesame to organisational chaos!
To which I respond:
- The role of Board members / Trustees is governance, overall direction and decision-making responsibility – well-placed to ensure best practice service delivery
- If you regard volunteers in your organisation as ‘bit-players’ then you do not deserve them
- Many community services are delivered entirely by volunteers – and highly valued for their standard of service
- Yes, volunteers are free to come and go: respect that freedom and you get loyalty and long-term commitment
- When volunteers know and understand why they join your organisation, they are demonstrating the real meaning of being ‘professional’, and all the knowledge and skills that go with that
- Volunteers are powerful contributors to community development, community integration, and the building of Civil Society
- And by being exposed to volunteer experience those people engaged for work experience or CSR events are likely to continue volunteering
- As for the chaos, welcome to tumultuous energy of the world of Management of Volunteers and the community and voluntary sector
What if, I ask again, what if the manager of volunteers was promoted to Chief Executive?
I can hear the gob-smacked responses from here! Sure there’s a load of extra responsibility and more things to think about. But think about it a bit more:
- The manager of volunteers is well-versed in management and leadership, especially in being responsible for more people than most Chief Executives in the community sector. [See Susan J Ellis, Non-Profit World 1986, 4/2 - Maximising the Potential of the Director of Volunteers; and 1996 – What Makes the Position of Volunteer Programme Manager (VPM) Unique? (Adapted from Chapter 4, From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program Success)]
- The manager of volunteers is creative and flexible; has to be a strategic thinker and really good at time management; has an amazing network of colleagues and game-players to call on, and really good mentor support.
- The manager of volunteers knows the organisation inside out; works across all service areas; has effective working relationships with senior managers.
- The manager of volunteers is committed to organisation mission and vision and knows how to engage volunteers to put these into practice.
You might still think I am in fantasy-land. Not so, if you read Claire Teal’s arguments about the status of management of volunteers:
[S]o many of us seem to simultaneously lament the lack of value given to our role, but also resist any real attempt to do anything about this. In many ways we seem to want to have our cake (a higher value placed on our role) and eat it too (not change anything we’re doing).
This on-going self-deprecation has to be turned around! If you really object to a volunteer take-over, or to the manager of volunteers becoming your Chief Executive, go read Betty Stalling’s counterfactuals about Volunteer Program Champions.
That is the What If challenge for organisations and their managers of volunteers. That’s the world of difference a What If question can make.
July 1, 2012
One of my pleasures these days is learning from others, while being a de facto teacher. That’s not such a contradiction of terms when you think about teaching as the means to assist and support others in their learning and in their development as managers of volunteers.
That’s what I do as tutor for the on-line introductory programme on Managing Volunteers. The core information is laid out in easy-to-read web pages (with all the nice extras of side-bars and video clips and personal experience stories). Participants are required to complete weekly assignments and to post them to the on-line forum, for all to share, and to learn from each other.
Here is what is required for the last assignment:
Think of your dealings with volunteers and give your very best tip, hint or advice – your hard won experience, some approach that really worked for you. Maybe it’s the knowledge you wish someone had told you before you had to go and find out for yourself! If you can, distil your wisdom down into a few words or a couple of sentences.
Always, this assignment generates sincere personal testimonies, showing me there is a lot of wisdom out there, and that volunteers are managed by pretty good hands. I have collated responses from the most recent course, and reproduce them below (with permission) to offer their best tips to a wider audience.
The Golden Rule
- Always treat others how you would like to be treated
- Always look for the good in other people
- Do not expect volunteers to do anything you would not do yourself
- Treat people with the respect, communication and action(s) you expect to receive.
- Be open and available
- By email
- Pick up the phone and actually talk to people
- Listen, more than you speak!
- Give feedback
- Positive interaction
- Acknowledge length of service
- Annual awards function
- Smile, say thank you, then say thank you again
Care for your Volunteers
- Encourage, reward and praise
- Make them feel special
- Take time for a chat
- Be open and available to support volunteers
- Work alongside volunteers
- Involve volunteers in staff meetings, planning and policy development
- Give volunteers a chance to contribute their views
Be creative and innovative
- Encourage skill development
- Provide opportunities for learning
- Create new positions relevant to volunteer skills and interests
- Find ways to engage with the rising numbers of young people
- Be organised
- Be consultative
- Be consistent in applying standards, and in your approach
- Show integrity to engender trust
Make Volunteering Fun! Enjoy having a good laugh!
Here are reminders of the wide scope and range of responsibilities for a Manager of Volunteers. You are not just planning and implementing a Volunteer Programme; you are not just serving the needs of the organisation. You are not ‘just’ anything! You are the leader of people who are the champions of the organisation, the go-to and can-do people who make the real difference.
I am humbled by what I learn from volunteers, and by the wealth of knowledge and skills that people bring to management of volunteers, or what they learn in short order on the job. I am also very proud to belong to an occupation that knows, without the trappings of orthodoxy, what it means to be ‘professional’.
May 13, 2012
Are you a manager, or a leader of volunteers? How would you answer such a question?
Yes, and no.
What’s the diff?
I guess most of us will skip over such a conundrum to keep focused on the important issues of recruiting and training a new bunch of volunteers. Spirited debate on management of volunteers disappears over the horizon when you are time-poor and multi-tasking and trying to prioritise today’s to-do list.
Please keep reading, because you might just find a germ to keep you motivated as a leader of volunteers.
I know, we have struggled for years to get our management skills recognised, and now we are inserting leadership in the way we talk about running volunteer programmes.
I use ‘management’ for convenience and brevity, instead of a long-hand mouthful of manager / leader / coordinator, and having to explain the differences. I use the word as a collective noun, including the notion of a ‘volunteer’ volunteer manager/coordinator.
That’s because I am a Both-And kinda person. A fence-sitter, if you must. I prefer the metaphor of a boundary-rider up on the range, being able to see both ways.
A manager needs to attend to systems and processes, to get the job done in a timely fashion by the best person, according to the organisation’s strategic plan and operational policies.
A leader needs to stimulate, encourage, inspire, facilitate and enable other people to fulfil a mission, to promote a cause, as in the organisation’s strategic plan and operational policies, as I encouraged last week.
As a both-and person I see virtue in both approaches. Management is practical and task-focused; leadership is people-centred and focused on relationships. Surely management and leadership are both important and relevant in managing volunteers? Well – Peter Drucker, the 20th century management guru, had the answer:
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
Notice how value-laden “the right things” could be, and how you have to think carefully about what you might include in such a category, and how ‘the right thing’ could be different for every organisation.
There is a huge literature on leadership. Sociologist Max Weber might have been the starting point in his classification of authority: charismatic (personality and leadership), traditional (patriarchy and feudalism) and rational-legal (bureaucracy). Contemporary theorists talk about transactional and transformational leadership styles. The former is process-driven, as in the description of a manager above. The latter is about values and purpose and meaning – about behaviour, about people and their capacity for change and their desire for development. That sounds to me more like what we do in leading volunteers.
Take Transformational Leadership one step further to Emotional Intelligence (or EQ, as it is often referred to), and this is what the characteristics of an EQ Transformational Leader might look like:
- Self Awareness – understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, and your values
- Social Skills – building rapport and relationships
- Empathy – ability to understand another persons point of view
- Motivation – a drive to succeed, to develop the best ever volunteer programme.
Yes! That’s what we do every day isn’t it? Or where you would like to be? And where peer support groups or a leadership training programme could support you into being the best leader you want to be, understanding and using the language of leadership and a whole lot more.
I have done a lot of study in my time. It included only a brief introduction to formal business management and social service administration, and that was a long time ago. Leadership never entered the frame back then. But I did learn about, and to practice, a philosophy of ‘helping people to help themselves’. It was, I thought, “leading from behind”. If you think that sounds like pushing, as I was firmly told by a colleague, think about what you have to do every day to stir and encourage volunteers, to get paid staff to give a bit of appreciation for volunteer contributions. Your praise reinforces and shapes behaviour that leads to great things for your organisation and for volunteers.
Here is the platitude you could pin on your wall:
The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his 0wn. (Benjamin Disraeli)
March 25, 2012
It’s that time of the year again. The annual awards and accolades for volunteer service are being handed out and hitting the headlines.
A few weeks ago New Zealanders of the Year were announced, and the Kiwibank Local Heroes awards are percolating around the country right now. In Christchurch 140 groups and individuals have been recognised as Earthquake Heroes. Volunteers who helped with the clean-up from the Rena oil-spill in the Bay of Plenty recently enjoyed a beach party. This weekend it is the turn to learn the winners of Trustpower National Community Awards.
I have not counted how many people are standing tall and proud. I am observing instead how volunteer service is valued and appreciated all around New Zealand, in small and large communities, urban and rural. Indeed both Kiwibank and Trustpower sponsor awards for a whole community or community group, and citations illustrate just how much collective volunteering can achieve.
The categories for these awards are not restrictive; it seems volunteers in all population groups, sector interests, and social issues can have equal chances of nomination and selection. There are few nominees in paid positions, and even fewer mentions of the major non-profit organisations. Mostly the awards go to individuals associated with informal groups, community-based and community-led, or to the collective efforts of a community organisation that would otherwise not make national headlines.
There are no Managers or Coordinators of volunteers in the line-up, but there is a great deal of leadership evident in the citations of achievements. Words like ‘passion’, ‘commitment’ and ‘inspiring’ appear quite frequently. I suspect managers of volunteers could find something to learn from these community leaders.
The best volunteering story of the year has to be that of Sam Johnson, leader of the Student Volunteer Army (SVA) which took on the muddy job of cleaning up liquefaction following the Christchurchearthquake of September 2010, and again in February 2011. I am sure he did not set out to demonstrate the art of managing spontaneous volunteering and the effectiveness of the SVA, nor to seek the crown of Young New Zealander of the Year. The achievements of Sam and his team are remarkable, and the international recognition that has followed is well-deserved. The full account of how SVA was established and what it did is available through the on-line journal e-volunteerism, here.
Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to the people who did the nominating. The awards do not and cannot account for all the volunteers who keep on keeping on giving their time, energy and skills to their communities. But the awards sure draw attention to what volunteers achieve, to the spirit of community, and to inspiring leadership.
January 29, 2012
Here is another test for your up-to-datedness. In New Zealand we use MVP in our chatter about the Volunteering NZ programme for developing Managers of Volunteers. The programme is going great guns on a Learning and Development pathway for professional development, and on organisational development for best practice in engaging with volunteers.
Some of us, and a heap of others outside our sector, will be alerted to a different interpretation of MVP. Kids at Saturday sport competitions will know what MVP stands for. Individuals in amateur and professional sport teams, local and international, glow with pride when they are accorded the accolade of MVP.
MVP = Most Valued Player.
Of course, you knew that! It’s what you tell volunteers every day, every annual celebration, every award ceremony. Now I am asking you to think again, to think about the MVP when it comes to managing volunteers in your organisation.
OK – you may not be a designated ‘manager’ for volunteers; you may be the sole employee responsible for programmes and policy and the people, the whole caboodle; or you might have to take charge of volunteers as part of other responsibilities.
The question is, regardless of whether you are a bona fide full-time, or part-time manager of volunteers, or you are yourself a volunteer coordinating and managing volunteers – whatever your role or status – how do you rate as an MVP with your organisation? You are welcome to offer your own assessment. But really, I want to hear from your board or committee, and the Executive, and from other staff.
Because, if your organisation engages volunteers in service delivery, fundraising, promotion, or whatever, the staff, the executive and the board need to appreciate and acknowledge just how much goes into recruitment, training, deployment, supervising, reviewing, programme development… and, and, and…..
Which is why you need to stand up and tell them just why managers of volunteers should be the heroes, the MVPs, of your organisation.
It may just happen that the MVP in your organisation is not you, but is identified among other people who recognise, give full credit to, hold up the banner for, that added value that volunteers bring to your organisation. That is when your organisation is on track to become a whole lot greater than the sum of its parts.
This post is the last for January, and the last until mid-March. I will be away travelling in outposts of southern China and Laos, sans mobile phone or notebook computer or anything. I hope to come back with a couple of stories on NGOs in foreign parts.