March 3, 2013
March 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
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.
November 18, 2012
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 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.
September 30, 2012
In just five weeks’ time the International Day for Managers of Volunteers will be upon us. Planning has started already for the day’s performances.
You can find out more on the website, including resources and articles and a great list of ideas for promoting managers of volunteers. Or track the international buzz on the facebook page – there’s a couple of jazzy you-tube clips to view as well.
In New Zealand the day will begin as usual with a breakfast session hosted by Volunteer Wellington. A lot of focus will then turn to the start of Volunteering Auckland’s two-day conference, Let’s Get Connected. A highlight on the first day is the launch of Volunteering New Zealand’s Best-practice guidelines for volunteer-involving organisations, to be broadcast per webinar.
I talked about this year’s slogan a couple of months ago: Leaders of Volunteers: Who Else Could Do That? Now take a look at the poster and see just what an awesome person the manager of volunteers can be.
For example, the Community Organiser (known some decades ago as Professional Dissenter) and the Social Entrepreneur might be unfamiliar labels – but that’s what you do when getting people to work together in a team, or for your cause. Right?
You may have doubts about being a visionary, but by heck you are always looking ahead and figuring the next steps in a programme, or how to engage the super-skills a volunteer is offering. Come on – you know you are a Seer.
And when you add up all the labels on this list, there’s only one summary: Miracle Worker.
You are a Miracle Worker because
- you create something out of nothing more than the offer of goodwill;
- you can bind together diverse interests, personalities and cultures to work in a common cause;
- you own a know how / can do belief in the organisation’s vision and mission; and
- you are an achiever, despite many people lacking full understanding of volunteering and what your role entails.
Now all of this is fine and good, and we can roll over for another year. Except don’t you just wish we could see a few more steps towards regular recognition and support for professional development? In New Zealand the Best Practice Guidelines are a start, and watch out for the Learning and Development Pathway to come early next year. But these are practice issues, and I am thinking more about the professional association that could speak as one voice on our behalf.
In our region that association is AAMOV – the Australasian Association for Managers of Volunteers.
Professional associations for managers of volunteers have not had a good track record over past years, but do not let that put you off. You want to get recognition, acknowledgement of your training and qualifications? You want your expertise recognised in a halfway decent salary? You want somebody to be able to speak out on your behalf, to be a champion of your occupation? Support AAMOV so they can support and promote your interests.
Because it is through collective strength that we can make achievements in
- promoting best practice for Managers of Volunteers
- providing pathways for professional development
- providing opportunities for peer support
- developing strategic relations with government, non-government organisations and the business sector.
The annual AAMOV Manager of Excellence Award offers an example of best practice, and one small step towards public recognition of the importance of good management of volunteers.
Let’s celebrate on November 5, as the poster says, the work of those “who inspire, empower and manage the spirit of volunteerism around the world”.
September 16, 2012
There may not be too many people who recognise the heading for this post as a quote from an early 20th century Welsh poet. It is from a poem I learned early in my schooldays, lines that jaunted along in sing-song rhythm, though the theme pretty-much passed over the heads of nine and ten year-olds.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
These words are all too relevant in a Time-Poor 21st century. We are too busy doing, so focused on tasks that we overlook that other pressure to take stock, to think about the way work and what we might do better.
Don’t just do something, stand there!
I found this line a few years ago when reading about a ‘learning organisation’. Managers of volunteers, (and many other professional occupations) are also ‘learning organisms’. That is, our professional development is bound up in critical thinking, experiential learning and self-awareness – a cycle of action and reflection.
Well – Volunteering New Zealand’s on-line training programme for Managing Volunteers is a good place to start reflecting on experience. Last week a spirited bunch of people completed another 6-week course. They took on weekly assignments designed ‘to make you think’. They shared their replies on-line, including a lot about themselves and how they went about managing volunteers in their organisation. They learned from each other, and about their own skill-sets, drawing on life experience and previous employment positions. Their feedback showed they were encouraged and heartened by their participation in the course.
That’s the value of Professional Development for you, something I keep on promoting. (You can read more in my blogs on Professionalism.) You see, being professional does not always mean pinning the credentials of academic qualifications on your wall. Certificates of competency are not always the best measure of the quality of your work. But when you take the time to think, to reflect on what you are doing and what could be tweaked to improve volunteer experience or the volunteer programme and what you might need to accomplish any change – that is the mark of a true professional who understands the importance of ongoing development.
So don’t wait till it’s time for your next performance review. Make time now!
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
(The poem is Leisure, by W H Davies)
July 8, 2012
I wonder how many readers noticed the tenor of last week’s post. How the Top Tips are all about relationships, about respect and communication and support for volunteers. How being a manager and leader of volunteers is about nurturing and caring for a valuable resource. The tasks of organising and advocating and programme administration can take second place in the scheme of things.
Well – that might be a debatable premise, though we all know (don’t we?) that the best designed and administered volunteer programme is not going to get off the ground if we cannot demonstrate the attributes needed to lead a worthy team of volunteers.
That’s where the people-skills kick in. Volunteers are not ciphers on the annual accounts, nor cans of peas in the production line of a community service. Volunteering is a human service, and needs to be treated accordingly. Yet all too often organisations can overlook that managers of volunteers are human too.
I have been nudged by another blogger, when I read her take on the unintentional selflessness of managers of volunteers.
We have to be concerned with the wants and needs of clients, other staff, administration and all of our volunteers. We juggle these wants and needs continually, listening closely to volunteer stories, soothing hurt feelings, and probing for motivations. We are on heightened alert at all times.
And the ultimate message is: “Volunteer managers can run the risk of losing themselves in the job.”
Many years ago I was occupied as a ‘counsellor’. It was a volunteer position in a provincial town, for an organisation that operated nationally. In the course of this work I encountered women struggling to do their best for their families, struggling with relationships and parenting and many with poverty as well.
I could offer empathy and challenge assumptions and suggest strategies for change, and there was always a startled look of recognition when I proposed: “If you do not look after yourself then you will not be able to look after others”.
Taking care of yourself remains a concern. How can you keep in good shape to manage the volunteer programme, and to lead volunteers? Working-out at the gym might do wonders for your physical fitness and percolate the endorphins for a feel-good high. But what about the work-related niggles that keep you awake at night, the on-going tensions and responsibilities that never go away? And never mind the push-me/pull-you stresses of time management.
Back in my counselling days there was always a ‘supervisor’ to support, encourage and monitor my professional practice. I graduated to being a supervisor too, and have continued to offer a supervisory and mentoring role to people working in NFP organisations.
Years later I am still hearing the agonised stories of managers of volunteers under stress, and I am still asking the question: If you do not look after yourself then how can you look after others?
I have been plugging away at professional development and professionalism for managers of volunteers for a while now.
To avoid “losing yourself in the job” go look for formal supervision or mentoring, or get together with colleagues, either 1:1 or as a group. Or join a webinar discussion. Time spent thus can be time saved in problem-solving, in new learning, and in being forced to take time-out. The pay-off, remember, is the flow-on benefits for volunteers and for the organisation.
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’.