May 5, 2013
Going on three years ago I wrote about someone else’s bad volunteer experience, and regretted it ever since. Because every year this post is the most viewed, by a wide margin. Every day someone has Googled the words and they end up on my blog site. I’ve tried in several different ways to highlight what volunteers appreciate, but good news stories do not attract the same attention.
So the tales of volunteers being under-valued and unappreciated, and treated badly, continue to mount up. And now Australian volunteers are invited to register violations of their rights or inappropriate treatment.
Two problems here. One, I don’t know of any cast iron document on volunteer rights relating to ‘inappropriate treatment’. Which means, secondly, there is not much legal protection for volunteers (in New Zealand) beyond privacy and health and safety regulations and the non-discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act. ‘Volunteer rights’ are more in the realm of ethical and best practice procedures.
There are various Codes of Practice for managing volunteers. There are various Rights and Responsibilities documents outlining reciprocal obligations for volunteers and organisations. There is, if you did not know already, a Code of Ethics for managers of volunteers. In 2001 (remember that year?) a “Universal Declaration on the Profession of Leading and Managing Volunteers” was developed by an international working group, including New Zealand representation. These hallmarks of a profession are clearly not sufficiently embedded to address the wrongs experienced by volunteers.
The regulatory environment in most jurisdictions will include volunteers within health and safety, privacy and human rights. Volunteers are excluded from employment law of course, though there is a grey area when we start talking about being ‘a good employer’ (see this post).
So from a volunteer’s perspective there is not much comeback if they get bullied, or mucked around, or ignored – all that personal insult stuff that is so hard to argue. There is no formal means of redress, unless the organisation’s HR policies and their ‘good employer’ commitment includes volunteers in their complaints and disciplinary procedures, and in annual review processes which offer a two-way consideration of both the volunteer programme and volunteer contributions. To go further into ‘workplace protection’ would jeopardise the meaning and status of volunteering.
In 2009 serious breaches of trust between volunteers and the organisations they volunteered for led to Volunteering England’s Volunteer Rights Inquiry. The outcome called on organisations to sign up to the 3R Promise, promoting and protecting and taking responsibility for volunteer experience and raising standards of management of volunteers, and reconciliation when things go wrong. Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations is another model, outlining opportunities for organisation development and change to develop and maintain a programme that offers volunteers the best possible experience.
But the fundamentals of that best experience is based on good communication, effective working relationships, high standards of training and induction, ongoing support, demonstrative appreciation and being valued for contributing to the organisation’s mission and to the community. (Have I missed anything here?) These are matters of professional standards and ethics and values. They are ‘people-centred’, involving relationships of mutual respect and trust.
If we listened to ‘what volunteers want’ we would not have to set up complaint registers or to promise commitments, or guidelines for organisations. If we listened to volunteers we would not be pushed to concern for protecting their rights. We might even become the profession we ought to be.
And – we’ll get more pictures of happy and satisfied volunteers.
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’.
May 27, 2012
Those of you who receive the Updates on Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Project will notice a gathering momentum. The Learning and Development work-stream, charged with creating a professional development pathway, is making good progress towards a significant milestone.
As a reminder, the two key areas of the group’s work programme are:
- To identify key competencies for leaders and managers of volunteers
- To establish a process for enabling Assessment of Prior Learning (APL)
The part that has taken the most time and effort is figuring out how to frame Competencies. A whole issue of e-volunteerism (October 2011) devoted to ‘credentialing’, with contributors from all around the world, could not produce a consensus. It was not simply a matter of establishing options for certification, nor in identifying particular tasks or skills. Much of the debate roved around the meaning of competence and its application to the business of managing volunteers.
The Learning and Development group is not engaged in determining the detail of what knowledge, skills and attributes signify competencies for managers of volunteers. That way overlooks the huge diversity in organisations, responsibilities, communities and sector interests. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula. Prescription could also become stifling for people wanting to move beyond standard practice, for people wanting to carve out new territory in leading volunteers.
The principal concern for the group is to identify a learning pathway, a road-map that offers clear entry points, recognition of prior learning, indications for further learning, and for leadership extension. The pathway is open to all non-profit organisations, will offer something to all managers and leaders of volunteers, regardless of scope and scale of the organisation.
Think of a motorway with on-ramps, and passing lanes, and exits to different destinations. Think of short journeys for immediate and relevant development needs, or taking the long road to a higher goal. This learning pathway will have signposts and markers for different options, and room for personal choice and direction.
The Wellington Leadership Group met a couple of weeks ago to consider a draft proposal for the motorway. We are impressed with the breadth and depth of the work that has gone into compiling the documents. We are excited by the range of ways the model could be used, and how useful it will be as a development guide for both new and experienced managers of volunteers.
The draft competency framework will be available for consultation in a matter of weeks. Getting feedback is one small step towards the significant milestone that will benefit all managers and leaders of volunteers inNew Zealand, and their organisations.
November 20, 2011
It has to be the chestnut season, because here is another topic much featured in the annals of discussion among managers of volunteers.
The Old Hands refer to Recruitment & Retention as MV101, one of the first steps in learning about management of volunteers.
The Newbies ask questions like:
- Why am I having trouble finding enough volunteers for our programme?
- What is the best way to recruit volunteers?
- Why do they go through all the screening and training and then drop out?
- Why do volunteers just disappear without giving notice? They just don’t come back.
The Old Hands will ask:
- What sort of paper-work have you got for your programme? Volunteer policy? Job descriptions? Rights and responsibilities statement, or a code of practice? Screening Process? Training programme organised? Volunteer performance review?
- Do you have a budget to offer celebrations of volunteer achievement, rewards and appreciation?
- Do you have a bag of ways to appreciate volunteer contributions to your organisation?
- When volunteers leave can you catch up with them for an exit interview, even if it’s a fill-in form per e-mail?
And the Old Hands’ advice will be to get all this in place before you start thinking about recruiting volunteers. Then they will add:
You want to get the best possible people to volunteer for your organisation?
- You make sure you spell out what is expected via a job description and all that organisational stuff, plus all the support systems available to volunteers
- You target the most likely resource population
- You go ask them (Simple, eh?)
- You get creative when a prospective volunteer offers skills not previously considered for your organisation – be innovative and enterprising.
You want to keep your volunteers engaged?
- Make sure they have a good experience!
- Say ‘thank you’ in as many ways as you can think of, and then some!
- Respect and value volunteer work, and make sure paid staff do too!
- Volunteers will stick around when you understand your role is more than nuts-and-bolts management, that you need to be a people-person, and how your leadership skills will ensure the best possible volunteer programme.
Now the Newbies cry “But how do we get there?”
Ummm… The Old Hands pause. They have to think about where they came from:
- The school of hard knocks
- The sink-or-swim school
- The long-and-winding trail of a varied employment history
- Training and education and professional qualifications in something completely different from managing volunteers
- Lots of experience as a volunteer, even plucked from the pool to be a manager
- Because it was added to a paid position when nobody else would do it
OK. The Old Hands pause again.
You’re lucky, they say to the Newbies. Training opportunities for managers of volunteers are available, in a sort of pick-and-mix way. You can pick through
- Volunteer Centre forums / seminars / workshops
- Qualifications offered by industry or vocational programmes such as Tafe (Australia), NVQ (UK) or ITOs (NZ).
- Programmes like Australasian Retreat for Managers of Volunteers, or a raft of Webinars being offered in the UK and US
- On-line applied training through energizeinc.com or CVA and Volunteering NZ
- A ‘relevant’ University level Certificate / Degree / Post-Graduate Diploma
- And don’t forget learning from colleagues, getting into mentoring and peer supervision.
Beware! The Old Hands have not quite finished. We have not yet sorted what it takes to be a properly credentialed manager of volunteers. Not the last word anyway. You may have some ideas, and you need to go look at the current issue of e-Volunteerism to see what is going on, and to make sure you have your say.
Here ends a shorthand version of resolving the trials of Recruitment & Retention of volunteers. Don’t let it put you off!
November 13, 2011
Observant readers will notice a recurring theme over the past couple of months. The word ‘networking’ keeps popping up in various contexts, mostly when I am talking about professionalism. Go have a look here if you need reminding.
So let me give another plug for the virtue of networking as a tool of trade for a manager of volunteers.
It’s Network or Perish, like the book says. Snappy title, evoking a parallel with the academic obligation to ‘publish or perish’. Of course Network or Perish is written for all those Sales and Marketing managers, the lobbyists and PR people. (Read a review here.) Which sounds like networking fulfils the adage “it’s who you know, not what you know”.
Which is not quite how I see networking creating advantage for managers of volunteers.
Networking in MV-speak is what happens at local workshops and seminars, at Volunteer Centre lunchtime sessions, at the functions that recognise and celebrate volunteering and IMVDay. Networking is what happens when you find allies within large institutions and organisations who know and understand volunteering and the importance of good management. Networking is what happens through social media connections and subscribing to all those newsletters that stream to your in-box.
What you get from these occasions is opportunity to:
- exchange information, opinions and ideas
- learn from others
- discuss issues, so that “a trouble shared becomes a trouble halved”
- appreciate the presence of a collegial community, even a sense of solidarity with others for the role of manager of volunteers.
You can go further, by linking on-line with a global network of volunteer organisations, peak bodies, resource directories, research, training programmes, bloggers and newsgroups. There is a virtual spider-web out there to take you as far as you want to go.
The pay-off for being a good networker is:
- personal and professional development
- potential to enhance volunteer contributions to your organisation
- learning new tricks to raise the level of competence (yours, and the volunteers)
There is another trick or two about networking to learn from this definition:
Effective business networking is the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another.
Ignore the reference to business. It’s the relationship that matters, being genuine and authentic. And even if you don’t like the reference to ‘advertisements’ think about this in terms of being in the same boat, belonging to a really important professional occupation.
Because great volunteer programmes do not fall out of the sky, and we need to hang in together to ensure the best possible management practice.
Here is a personal testimony supporting informal networking:
For me an invaluable experience is in seeking the opportunity to meet for a chat over a cup of coffee with volunteer managers/coordinators who work in similar organizations. It’s a great way of finding out about what you are doing right, or doing wrong and how you can do things better. But, best of all there is always laughter or grumbles when there has been recognition of circumstances or behaviours that you realize you all share – and then discussion how these issues are best managed!
Or go find on-line discussion groups to see how they can offer instant information, or illuminate an issue and teach you heaps you had never thought about.
Why should networking be important for managers of volunteers?
- Because you are an entrepreneur, a mover-and-shaker (or a pusher-and-shover), in a social enterprise.
- Because you are in the business of community development.
- Which means that in between everything else you are promoting your organisation’s mission as well as attracting volunteers and running a great volunteer programme.
- Because you are a communicator par excellence.
- Because you know your community, and how to tap into community resources.
And if you are thinking “That’s not me” or “I can’t do this!”, take heart from some good advice offered to the introverts among us.
We are not likely to ‘perish’ from a lack of networking skills, but we sure have lots to gain.
October 16, 2011
If last week’s effort has not started you thinking, let me whisper in your ear: what does it mean to ‘be professional’, and how will you know?
I have suggested some pointers already:
- Being trained for the job via a formal qualification
- Knowing about and applying a code of conduct and a code of ethics
- Being open to ongoing learning – via seminars and workshops, and ‘supervision’
These might be important, but not altogether sufficient. What else?
Susan J Ellis has been promoting professionalism in managing volunteers for more than thirty years. In a 1997 Hot Topic she listed her criteria for being professional:
- Professional association
- Collective action
“No one will buy you professional status. You either have it or you don’t. But it is different from competence on the job. It means affiliation with a field and a willingness to work together to build that field.” [My emphasis]
Since then the evidence shows we have struggled to sustain professional associations. Yes, there are plenty of training programmes, yet few managers where I come from are sporting a widely recognised accredited qualification. Collective action? Too often I am hearing about the ‘too busy / no time’ syndrome.
On the plus side, there is a growing accumulation of literature and published research, via (for example) UK’s Institute for Volunteer Research, Volunteering Australia’s Journal on Volunteering. Yet these are more about volunteering than managing and leading volunteers, and much less about ‘being professional’.
I can learn about good practice principles and processes by tapping into websites like Volunteering England’s Good Practice Bank, or the huge catalogue of resources offered by Volunteer Canada. I can follow various electronic newsletters and newsgroups that will keep me informed about the world of managing volunteers. Or I can follow the bloggers, and there are plenty of people out there offering their wisdom or droll perspectives. Maybe we are ‘the very model of a modern major-[manager]’, changing the criteria for a profession to meet the conditions of working in the community and voluntary sectors, and we are demonstrating our affiliation with a field by doing it on-line.
Conditions like the range of job titles, the range of programmes offered (many with specialist interests), the range of responsibilities (size and scope of programme, numbers of volunteers) – all these make for a complexity not usually encountered in other professions. Not to mention being paid or unpaid, employed full-time or part-time, and variations in organisational status.
By my reckoning managers of volunteers are still at the stage of asking questions like Who are we? What do we want? And how do we get there? And then the real question: “Does it matter?”
Well, I have never been one to follow prescriptive advice, but I do believe being professional does matter. Because being professional relates closely to the quality of Volunteer Management: one size prescription of management tasks may not fit all organisations, but the quality of management does!
Of course ‘quality’, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. And it is really difficult in something like managing volunteers, in all its variations, to put parameters around quality.
Here’s my stab at a list of factors critical to quality performance:
- Knowing and understanding and living by one’s beliefs and values – because the original meaning of the verb ‘to profess’ was ‘to declare one’s beliefs and values’. There is an inherent sense of vocation in what we do.
- Knowing about ‘community’, and supporting the collective good of civil society. There are a dozen different terms, and we can learn much about the meaning and practice of communal values from Maori and other indigenous cultures.
- These two points lead to a third: the sharing of knowledge and practice principles with other agencies and organisations. We may not have a
codified body of knowledge like traditional professions, but we are surely keen to share experience and accumulated wisdom with others.
Get these lined up and presto, we have commitment to the field and a willingness to work together.
Earlier this year Susan Ellis laid down a challenge: Leaders of volunteers UNITE! In New Zealand this week there is an opportunity to get involved when the AGM of Australasian Association of Volunteer Administrators takes place. Every month there is a Volunteer Centre or a community collective near you running a workshop or a forum to share information and ideas. Every month there will be somewhere, some sort of training on offer. There is no excuse for remaining isolated or ignorant. There is every encouragement to be proudly professional in our own way.