May 19, 2013
A member of parliament resigned this week, in disgrace. For ten days the news media communicated to the public arena all the ill-chosen words that were spoken, emailed and twittered, plus as many details as they could extract from the Prime Minister. The MP could not have managed better his exit from the political stage. All because what he said, the way he said it and the medium he used compounded his errors. His resignation and departure saves the coalition government’s slender majority, and shows us all how critical the choice of words and the way they are said can be.
Put a bunch of managers of volunteers together, ask them to nominate the most important principle in leading volunteers, and 80% will tell you it’s Communication.
Of course! Except Communication is a really big carpet-bag word, stuffed full of a range of meanings and processes and practice – and technologies. It’s time we unpacked the implications of the word and understand how it is best used in the context of a volunteer programme.
Communication is about Exchange of Information Yes, the sending and receiving of accurate information is all-important to help volunteers into the organisation and for on-going retention. Ensuring information about volunteers and the volunteer programme is spread to other staff and senior managers is also important. And – being timely in responding to queries and messages: there’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting to hear back from someone, even if it is simply an acknowledgement your message has been received.
Because Communication is also about Relationships It’s about creating personal connections, getting to know people and their circumstances. It’s about getting alongside paid staff, creating goodwill, and their understanding and appreciation of volunteer work. And you don’t get good relationships going without being a Listener. You have to be really genuine in meeting and greeting and appreciating volunteers – they will see through formulaic responses very smartly.
Communication is about inter-connectedness Communication is the way to create links with communities, to network with other managers of volunteers, and to open up intra-organisation channels. Beware the pitfalls of ‘talking past each other’ whether in cross-cultural communication or in everyday exchanges. It’s the intimacy of interpersonal interaction that counts towards real connections.
Communication is a leadership dynamic A leader’s support, encouragement, enthusiasm and inspiration do not happen in isolation – by definition there is always a following team. So a leader is tuned to know which buttons to press and when and what words to use, and how to draw in the reluctant player, or to spur the confidence of the shy and retiring volunteer, or to find new ways to develop volunteer talents. A good communicator will also demonstrate the value of a volunteer programme to the organisation.
You cannot not communicate There’s a truism for you! The experts can demonstrate how just 10% of a message is conveyed in words. The rest is non-verbal, the body language, the tone of voice, the facial expression. So even a tight-lipped poker-face is sending a message, whether they mean to or not.
Hang on a minute – a heck of a lot of our communication these days is not face-to-face. You’ve got everything from formal letters, newsletters and written planning and policy papers, to email and social media, to websites and webinars. So the written word is still a primary tool for communicating ideas and information.
Being a communicator and minding our language comes with the territory of managing volunteers. I reckon we could teach foolish MPs a thing or two.
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.
April 7, 2013
A recently reported research study is titled Fears, constraints and contracts: the democratic reality for New Zealand’s community and voluntary sector. The results are hard-hitting, lifting a lid on current experience for organisations whose voice has been largely silenced by the political shift over the past forty years, to neo-liberal economics and the out-sourcing of social services to the community sector.
The survey covers both NGO and not-for-profit (NFP) organisations, all fields of social service provision, and both large national organisations and small community groups with no paid staff and no external funding. The promise of confidentiality and privacy allowed a freedom to respond to questions in an open and direct way. The results will not be surprising to those of us engaged in the community and voluntary sector, but the tenor and directness of the quoted statements leave us in no doubt of a depth of disappointment and frustration behind the words. For example (p 57):
NGOs play a unique and crucial role in New Zealand. Their contribution to political decision-making in NZ is currently undervalued and under-utilised. They are under-resourced and therefore undermined. (Emphasis added)
Small wonder these words deserved underscoring.
The report deserves to be read in full, to get the picture of how we have come to this pretty pass, and to note the references to earlier studies raising questions and alarm bells.
Those with long memories will recall the shifts we had to make in New Zealand from the early 1980s. Let me remind you:
A simple ‘begging letter’ to a philanthropic or trust fund changed to formal application requirements and for reports on spending and demonstrable benefits or gains. Organisations were forced to hire people to spend their days making funding applications, thus increasing overhead costs. And philanthropic funders got into cahoots to determine which social issue of the moment deserved the most attention.
Contracts for health and social services devolved from government responsibility might have brought funding security, but the new environment came with fish-hooks like health and safety regulations; like additional responsibilities and accountability for volunteer governance, not to mention compliance costs. What was previously a mission-based civil society endeavour changed to dancing to the tune of government direction.
Consultation quickly became a dirty word as proposals were presented with invitation to comment, only to find policy directions had already been decided. Very little notice was taken of community responses no matter the expressed outrage. Neither were organisations given time or resources to present community views to government.
These are the bones now cemented into the community and voluntary sector. Fundraising has become a professional occupation, accompanied by the marketing experts so that organisations compete for the charity dollar and corporate sponsorship. Contracts with government are confidential and a gagging clause ensures docile compliance. These days it seems a consultation document is issued one week and turned into a political or regulatory edict just a few weeks later.
The government’s ‘relationship’ with the community and voluntary sector bound in the Kia Tutahi document counts for nothing against the control imposed by the contracting environment. Adding to this disregard of communities the Charities Commission is disestablished, its responsibilities now determined and regulated by a government department. The rules change and over a thousand organisations lose their charitable status and their ability to raise funds via the carrot of tax rebates. Advocacy is out, so longstanding organisations like Greenpeace and National Council of Women (NCW) are no longer deemed charities. In ‘the good old days’ NCW was a political force to be reckoned with, up there with Federated Farmers and the Federation of Labour.
Here is the sound of the silence of democratic dissent.
And this reality happens, the report’s findings say, regardless of which political party heads the government. It’s an undemocratic reality when all the power is in the hands of government, when the voice of the sector is not valued, nor respected.
A few people will recognise a parallel universe in the way organisations can undervalue the work of managers of volunteers, and under-appreciate volunteer contributions to oiling social wheels and to maintaining community wellbeing in many different spheres. I could suggest this is a function of a trickle-down pecking order. I would sooner we took a stand to exercise our democratic voice, for volunteers and for the organisations that serve our communities.
There was plenty of encouragement to do just this at the recent Australasian Retreat for Advanced Management of Volunteers. Focus Up! was a key message. Recognise our roles as Leaders, Educators, Movers and Shakers and do something! Even if it means getting out of comfort zones, causing a stir, sticking heads over parapets. We owe it to volunteers and to our communities.
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 25, 2012
Scenario: you are interviewing a candidate for a position to manage volunteers, and you want to check out the level of passion they would bring to the role. How would you frame the questions?
I am not looking for answers right now. I’m going off on a tangent to investigate the meanings of ‘passion’ and ‘passionate’. I want to question why these words should feature so frequently in the context of volunteering.
They turn up in promotional material, in organisation newsletters and in recruitment adverts. ‘Thank you’ speeches at Volunteer recognition functions are peppered with references to appreciation for volunteers’ ‘passion’. Volunteer Centres and national umbrella organisations and even international leaders in our field find ways to insert ‘passion’ and ‘passionate’ into their writing. Even government publications don’t shy away from such emotive language where volunteers are involved.
Here are a few examples of slogans you can find without looking very far:
Show us your passion
Your passion, our nation, volunteer now!
Volunteer leadership is “passion management.”
They are examples of language used to attract and encourage volunteering, and to proclaim the good intentions and aspirations of managers of volunteers.
‘Passion’ means an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. It comes from the Latin word pati meaning ‘to suffer’. OK, I know how ‘intense desire’ can be experienced as suffering, though this interpretation is better applied outside the province of volunteering and management of volunteers, despite frustrations experienced too often by the latter. The passion of volunteering and the management of volunteer services is more about ‘intense enthusiasm’.
There is nothing the matter with being passionate, and to be fair, the word is also prominent in the for-profit sector. But we do need to be clear what we mean, otherwise the word becomes a cliché and its currency devalued. ‘Passion’ risks turning into a platitude, like ‘commitment’ and ‘making a difference’. ‘Passion’ is a word too big and too important to turn into a shorthand slogan.
When we use ‘passion’ and ‘volunteering’ in the same breath we are referring to values held about people and communities and belonging and relationships, about service and mutual support, and about meeting needs. Values are those beliefs and principles that are prized and cherished, and they are demonstrated every day in our behaviour. We don’t have to declare we are passionate about volunteering: we can show you, all the time.
Being passionate about volunteering is relative to the cause of the organisation and its mission. That’s how many a community organisation started in the first place. Of course these days people can be more pragmatic about why they volunteer, yet there’s many a story about less-than-enthusiastic volunteers finding their ‘passion’ and becoming ardent supporters of an organisation.
Why should ‘passion’ be an important attribute for managers of volunteers? For starters you have to be pretty keen (if not ‘intensely enthusiastic’) about volunteering to make the most of the position. Passion contributes to raised performance standards, job satisfaction, and effective leadership of volunteers – which may include harnessing their passion when it becomes indiscriminate. Sometimes passion is needed in gaining a recognised stake in the organisation.
But what if you overplay your hand? There’s a fine line between being enthusiastic and becoming a fanatic. It’s a line between getting people to listen to well-reasoned arguments and in the way the emotional speech can turn into an eye-rolling, here-she-goes-again response. Too much overt passion can end up like Oscar Wilde’s aphorism: Each man kills the thing he loves.
So when it comes to interviewing prospective managers of volunteers I would be steering away from emotional rhetoric and asking about practical applications. Examples of practice will demonstrate just how ‘committed’ to ‘making a difference’ and the degree of ‘passion’ is held by the candidate.
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.
November 4, 2012
This is the week to bring out the banners and balloons, put on the party gear and to show off yourself and what you do in managing volunteers. Self-promotion if you like, and I like self-promotion – because if you cannot value yourself and your achievements then it is sometimes hard for other people to see the value of your work.
So going crazy now and again is a way to take pride in being a manager of volunteers. You know – leading teams, juggling 100 people, 100 motivations, 100 job descriptions, with a zero budget for a priceless resource. As the You-tube clips have been saying, Who else could do that!
[Mumble mumble, and a bit of rhubarb] What’s that? You are uncomfortable with displays of self-praise? It’s not right to put yourself ahead of volunteers?
Don’t you see? Everything you do as a leader of volunteers is promoting their interests. Standing up for them, pushing their barrow every which way you can is demonstrating the importance of your work. You know the power of volunteering and just how much volunteers contribute to the organisation’s mission. So take some credit for getting the programme going and for maintaining the standards.
And notice, every now and again, how volunteers appreciate your leadership. They might be small efforts, like encouraging them in their work, giving praise and thanks for a job well done, and spending time to listen to their stories – but you bet they will be noticed. Make up a poster board to record all the compliments that come your way, even the little things like thanks – for returning my call / your prompt reply / your welcoming smile.
And take time, at least on one day a year, to say Yes, I did well, and I am well pleased. Because you’re worth it.
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.