April 13, 2014

Managing Volunteers: The Extreme Sport?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managing Volunteers, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:07 am by Sue Hine

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A couple of weeks ago I was at a meeting where a consultant trainer in mentoring declared managing volunteers is an extreme sport. Wow! We are up there with all those dare-devils who go base-jumping, running rapids, going higher, deeper, longer and faster in places I would never venture. I know I’ve advocated being adventurous, taking a risk or two, like bungy-jumping, so we can learn from mistakes, push boundaries and seize opportunities for innovation and creative programme development. Extreme sport? That is something else.

‘Extreme’ in a sporting context means Very High Risk, and death is not an uncommon outcome for participants. I have never heard of a manager of volunteers dying on the job, unless you count burn-out and stress-related resignations. So I go digging for more insight into this comment.

A sport is labelled extreme when there are a high number of uncontrollable variables. Yes, I understand how weather and terrain – wind, snow, water and mountains – inevitably affect the outcome of an activity. Combine uncertainty and risk with human errors of judgement and disaster is a sure result.

So how can the job of managing volunteers be included as an extreme sport?

First there is the sheer number of variables. Numbers of volunteers, their age ranges, the cultural mix, the range of experience and skills they bring as well as the roles they undertake, their flexible time commitment – all these are add up to a mountain of detail that needs to be absorbed into the management process.

Then there are the uncontrolled variables. Human nature in its infinite variety means desired behaviour is not always predictable or guaranteed. This uncertainty applies to relations with staff and organisation management as much as to volunteers. Neither are managers of volunteers immune from errors of judgement.

The environment, in this case the community and social and political context of the organisation can also be unpredictable. In a world of constant change how can we be certain of the efficacy of this policy or that strategy and the intended outcome of a particular programme?

By these conditions I reckon management of volunteers qualifies for membership in the Extreme Sports Hall of Fame. Welcome to the club!

You can’t quite see how you make the grade? Sure, you would never find me gliding in a wing-suit or scaling high rise buildings and doing back-flips on a narrow board when I get to the top. But think about the basic tasks for management of volunteers: they are pretty-much focused on minimising risk. Policies and processes to cover recruitment, training, on-going support and communication – all these are designed to ensure the safety of volunteers and the organisation and as far as possible a programme that functions without hitches.

But of course the hitches and glitches turn up, every day. No amount of planning can guarantee a smooth path. Volunteers and organisations, let me remind you, do not run on prescribed channels like cans of peas on a manufacturing production line. So the constant juggling of multiple demands, the flexibility, the political nous, the mental stamina – all desirable qualities for managers of volunteers – add up to create an extreme sports participant.

I have chosen surfing extreme waves as my image of an extreme sport. After all, managing volunteers is about riding the highs and lows of a turbulent environment, and we keep on climbing back on board after the tumbles.

April 6, 2014

Variations on a Theme

Posted in Language, Trends in Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , at 3:45 am by Sue Hine

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I am no musician, though I enjoy listening to a variety of music. This week I have come across two new variations on the theme of volunteering. When you think about it there’s quite a catalogue of words playing on ‘volunteering’. Let me introduce you to the old, the new and my own inventions.

Volun-Told – I start with this term, because that’s how I got involved in volunteering, years and years ago when my mother roped me in to help with a fund-raising event. I was about eight years old, and you did what mother said in those days. It was a while before I understood fully what volunteering is about. Today it’s ‘work-for-the-dole’ and community service sentencing that keeps ‘volun-told’ alive.

Volun-Tourist – Another familiar term, referring to those (like Grey Nomads) who take up a spot of volunteering while on holiday, or to spend time helping on a development programme in foreign parts. Nice work, as long as there is benefit to local people.

Micro-volunteer – The new kid off the block, offering multiple opportunities for time-poor people, for virtually anything. But not well understood in my neck of the woods.

Shadow-volunteer – Here’s a newcomer, courtesy of Gisborne Volunteer Centre (March 31). Could be a new way to induct new volunteers, or a ‘try-and-buy’ recruitment option.

Volunt-Hear – From Volunteer Canada, running a hotline for North America’s National Volunteer week, for people to shout out about volunteers and their efforts. Possible spin-off: organisations create in-house opportunities to appreciate volunteers.

Now here are my novel terms:

Vol-Intern – Bring this word into common parlance and we would be rid of arguments on whether an intern is a volunteer or not.

Volun-Corp – Perhaps it doesn’t have the same ring of importance as ‘corporate volunteers’, but at least it puts the volunteering context up front.

Volun-Finders – Raising cheers for all the Volunteer Centres that facilitate volunteer engagement between organisations and the volunteer aspirant.

Volun-Funders – They’re a special breed, going all out to support organisations of their choice. They are the elves to the Fundraising Manager’s shoemaker.

Volun-Tired and Volunt-Tried – Here is a bit of word-play, referring to the long-standing volunteer, or to the volunteer on trial (and/or found wanting). Or maybe the volunteer who contacted the organisation and never got a reply; or the volunteer who has not enjoyed a good experience. Take your pick.

Volun-Steering – I like this one, referring to the manager/leader of volunteers. Not only steering the programme, but negotiating organisation waters that can sometimes be troubled. Could apply equally to volunteer peak bodies.

There is one word omitted from this list: I refuse to include ‘Vollies’. It may be a colloquial term of endearment, but I see it more as word used in a patronising tone, one you might apply to a domestic pet.

That’s enough to go on with; there are plenty more variations to conjure up (suggestions welcomed!). ‘Volunteering’ is a generalist term, covering a multitude of activities and roles. It’s a bit like an orchestra, a collection of very different instruments that collectively can make a beautiful noise. Let’s keep it that way, because in being inclusive we can demonstrate the strength of volunteer actions and the organisations that engage with volunteers. We might yet “become the change we want to see in the world”.

March 30, 2014

All About Community

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Celebrations, Civil Society, Language, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , , at 3:02 am by Sue Hine

High%20res%20logo%20no%20date[1] This weekend ‘Neighbours Day’ was celebrated throughout New Zealand Aotearoa. Two days of street parties, suburban fairs and celebrations – and they will continue throughout the coming week. I went to a party hosted on my suburb’s community marae, Nga Hau e Wha o Papararangi. City Council dignitaries and the local MP attended and addressed participants. There was entertainment and games, a hangi, and display stalls from local organisations.

Why would we need a week-long event to get to know our neighbours? Well, it matters, says the blurb on the Neighbours’ Day website, because:

Through fostering better connected neighbourhoods and more everyday ‘neighbourliness’, Kiwi communities can be stronger and more resilient and the wellbeing of individuals, family/whanau and community will be significantly enhanced.

Yes – I understand the importance of resilience and wellbeing: security for our citizenry is a matter of public policy. Yes – I know we are many generations distant from the days of closed communities and in-grained neighbourliness. But I wish we could pay more attention to what we mean by ‘community’.

That word ‘community’ carries a whole lot of baggage, has thousands of applications and is freely used and abused.

As a generalised reference ‘the community’ is so vague and broad the term becomes meaningless. ‘The Community and Voluntary Sector’ is likewise a broad-brush term, but at least we can understand it in relation to the Public and Private Sectors – though we too often forget that people engaged in the latter are also members of ‘the community’.

Community organisations can talk up ‘Community Engagement’, without recognising they are part of that community themselves. Governments also like to engage with communities to consult on new policies, though the outcome of consultation is not always to the community’s liking.

Let us also acknowledge the diversity of the Community and Voluntary Sector. We refer to NGOs and NFPs, to community groups and associations and to charities.* Let us note that the Voluntary sector serves the community – that is, serves a particular community of interest. And it’s this range of interests that we ignore when we refer to them with the blanket term ‘community’.

Trouble is, says a local political commentator, our sense of community has withered because of diversity. He is referring to the decline of ‘people like me’ sense of community in favour of the unequal relations of ‘us and them’. There we have yet another interpretation of ‘community’ where you can be either in, or out.

Social and political histories point to the division of labour, the evolution of the state, the development of mass urban society as significant contributions to the fragmentation of our sense of ‘community’. At the same time the human aspiration of being and belonging has not gone away. The idea of ‘community’ is a contrast to the impersonality of large scale organisation, whether it is political, economic or social: we use ‘community’ as a counterpoint to the alienation of modern life. **

My Neighbours Day gathering brought out nostalgic reminiscences for the old days, the time before urban migration and mobility of the latter half of the 20th century, before the busyness of modern living kicked in, before health and safety regulations proscribed the freedoms we enjoyed in childhood. There is no going back, even though we cling to the old ideas. Neighbours Day activities remind us there are still new ways to interpret new meanings of ‘community’.

…………….

* For classification of New Zealand’s non-profit sector see this publication.

** See Plant, Raymond (1974) Community and Ideology, an Essay in Applied Social Philosophy London: Routledge, Keegan Paul Ltd.

March 2, 2014

Ask a Silly Question…

Posted in Civil Society, Language, Motivation, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 3:00 am by Sue Hine

questions_thumb[1][1]I’ve written quite a lot about definitions and meanings of ‘volunteering’ over my blogging years.  And I have to keep thinking about questions of ‘who is a volunteer’ as the word’s connotations expand to embrace corporate volunteering, internships and community service.  Now I have been snared yet again into debating with myself about the work I have been doing this week.

For the past few days I have been helping my daughter get her house in order for putting it up for sale.  She did not ask for my help: I offered.  I did not receive any monetary payment.  I gave my time freely without expectations of reward.  I gained enormous satisfaction from cleaning up the garden and washing windows, and seeing the improvements I achieved.  And I toned up a lot of muscles I hadn’t used in a while.  I got lots of hugs of appreciation.  I would volunteer likewise for friends and neighbours too.  And I have done the same sort of work when engaged as a volunteer for an organisation supporting new settlers in my community.

By many accounts, what I have described fits generally accepted criteria for ‘volunteering’ – except when I go looking, I find variations in definitions and additional conditions to determine the use of ‘volunteer’.

Volunteering England would exclude my efforts to help my daughter from definitions of volunteering.  It’s ‘informal volunteering’, which extends to all such unpaid help to someone who is not a relative.

So I need to understand there is a distinction between being a ‘helper’ and a ‘volunteer’, and a  formal / informal dichotomy of volunteering, even when I am doing the same sort of work.

Volunteering Australia goes further, in restricting ‘formal’ volunteering to an activity which takes place through not-for-profit organisations, and in designated volunteer positions only.  That sounds like a higher status is attached to formal volunteering.  Or, that the work I used to do freely and on my own initiative in my local community has become institutionalised as an economic resource, as unpaid labour.

That’s when warning signs light up contradictions.  NGO contracts with government rarely include funding for the costs of volunteer programmes, like a manager’s salary or reimbursement for volunteer out-of-pocket expenses.  Neither does ‘formal volunteering’ guarantee recognition and status for volunteers and the manager of the volunteer programme within the organisation.

In the meantime my informal volunteering continues to go un-noticed and uncounted.  A colleague reminded me of the words ‘natural support’ to describe all that child-rearing, house-keeping, befriending, good neighbourliness that goes on and on in our communities.  So if all that volunteering is ‘natural’, does that mean there is something ‘unnatural’ about formal volunteering?  That might sound flippant, but I have to ask the question.

One place where volunteering is not designated formal or informal is the data collected during a Census.  In New Zealand we are asked to record details about ‘unpaid work’, those activities performed in the four weeks before the census date, without payment, for people living either in the same household, or outside.  Statistics NZ describe volunteering as:

“Voluntary work supports groups and organisations whose activities contribute to social well-being. Volunteers give their time and skills to help others and give back to their community.”

Maybe this description is too simplistic for purists.  Yet the concept of ‘unpaid work’ enables an overall account of the scope of freely given activity in our communities wherever and however it occurs.  ‘Formal volunteering’ is a label that has evolved with the growth of the NGO sector.  It is a pity that institutional understanding and appreciation of volunteering and its management within organisations has not grown with the label.

Some years ago Andy Fryar raised similar questions about definitions of volunteering:

  • Why do we continually have to define volunteering only within the constraints of ‘formal’ volunteering?
  • Why can’t we create a definition that covers all types of volunteer involvement?

These questions are not so silly, and there are no easy or even silly answers.  We are continually tripped by meanings attached to different types of volunteer involvement.  It’s worth having a look at Volunteering Vocabulary (see inset p5) to see how many ways there are to use ‘volunteer’.

‘Volunteering’ is a word that has grown in use and expanded in meaning alongside social, political and economic change in our communities.  To confine ‘freely given time, skills and energy for the common good’ within the boundaries of a rigid definition could restrict our willingness to give so freely.

January 26, 2014

In Confidence

Posted in Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism tagged , , , , at 3:14 am by Sue Hine

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In all the on-line chatter between managers of volunteers it seems strange we do not raise ethical issues very often.  Yes we can get hot under the collar about job substitution or whether mandatory service is really volunteering – but I do not recall discussion about privacy and confidentiality or codes of conduct.  It’s like we – and volunteers – have a built-in recognition and sense of ethical responsibility for such matters.

Yet I am quite certain this does not mean volunteers are all perfect and we never have cause to deal with breaches of privacy.

I spent the first half of my life in a small town where my name and pedigree were widely known.  My face was familiar to storekeepers without having to present an ID card.  Youthful indiscretions could be reported to parents before I got home.  Later, my children were bewildered by the number of pauses I made in walking down the street to greet and chat with all the people I knew.  Back then the idea of individual privacy and confidentiality was nothing to worry about.  Why would you, in such an open and inclusive community?

Time passes.  Population increases and urban migration ramp up the pace of living.  Global technology speeds up communication and multiplies the means of interaction – and also the opportunities for information-sharing.  The value of personal privacy is coded into legal rights and protections, and no voluntary agency can afford to be without a privacy policy, which can include reference to personal information held on volunteer databases.  Confidentiality and privacy boundaries will be included in volunteer training.  It’s all about trust and integrity, especially when volunteers are engaged in people support services.  Confidentiality is also important to maintaining the integrity of the organisation and its standing in the community.

But still there are slips of the tongue, sometimes unthinking.  Sometimes there is gossip-mongering.  So what is a manager of volunteers to do?

A story is fed back to me that a couple of volunteers were overheard chatting about their work in the queue at the supermarket.  The volunteers are not identified, and there is no major transgression evident.  I choose to put up a sign in the volunteers’ office:  Loose Lips Sinks Ships, and in the next newsletter I include a reminder of the importance of protecting client privacy.  I can also reinforce this message at a volunteer support meeting.

On another occasion a staff member hears a volunteer in conversation with a service user about another part of her volunteer work, disclosing information about another client’s condition.  When the volunteer is known I say thank goodness for the volunteer code of conduct.   I can remind her of the clause about confidentiality, and about the potential impact of the private information getting back to the client.  It’s not quite a disciplinary matter, and the direct approach is usually sufficient to avoid a repeat.

In an ideal world people would not need to be reminded of this ‘duty of care’.  We would know the limits of what to share, with whom and how.  Even better, we can learn to say quite firmly We shouldn’t be talking about this, or Hey, that information is private.  And when I say I can’t tell you – it would be breaching the Privacy Act, I am sending a clear reminder of the rules we need to follow.

And then you will point out the paradox.  In the world of journalism and internet social media there are no boundaries.  We chase the gossip about celebrities and crave the latest details of personal and public tragedies.  Social media offer a platform for disclosing personal information and sharing it widely.  My small town village pump gossip has not gone away – it’s gone global, along with inherent risks of abuse.

Yet privacy law remains a benchmark for organisations, their staff and volunteers.  Personal information is given by the individual; it is held for organisation purposes; and disclosure elsewhere needs individual permission.   Let’s keep it that way, as a principle of our professional ethics.

January 18, 2014

Unseasonable Doubt

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Trends in Volunteering tagged , , at 10:43 pm by Sue Hine

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On New Year’s Day 2014 I was far from windy and wet Wellington.  Beachcombing on a wide bay under a hot sun was just the tonic to clear the head.

I had a few things to sort out about developments in volunteering, social services and the community sector.

I have been mightily impressed with the promotion of volunteering during the past year.  The work of Volunteering New Zealand for National Volunteer Week (June) and the International Days in November and December was truly encouraging.  The model of NGO partnership between Volunteering New Zealand, ANGOA and Social Development Partners is one to follow for other organisations, for economies of scale if nothing else.  I would like to think such a partnership will enhance the status and influence of the community sector on political decision-making.  I also noted how managers of volunteers got to find greater confidence in undertaking their roles, and the value of meeting and learning from each other – the VNZ Conference in November was testimony to that.

But the devil in my mind is in a bigger picture, not the detail.

The growth and status of NGOs                After thirty years of neoliberal economic policies and devolution of government I should not be surprised to find organisations tending to act like corporate businesses.  Of course they needed to lift their game, to become more businesslike in governance and financial management and to comply with all the regulations that filtered through government contracts and obligations to philanthropic funding.  Of course time and changing social conditions can alter an organisation’s focus on its mission and vision.  But the trend to seek sponsors and partnership arrangements with private sector business, and the rise and rise of corporate employee volunteering is another dimension that risks turning NGOs into ‘subsidiary businesses’.

Three matters of concern arise from this trend.

Ongoing lack of understanding about volunteering  The commercial and consumerist world has trouble accommodating the idea and practice of time, skill and effort given freely for the benefit of others.  We get platitudes of appreciation, not genuine understanding.  It seems the wealth of volunteer action cannot be counted therefore it must be of little value.  Which explains why so many managers of volunteers remain poorly paid and of low status, while fundraising and marketing personnel are the rising stars.  The resulting outcome is to find pursuit of sustainable funding sources taking priority over connections with the communities organisations purport to serve.

Volunteering is a utilitarian tool  Volunteers have all sorts of reasons to volunteer, and it’s good to be open about wanting work experience, social interaction, practice in speaking English, to be job-seeking or doing court-ordered community service.  Altruism has always involved a reciprocal benefit, even if it was a simple feel-good factor.  But we are close to perceiving volunteering as an asset to be exploited, to be traded like any other commodity.

Two-tiered non-profit sector  All this business development for NGOs has led to overlooking what is happening in the rest of the sector.  We should not need to be reminded there are thousands of not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) keeping communities keeping on mostly without the benefit of government contracts and philanthropists’ largesse.  Outspoken concern from writers, researchers and commentators on poverty and inequality during the past year has highlighted the distance between government rhetoric and social reality in many parts of our communities.  The words ‘democratic disconnect’ resonate, emphasising voter apathy and a populace focussed more on survival needs than on gathering people power.  ‘Democratic deficit’ highlights government opposition to criticism and a lack of real consultation which pressures NGOs into silence for fear of jeopardising their funding arrangements.

So where does all this leave managers of volunteers?  In the spirit of New Year optimism I think there are heaps of indicators for a positive future.  The role of managing volunteers might have emerged in concert with the growth of NGOs and the sector, yet over the last ten years the profession has made huge strides in defining the role and articulating best practice.  Technology and the internet have fostered global and local communication.  There are opportunities for training and development.  There is an established sense of identity and collegial fraternity among practitioners which extends to supporting people new to the role.

The challenge for now will be to protect volunteer programmes from the encroachments of utilitarian managerialism, to maintain that spirit of volunteering we have taken as an article of faith for generations.  Or shall we accept a radical shift in our ideology and go with the flow of larger interests?

October 27, 2013

Staying Power

Posted in Motivation, Trends in Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , at 2:45 am by Sue Hine

20131018000812028867-originalNews headlines this week have not been pretty stories.  Blue Mountain country in New South Wales (Australia) has been devastated by the worst bush fires in forty-five years.  The pictures of a wall of flame are succeeded by burnt-out homes and grieving residents.  Acres of bush are laid waste.

The Rural Fire Service has rightly won praise and gratitude for its heroic efforts, working 12-hour shifts and staying overnight in dense bushland when required, snatching a rest when they can.  Need I add that most of them are volunteers?

I don’t think I would make a good fireman.  I’d have to get really fit, do hard yards at training, and wear all that clobber, and work long hours mostly at unfriendly times, cope with emotional and distraught people and be involved in those big disasters that turn up without warning.  It’s a big commitment.

Only twice in my volunteering career have I been asked to commit to a minimum length of service.  One was for two years, and another for just six months.  The latter, in reality, was just time to complete the basic assignment, and it took another two years before it was really done.  I’ve no doubt the rationale was to ensure a return from the investment in training and support, and to send a message that this was not a fly-by-night undertaking.

Should we spell out expectations for length of volunteer service?

The stories of loyal and long-serving volunteers are legend.  It is not unusual to find people who have been working for the same organisation for twenty-five or thirty years.  When people resign within five years it is usually for legitimate reasons: going overseas, relocating to another town, a change of employment, having babies, or a family crisis.

We all know what keeps volunteers keeping on, so my observations suggest we are doing things right: ensure volunteers enjoy a good experience with your organisation and they will stay loyal and enthusiastic.  That ‘good experience’ may vary according to organisation mission and the work of the volunteer programme.

Key indicators to maintain volunteer commitment would include:

  • Philosophy and policies that integrate volunteers throughout the organisation
  • Good relations with staff and senior management
  • Strong relationship with the manager of volunteers
  • Congruence between personal values and organisation mission and values
  • Ongoing communication, in various forms
  • Options for skill development
  • Recognition and rewards that highlight non-monetary value of volunteer contributions

Now I start thinking about that trend noted over the past couple of years, that preference for time-limited, task-focussed volunteering.  Sure, this sort of volunteering has always been available, particularly for fund-raising or events and projects, and a creative manager of volunteers knows how to find ways to engage a skilled volunteer for a few weeks or months.

I am not hearing about increases in turnover of volunteers, but if that should happen – if there is a fall-off in staying power – then prospects could be dire for volunteer programmes based around on-going services and relationships.  I can’t imagine a volunteer fireman being taken on for a six month stint.  Nor a volunteer for ambulance services, or civil defence.  Short-term volunteering would make unviable those programmes that revolve around support relationships and befriending vulnerable people.

Or does the interest in short-term volunteering stem from the rise of practical motivations, like graduate internships, work experience, ‘obligatory’ volunteering and corporate volunteering?  Is it attracting a different sort of volunteer from the stayers?

Should I be worried?

October 6, 2013

Why Managers of Volunteers Love their Work

Posted in Leadership, Leading Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 2:54 am by Sue Hine

thinking-out-loud-banner[1]Ask a group of managers of volunteers what they like most about their job and nine out of ten will say “working with volunteers”.  I forget what the tenth person says, because I have started thinking and wondering why and how volunteers make their manager feel so good about their work.

It’s the people thing, isn’t it?  Those interpersonal relationships, the people skills.  We get to know volunteers in quite intimate ways, which enhances our ability to involve them effectively, to encourage skill development, to help move them to greater performance.  It’s a virtuous circle, really.

It’s also a bit soft and mushy.  There has to be more than simply being on good terms with each other.

Enlightenment has come to me this week from several different sources.

  1. Look at the words for Volunteering New Zealand’s whakatauki for IVM Day:

Ma mua ka kete a muri,  Those who lead give sight to those who follow;

Ma muri ka ora a mua.   Those who follow give life to those who lead.

There’s that mutual benefit of the reciprocal relationship again, a self-reinforcing cycle.  There are also imputations of ‘leadership’: leaders enable their followers; they model desired behaviour and practice.  And followers affirm their belief in and support for their leaders.

So people who manage volunteer programmes are really leaders.  Yes, we know that – but what are the ingredients of leadership?

2.  That’s where a recent issue of NZ Listener spotlighting ‘influentials’ offers some leads.

“Today’s complexities demand new forms of leadership and influence across private, public and non-profit spheres.”  Great to have the community sector included here, with examples like the Student Army efforts post-Christchurch earthquake.  “This is an example of the kind of bottom-up, adaptive influence that can channel the resources and energy of ordinary people with something to contribute, and turn it into effective action that improves lives” (Brad Jackson, co-director of New Zealand Leadership Institute).

Yes, a manager can be influential in the way volunteers achieve effective action, so ‘influence’ is surely one part of a leader’s tool-kit.  I am cautious about using this word, however, because ‘influence’ has connotations of that P-word that can produce hugely negative results.  But when there is a common cause it is not so difficult to channel ‘the resources and energy of ordinary people’.  I know how the common cause also facilitates harnessing the diversity of ages and skills and interests among volunteers.

There is a huge literature on leadership, including masses of research, though not a lot spills into the volunteer management domain.  Contemporary thinking appears to be less concerned with individual personality profiles: it’s the ability to take the initiative and responsibility for the purpose of the cause that matters.  So the role of the leader is to ensure common interests, shared goals and collective commitment: these drivers have been forever the means for development of community organisations.  There is also a shift from individual accountability to mutual accountability, a change from ‘I know best’ to ‘we know how’, says Chris Johnson, Auckland leadership consultant. Leadership becomes Teamwork, as the America’s Cup racing in San Francisco has demonstrated – by both Team New Zealand and Oracle.  The role of each team member is integrated into a seamless collaboration.

Yes again: these points will be familiar to managers of volunteers.

However, on the employment front research shows that only about 20% of the average workforce is ‘highly engaged’ – that is, motivated and committed to the organisation’s purpose (according to Johnson).  That would never happen in a volunteer programme: if volunteers are not highly engaged they will be walking elsewhere.  And there we have a very big distinction between paid staff and volunteers.

Today’s leaders have to trust the people who work for them (Johnson).  Again, this is nothing new to managers of volunteers.  Trust is probably the biggest attribute in their tool-box, contributing to their positive relationships with volunteers.  We know that too, don’t we?

3.  Here is affirmation for managers of volunteers, coming from an unexpected quarter:

Volunteering – A Great Way To Learn Real Executive Leadership

Young corporate managers are urged to do volunteer work early in their careers, because the type of leadership at the top is akin to being a leader of volunteers. It is not about carrots and sticks but about persuasion and getting people to grasp and follow your vision. [Emphasis added]

The article acknowledges the challenging environment for managers in volunteer organisations.  It refers to ‘permission leadership’, in which managers have to earn the trust and respect of people they are supervising.

Here’s the virtuous circle again.  Relationships do matter: leadership (and management) is all about people skills.

So what? I hear people thinking, if not saying.  We’ve always known the importance of ‘people skills’, and by extension the precepts of leadership.

I am thinking aloud, you understand, unravelling the obvious, just a little.  What is still an open question is the detail in ‘people skills’ and how we get to learn them.  Where can I find some answers?

September 15, 2013

When is a Volunteer Not a Volunteer?

Posted in Language, Leading Volunteers, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 3:44 am by Sue Hine

definitionAn excerpt from a NFP newsletter dropped into my inbox recently.  The headline read We are not Volunteers.  The author preferred the term unpaid appointees on the basis that such people were ‘nominated’ by community organisations, rather than ‘putting up their hands’ to volunteer.  In all other respects these unpaid appointees followed standard volunteer programme practices in being interviewed, attending a training programme and orientation.  On completion of all this they were gazetted and sworn in to undertake their roles as Justices of the Peace.  That was the bit that put them beyond being called volunteers.

Oh dear – here we go again on the definitions and principles of volunteering.

Are volunteers for emergency services, for surf life-saving and fisheries protection to be deemed a different category from JPs?

For a couple of years a debate on whether unpaid interns are volunteers has been rumbling around internet channels.  See recent updates in this UK post, and this article in e-volunteerism. 

What about the work-for-the-dole programmes, and community sentencing?  That’s ‘compulsory’ work for nothing, people say, not volunteering!

When I give my time and accept tickets for a concert in return is that volunteering, or incentivised something?  Time-Banking raises another curly question: for all its popularity it’s more about exchanging services, a trading arrangement, isn’t it?

Then there’s the business of ‘informal volunteering’, being a family care giver for aged or disabled people, or being a good neighbour.  This sort of volunteering simply goes under the radar, uncounted and unrecognised.  But it is suggested that foster care, which is paid, could be termed volunteering under a ‘moral contract’.

And even if organisations involved in advocacy and activism are not eligible for charitable status, their workforce embodies significant volunteer commitment.

Some of these instances were debated in a panel discussion on the scope and definition of volunteering at the recent Australian National Conference on Volunteering.  Opinions diverged of course, but there was a point of agreement on the way forward:

Overcoming the undervaluing of volunteering is the outstanding challenge

This undervaluing of volunteering is evident in both NFP and Government sectors, said the CEO of Volunteering South Australia/Northern Territory.  Recent research in New Zealand drew similar conclusions.  It does not take much to see the flow-on effect in low respect and appreciation for the work of managers of volunteers.

So debate and discussion on what constitutes volunteering is a very big red herring.  The real issue here is finding a voice that speaks out about the value of volunteering, and I don’t mean in economic terms.  Volunteering is a force to be reckoned with, and we owe it to volunteers and our communities to demonstrate why and how.

The collective “We” includes organisations and their leaders, the movers and shakers in our communities, and managers of volunteers.  By creating alliances and developing collaboration we will find a unified voice, telling the story of volunteers and volunteering like it is.

There’s encouragement to be found in the latest Thoughtful Thursdays posting.  Susan Ellis acknowledges the busyness of managers of volunteers and reviews some reasons why we do not speak out.  The real challenge is to find ways to present volunteering as a vital part of civil society, within organisations as well as in the wider community.

June 23, 2013

Volunteer Recognition (4) The Week that Was

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , , at 4:37 am by Sue Hine

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What a blast!  What a storm of praise, press releases, and parties.  Interviews erupted all over news media and the internet, whether it was in print, on radio, television, or webinars and Youtube clips.   Facebook and Twitter were full-on with accounts from Volunteer Centres and volunteer organisations.  They just kept on coming.  National Volunteer Week has never been like this!

Even when a destructive Antarctic storm roared “like an express train without a driver” through the country volunteers could still capture a headline:

Emergency Volunteers in Action for National Volunteer Week

Was all this hype over-the-top?  Too much?  There can never be too much promotion for volunteering!  Even non-volunteers in my brief informal poll have picked up key messages about the social and economic contribution of volunteers to New Zealand.

Government recognition came from the Prime Minister and MPs, and local councils issued press statements in support.  The Minister of Health presented five awards to volunteers in the health and disability sector for outstanding achievement.  There were more awards from the Minister of Police for public safety volunteers.  There was recognition from all sectors – sport, health, emergency services, public safety, schools, conservation, and social services.  There were awards, certificates, ceremonies and celebrations – for long service; outstanding achievement, and for excellence.  A volunteer expo promoted local organisations to attract new recruits; there were displays in libraries and community centres.  Promotion and publicity was innovative and creative throughout the week.

I was not tracking everything, and my engagement in the week’s events was confined to Wellington.  Here is my selection for the Top Twelve features of the week (not in any particular order):

Best headline: Let’s Celebrate People Power (Wellington City Council)

Best reported quote: (On TV1 Breakfast Show) Maya said she volunteers on crossing patrol because she a young leader at the school and volunteering is what leaders do.

Best innovation: Volunteering NZ daily webinars, on Resourcing the community with partners; on Te Reo, the Language of Volunteering in Aotearoa; on Recognition and Rewards; on Reimbursing Volunteers; and on the Rights of the Volunteer.  (Now available on VNZ’s YouTube channel)

Best story: A fishy story, one that illustrates the best of volunteer service and awarding recognition.

Best TV interview:  Dr Louise Lee, on employee volunteering (plus associated press releases)

Best plug for management of volunteers:  Conference presentation on Volunteer Recruitment (Dr Karen Smith)

Closely followed by : Competencies for Managers of Volunteers (coming in early the previous week); and the launch of on-line Guidelines for Managers of Volunteer Services, from Hospice New Zealand.

Best Thank You message (specially for going beyond individual volunteer contribution): New Zealand Fire Service –“Your tireless commitment to protecting lives and property has helped to build safe, strong and caring communities.  We are also grateful to whanau, friends and employers for supporting our volunteers to be on call to help, whenever help is needed.”

Runner-up:  “Volunteers  – thank you for your smile” – Auckland Council.

Best function: Nikau Foundation Corporate Challenge celebration – to see the suits sincerely committed to joining with the volunteer sector, and being impressed by what volunteering can achieve.

(There were a lot of other functions up and down the country, but I could not get to all of them!)

Best under-the-radar recognition:  a School Newsletter acknowledging volunteer contribution to the sports programme:  “…. thanking the staff, parents and members of the local community who give up their time to share their talents and experiences with our students.”

Best testimonials for volunteering: a compilation of feel-good stories direct from volunteers, presented by Volunteer Nelson.

Best Action Plan:  Our Volunteer Capital, Wellington City Council’s effort to recognise and grow volunteer groups, launched this week.

For recognition of multi-volunteer roles:  Taupo Hospice

So National Volunteer Week and all the public recognition for volunteering is done and dusted for this year, even though we all know volunteering does not stop with the end of this week.  Go follow-up the links here to catch up on the week’s happenings, or just to re-live the experience.

I would like to think ‘recognition’ of volunteers continues on in the form of regular ‘appreciation’.  Recognition is that formal stuff; appreciation is the daily acknowledgement, the regular thank you to each and every volunteer no matter how large or small their contributions might be.  You show your appreciation in behaviour, your tone of voice, the gesture, the time you take to listen with attention, and the way you communicate and keep in touch with volunteers.  Appreciation is remembering a volunteer’s name, including volunteers in organisational planning and development, understanding the ‘added value’ and ‘service enhancement’ and the role volunteers play as ‘ambassadors’ for your organisation in the community.  Volunteering is indeed People Power:  He Tangata! He Tangata! He Tangata!

…………………

This post is the last for a few weeks:  I am out of the country until August.

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