April 14, 2013
For too long I have been listening to these words, how “they” just do not understand volunteering and management of volunteers. Now I am sitting up to ask the question “What do we mean by getting volunteering – what do we want ‘them’ to get?”
And I’m running into trouble when I go looking for answers.
I could recite the litany of volunteer motivations; describe the history of community organisations and their rise to national and corporate status. I could tell the stories of volunteers, and there are millions to document ‘making the difference’ for individuals and communities. I’m not so keen on citing the record of hours worked and assumed $$ contributions, because that information does not seem to wash further than input/output statistics in the annual accounts – volunteers are just another resource to draw on. And anyway, we have gone down all these roads, many times.
What is it, what is the real deal that would get staff and organisation executives and government departments and corporate bosses to open their eyes to a real Ah-Ha moment about volunteering?
For starters it would help if “they”
Have had personal experience of volunteering and an understanding of the relevance of community in the wider fields of political and social action.
Work in an organisation structure and culture where volunteers are physically located in staff work-spaces, and which integrates the volunteer programme in service delivery plans and processes.
Employee volunteering is another option to open eyes to the richness and diversity of community organisations, and to their needs.
Yet these experiences do not seem to work for everyone in all places. The stories keep recurring about a lack of support for volunteers and their managers, and about organisations not taking volunteering seriously. It’s a low cost investment, nice to have, but not something to be worried about nor included when it comes to planning and strategic development.
Of course what the bosses and bureaucrats should be doing is paying attention to Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations.
It is encouraging to note increasing awareness and activism among managers of volunteers and associated groups. We are talking up impact and outcome measurement of volunteer services, advocating for volunteering within our organisations. But following this path is simply trying to prove the worth of volunteering on “their” terms, a linear logic that can be described with numbers on paper.
If only “they” could look the other way to see the true value of volunteering. Here is what I would want “them” to see:
Volunteers complement the organisation’s delivery of services.
Volunteers add value to services, providing extras that are never going to be funded, and which enhance the holistic experience of users/clients.
Volunteers are ambassadors for the organisation. With a good experience volunteers can be the best marketing agent ever. If that experience is not so good they will do the worst possible damage to your reputation in the community, making it difficult to recruit new volunteers, and putting significant limitations on the success of fundraising projects.
Community organisations are said to be driven by values. No matter the mission you will find words like respect, dignity, communication, family-whanau/people-centred, community inclusiveness featuring on the masthead. Values represent beliefs and attitudes we hold dear, and we know them by the way they are exhibited in behaviour. Regardless of the reasons why people volunteer their behaviour generally reflects the ideals of the organisation.
So when we try to measure volunteering according to business plans and key performance indicators and impact measurement we get stuck on things like courtesy and goodwill, like relationships and understanding, like social connections and community development and individual and collective strengths. Volunteering is about people, by people and for people.
The value of volunteering is not less than the organisation’s ability to reach targets and to show a return on investment. Volunteering is a different sort of value. So, for “them” to ‘get volunteering’ requires understanding a different culture.
The beauty of understanding and accepting cultural difference is the new relationship that forms, based on each others’ strengths and a willingness to learn how to work together. That’s when I shall know “they” really get volunteering.
July 29, 2012
I have been rabbiting on for ages about the relevance of volunteering and the importance of good management of volunteers in the community and voluntary sector. I have been on about organisations that just don’t get volunteering, about boards and management that take volunteers for granted, and who fail to recognise that volunteers might be just the true deliverers of organisation vision and values.
Volunteers live the organisation’s mission; they have organisational values at heart; and they put up their hands to work for free without expectation of a pay package or other reward.
What if, I venture to ask, what if we turn running the organisation over to volunteers?
I can hear the objections shouted down the e-waves:
- The board members / trustees are all volunteers! Isn’t that enough?
- Volunteers are part-timers, mere bit-players in service delivery
- Volunteers are unreliable, take time out, have other commitments and priorities
- Volunteers do not have the necessary professional knowledge and skills
- Come on – volunteers are not the answer to everything!
- Lots of them are merely getting work experience, or fulfilling their employer’s obligations for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
- Open Sesame to organisational chaos!
To which I respond:
- The role of Board members / Trustees is governance, overall direction and decision-making responsibility – well-placed to ensure best practice service delivery
- If you regard volunteers in your organisation as ‘bit-players’ then you do not deserve them
- Many community services are delivered entirely by volunteers – and highly valued for their standard of service
- Yes, volunteers are free to come and go: respect that freedom and you get loyalty and long-term commitment
- When volunteers know and understand why they join your organisation, they are demonstrating the real meaning of being ‘professional’, and all the knowledge and skills that go with that
- Volunteers are powerful contributors to community development, community integration, and the building of Civil Society
- And by being exposed to volunteer experience those people engaged for work experience or CSR events are likely to continue volunteering
- As for the chaos, welcome to tumultuous energy of the world of Management of Volunteers and the community and voluntary sector
What if, I ask again, what if the manager of volunteers was promoted to Chief Executive?
I can hear the gob-smacked responses from here! Sure there’s a load of extra responsibility and more things to think about. But think about it a bit more:
- The manager of volunteers is well-versed in management and leadership, especially in being responsible for more people than most Chief Executives in the community sector. [See Susan J Ellis, Non-Profit World 1986, 4/2 - Maximising the Potential of the Director of Volunteers; and 1996 – What Makes the Position of Volunteer Programme Manager (VPM) Unique? (Adapted from Chapter 4, From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program Success)]
- The manager of volunteers is creative and flexible; has to be a strategic thinker and really good at time management; has an amazing network of colleagues and game-players to call on, and really good mentor support.
- The manager of volunteers knows the organisation inside out; works across all service areas; has effective working relationships with senior managers.
- The manager of volunteers is committed to organisation mission and vision and knows how to engage volunteers to put these into practice.
You might still think I am in fantasy-land. Not so, if you read Claire Teal’s arguments about the status of management of volunteers:
[S]o many of us seem to simultaneously lament the lack of value given to our role, but also resist any real attempt to do anything about this. In many ways we seem to want to have our cake (a higher value placed on our role) and eat it too (not change anything we’re doing).
This on-going self-deprecation has to be turned around! If you really object to a volunteer take-over, or to the manager of volunteers becoming your Chief Executive, go read Betty Stalling’s counterfactuals about Volunteer Program Champions.
That is the What If challenge for organisations and their managers of volunteers. That’s the world of difference a What If question can make.
June 4, 2012
It’s such a simple question. Quite straightforward. Should be easy-as to give me an answer.
Why does your organisation involve volunteers?
The thing is, I have put a veto on telling me It’s to save money dummy! Because I think if that’s the simple answer then why do we employ paid staff? Why not run the whole organisation on Volunteer Power? And if you say No way – impossible! then the ‘saving money’ argument sounds more like that ‘exploitation’ word.
Why does your organisation involve volunteers? This question is not an idle thought thrown up to make mischief. Let me offer a few leads to think about.
There are major agencies in New Zealand providing professional emergency services which include significant volunteer personnel. Think Fire Service, Ambulance, Civil Defence. Search and Rescue missions are likely to be staffed mostly by volunteers. The Government’s Department of Conservation includes an extensive volunteer programme. Yet there are no volunteers wearing a Police uniform.
There are national not-for-profit organisations with annual budgets and turnover and paid staff numbers that put them in the large business category. Think Red Cross, Cancer Society, IHC and the Churches, for example. All of these organisations engage large numbers of volunteers.
Why? Why involve volunteers?
Do volunteers offer something beyond the capacity of paid staff? Is there something special in the quality of volunteer work? Is there something unique about volunteers, apart from working for free?
I bet there is no-one out there is saying “The reason my organisation engages volunteers is to help them get work experience, learn new skills, enjoy social connections, or simply because they want ‘to help’”.
Praises are heaped on volunteers, during annual Volunteer Awareness Week, at special functions, in organisation newsletters and in Annual Reports, and in daily ‘thank you’ effusiveness. Is this recognition a means to engender organisation loyalty, and commitment to participate in the next fundraising appeal? Or does the praise indicate genuine understanding and acknowledgement of the real contributions volunteers are making to the organisation?
I am asking these questions because when you truly understand why volunteers are involved in your organisation then
- Volunteers are integrated in organisational structure and policy
- There are no (invisible or otherwise) barriers between volunteers and paid staff
- Volunteers have a specific function in service delivery: they are not handmaidens
- Volunteer contributions are acknowledged in genuine and meaningful ways
- The role of manager of volunteers finds its rightful place
- And (not least) there will be no more disgruntled volunteers dissing your organisation, and I will no longer find my blog on a bad volunteer experience getting so many hits.
There is a whole lot more that could be said, about history and the evolution of volunteering, about politics and the reality of service contracts, about professionalisation of fundraising (cake stalls don’t cut it any more), and about current trends in volunteering and the rise and rise of corporate volunteering and business social responsibility. Right now, the important thing is to get the reasoning straight, so the organisation can make more of itself, and so the volunteers make something real of the work they do.
May 13, 2012
Are you a manager, or a leader of volunteers? How would you answer such a question?
Yes, and no.
What’s the diff?
I guess most of us will skip over such a conundrum to keep focused on the important issues of recruiting and training a new bunch of volunteers. Spirited debate on management of volunteers disappears over the horizon when you are time-poor and multi-tasking and trying to prioritise today’s to-do list.
Please keep reading, because you might just find a germ to keep you motivated as a leader of volunteers.
I know, we have struggled for years to get our management skills recognised, and now we are inserting leadership in the way we talk about running volunteer programmes.
I use ‘management’ for convenience and brevity, instead of a long-hand mouthful of manager / leader / coordinator, and having to explain the differences. I use the word as a collective noun, including the notion of a ‘volunteer’ volunteer manager/coordinator.
That’s because I am a Both-And kinda person. A fence-sitter, if you must. I prefer the metaphor of a boundary-rider up on the range, being able to see both ways.
A manager needs to attend to systems and processes, to get the job done in a timely fashion by the best person, according to the organisation’s strategic plan and operational policies.
A leader needs to stimulate, encourage, inspire, facilitate and enable other people to fulfil a mission, to promote a cause, as in the organisation’s strategic plan and operational policies, as I encouraged last week.
As a both-and person I see virtue in both approaches. Management is practical and task-focused; leadership is people-centred and focused on relationships. Surely management and leadership are both important and relevant in managing volunteers? Well – Peter Drucker, the 20th century management guru, had the answer:
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
Notice how value-laden “the right things” could be, and how you have to think carefully about what you might include in such a category, and how ‘the right thing’ could be different for every organisation.
There is a huge literature on leadership. Sociologist Max Weber might have been the starting point in his classification of authority: charismatic (personality and leadership), traditional (patriarchy and feudalism) and rational-legal (bureaucracy). Contemporary theorists talk about transactional and transformational leadership styles. The former is process-driven, as in the description of a manager above. The latter is about values and purpose and meaning – about behaviour, about people and their capacity for change and their desire for development. That sounds to me more like what we do in leading volunteers.
Take Transformational Leadership one step further to Emotional Intelligence (or EQ, as it is often referred to), and this is what the characteristics of an EQ Transformational Leader might look like:
- Self Awareness – understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, and your values
- Social Skills – building rapport and relationships
- Empathy – ability to understand another persons point of view
- Motivation – a drive to succeed, to develop the best ever volunteer programme.
Yes! That’s what we do every day isn’t it? Or where you would like to be? And where peer support groups or a leadership training programme could support you into being the best leader you want to be, understanding and using the language of leadership and a whole lot more.
I have done a lot of study in my time. It included only a brief introduction to formal business management and social service administration, and that was a long time ago. Leadership never entered the frame back then. But I did learn about, and to practice, a philosophy of ‘helping people to help themselves’. It was, I thought, “leading from behind”. If you think that sounds like pushing, as I was firmly told by a colleague, think about what you have to do every day to stir and encourage volunteers, to get paid staff to give a bit of appreciation for volunteer contributions. Your praise reinforces and shapes behaviour that leads to great things for your organisation and for volunteers.
Here is the platitude you could pin on your wall:
The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his 0wn. (Benjamin Disraeli)
April 22, 2012
It’s always enlightening to bone up on organisation missions and visions. The office reception or the organisation’s website or letterhead is the place to go. That’s where I also look out for the values, the words that act as the moral compass to guide the organisation’s operation and practice.
Many NPF organisations claim they are Values-Driven, drawing on their foundation manifesto. But organisation values are not exclusive to our sector. Basic manuals on organisation development will include reference to the importance of developing a Mission, Vision and Values. Corporate businesses and government departments can spend time and a lot of $$ pinning the right words and statements to their mastheads. The mission describes the intention of an organisation’s design and plan, and the vision defines the desired end-state. The values express ends and means underpinning both mission and vision.
That is, the abstract words that name our values become real in our behaviour, the way we do business and in our relationships.
One writer* calls values “the DNA of an organisation, the glue that holds culture, leadership and strategy together”. So even if there are no values identified they will be operating under the radar. Much better to have them up front.
Many an organisation has failed because it got diverted from its mission and the vision got blurred. But none failed so spectacularly as the energy corporation Enron, in 2001. Engraved in granite at head office reception, Enron’s values were Communication, Integrity, Respect, and Excellence – decorative words that came to be a false deal in the company’s business practice.
This cautionary tale might be an extreme example, yet is a reminder to pay attention to organisational standards and everyday practices. And to go about identifying values if not already established – involving all staff and volunteers.
Choosing particular value-words is the fun part. What does this organisation stand for? What words represent the way we want our mission and vision to be understood? And more particularly, what words will inform our actions and behaviours? Yes, but value-words are abstracts that have no substance until we put meaning and actions to them. And then we have to understand how commitment to a particular value can operate on a continuum: people will put different weights to the meanings, depending on their own beliefs.
Let’s take Respect as an example. A discussion might go something like this:
Q: Why have we selected this value-word?
A: Because … we believe in the fundamental dignity of all people; people have rights; we are a people-centred organisation; because it fits with our mission.
Q: How can we live up to this value? How can we demonstrate ‘respect’?
A: We listen, actively; we want to empower others; we answer messages and queries promptly; we can agree to disagree; we accept differences.
Clearly such questions involve extensive discussion of the ‘makes you think’ kind. Values then become embedded in organisation planning and policies and operations. Values will be on the agenda in recruitment interviews. And the pay-off will become evident in organisation culture, staff and volunteer cohesion, and flow on to reputation in the community.
This piece is a very brief introduction to the business of values. A recent UK survey of NFP organisations will take you a bit further, under the title To Practise what we Preach. Exactly!
* Henderson, et al. (2006) Leading Through Values: Linking company culture to business strategy. Auckland: HarperCollins.