November 30, 2014

Let the Tall Poppies Grow

Posted in Celebrations, Community Development, Good news stories, Impact Measurement, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 4:30 am by Sue Hine

4871271[1]‘Tis the season for proclaiming the virtues of volunteering.

This week there’s that global day to honour volunteers (IYV), and I’ll be joining the crowd in Wellington to hear our praises sung and the inspiring stories about volunteer journeys.

Right now there’s also a raft of KiwiBank medals being awarded throughout New Zealand to Local Heroes, those people doing extraordinary things in their local communities.

We’ve even got our own set of awards for Wellingtonians – the Welly’s – which include an award for Community Service.

And Volunteer Centre websites are carrying regular pages for Featured Volunteers, or Volunteer Testimonials, or Volunteer Profiles.

Fantastic!  To shout out about volunteers and volunteering, and rewarding people for their service to a cause, or their creative initiative, or for the difference they have made in their communities – for all these reasons it’s important to ensure we give public recognition where it is due.  A newspaper editorial (Dominion Post, November 22, 2014) puts it like this:

New Zealand has a long tradition of modesty.  Not for us the big-noting of brasher cultures.  Strutting, boasting celebrities who too often are all sizzle and no sausage are unwelcome.  Instead, achievements should speak for themselves.  Which is all well and good, but sometimes it is important to praise those among us who have succeeded.

Yes indeed.  At last the Tall Poppy Syndrome is on the wane.  We can get rid of that fateful Kiwi term, the Clobbering Machine.  Some time ago I wanted to nominate a volunteer for an award, but the idea was vetoed because you can’t single out one volunteer, you must not imply that one is above the rest.  So the whole volunteer programme misses out on being noticed, and neither is the impact of volunteering on community well-being.

Sometimes volunteering awards appear to be given out on the basis of length of service.  Working for the same organisation for twenty or thirty years is admirable of course, but I hope it is the particular achievements over time that are being recognised, not just longevity and loyalty.

The citations of awards bring to public attention a great deal of the volunteer activity in our communities, including the whole range of volunteering fields – sport, working with youth or needy families and disabled people, a training course in prisons, emergency services, local communities and environment issues, or the arts.  Recipients are also as diverse as the volunteer population: young people gain as many awards as older people; disabled people and an ethnic mix are included.  These unsung heroes are our Tall Poppies, demonstrating what can be achieved.

So let us rejoice, and cheer on all volunteers – whether they win awards or not.  Their stories need to be told, because here is all the raw data to illustrate the outcomes and impact of volunteering.  Get the measuring process right, and we’ll be able to find out just how valuable volunteering can be.

Let’s keep on telling the stories and making sure the poppies grow tall. 

November 23, 2014

In Praise of Volunteers

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 3:57 am by Sue Hine

VNZ_IV-Day-2014_Facebook-Banner-FINAL-450x166[1]Coming to your place in less than a fortnight: International Volunteer Day.  If you have not already got a ring around December 5, you need to mark this date now!

IVD is a global celebration of volunteerism, honouring people’s participation in making a change at all levels.

This statement is a tag-line on IVD 2014 website.  December 5 is the day to ‘applaud hundreds of millions of people who volunteer to make change happen’.  The Volunteering New Zealand whakatauki for the day (in the banner above) conveys a similar meaning.

Yes, I know it’s hard on the heels of International Volunteer Managers’ Day, but the two go together, don’t they?  It’s a moot point on which is more important: managers of volunteers will not exist without a volunteer programme; and you will never get the best of volunteer contribution and achievement without a switched-on leader and manager of the programme.

Even then we can run into trouble.  How can we measure the outcome, the effectiveness and the impact of volunteer work?  That’s the question that’s troubling the community and voluntary sector at present.  Counting hours of time delivered, perhaps adding in transport and travel costs as donations in kind, tells us simply the amount of free labour an organisation has enjoyed.  When the hours are translated into a rough (read basic hourly rate) $$ amount we can shout loudly about how much money volunteers have saved us.

That is not real appreciation for volunteer effort, not what most volunteers set out to do.   That is not ‘honouring people’s participation in making a change’.

So what are some better ways to acknowledge the real work of volunteers?  When the question is put like this the answers are obvious:

  • What is the real work volunteers have been doing? Describe it.
  • Add in how this work has contributed to organisation mission.
  • How does the work of volunteers enable higher staff performance and overall service provision? (Please don’t say staff could not manage without volunteers.)
  • In thinking about why volunteers are engaged in your organisation, what has been impressive in the way volunteers carry out their roles.
  • Go to consumers and ask them for stories about volunteers – the school kids who are coached by a volunteer; the homebound older person who relies on meals delivered by volunteers; the guests at the soup kitchen; the person whose cat was rescued from a tall tree by the volunteer fireman.

It’s hard to cover everything volunteers undertake.  But the more specific we can be in celebrating volunteering the better we can demonstrate our understanding of volunteering, and how we value it for its non-monetary worth.

When December 5 comes round I do not want to be disappointed by the raft of blanket statements proclaiming volunteers as the organisation’s backbone, or the backbone of society.  Volunteers are not skeletons!

November 9, 2014

Happiness At Work

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities tagged , , , at 2:09 am by Sue Hine

Smile-happiness[1]I’ve never thought too much about job satisfaction in my working life. I’ve taken the rough with the smooth, got on with it, and found small pleasures where I could.  And most of the time the roles I’ve undertaken have offered scope for applying skills and finding creative responses to all the challenges.  I don’t think I would be amongst the 40% of New Zealand’s workforce that are reportedly unhappy in their jobs these days.

But I am not surprised by this figure. The nature of work and employment has been changing for decades.  Full employment went out the window more than 30 years ago and worker rights keep on being eroded.  Technology has changed the level of knowledge and skills required for the greater part of the workforce, and unskilled work gets harder and harder to find.

The bit in the news report that got my attention was this:

[P]art-timers seemed to hold less attachment to their job and were more likely to look for a new role or career in the pursuit of happiness.

For those employing large numbers of part-time staff, it is vital to build a culture of inclusion and make sure employees feel their contribution is valued in order to inspire loyalty and retain good staff.

Of course! Managers of volunteers have known that forever, haven’t we?  Our job is all about ‘part-timers’.  We work hard to ensure volunteers feel their contribution is valued; inclusion is what you do to help people feel they belong to the organisation.  Hence the attention paid to interpersonal communication, and all the newsletters and social media posts aimed at keeping in touch.

Because for a volunteer the counterpoint of being valued and included in an organisation amounts to dissatisfaction and departure – and a risk to the organisation’s reputation in the community.

From where I sit it seems employers of part-time staff could learn a lot from managers of volunteers and their approach to good relations with volunteers. Go ask them: they’ll show you how to enhance part-timer commitment and job satisfaction.

This claim is supported by research that showed paid staff wanted improvements to provision of career development, the work environment (particularly culture and morale), and to their welfare (stress levels, feeling appreciated and engaged).  Such negativity resulted in 32% of the research sample intending to leave their jobs in the next three months.  The most important traits employees wanted in their managers were openness, honesty, and good communication skills.

Of course there are plenty of executive managers who can demonstrate these qualities (see this post). I’ve also commented a few times on employer practice that offers lessons for managers of volunteers (see here, here and here) – and vice versa.

These principles are even more important for organisations involved in the voluntary and community sector. Good people management is not just for staff and volunteer job satisfaction – these skills are also essential for working with service users and in wider community relations.

So while the manager of volunteers makes every effort to develop volunteer inclusiveness and job satisfaction, I hope the organisation’s executive managers are also working to ensure a happiness culture for everyone.

April 21, 2013

What’s to Become of Volunteering?

Posted in Civil Society, Funding and Finance, Impact Measurement, Marketing, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 4:04 am by Sue Hine

jan24_forgoodforprofit

There’s my question for the week, something to puzzle over after reading the headline Some community social services could be funded privately in future, under a new agreement with the Government.   This is the first public statement on Social Bonds from a New Zealand government minister.

‘Social Bonds’ is a process of advancing funds to NGOs by philanthropist groups (‘private providers’) for the term of an outcomes-based contract, and then reimbursed by Government when the NGO delivers on pre-determined targets.  This funding arrangement has been researched and discussed within government in New Zealand since 2009.   Earlier this year a roadshow promotion from Treasury and Ministry of Health travelled the country to inform community organisations, and to start public discussion.

Those of us who do the media watching, monitor trends, and understand the politics of the day will not be overly surprised.  In the UK Social Bonds have been transforming the community and volunteer landscape since Big Society became the favoured social policy of the Coalition Government.  An Australian report indicates ongoing discussion and debate on details of a Social Bond programme.  Maybe we should heed a Canadian view that says “Social Impact Bonds are a new way to privatise public services.”

On the face of it, the intention of a Social Bond arrangement makes a lot of sense – as any venture capitalist would want from investing in a new enterprise.  You put in the money, and you expect to see some real returns on investment, like a reduction in the rate of teen-age pregnancy, fewer smokers, or a drop in criminal re-offending figures.   Social Bonds also link favourably with current developments in New Zealand for user-friendly contracts between government and NGOs, including multi-agency contracting and simple format financial reporting.  Social Bonds sit well with the results-based programme set by Better Public Services – though this ambitious agenda needs to involve all parts of the community and voluntary sector, from the beginning.

Nothing is yet certain, except for evidence of government intentions for change.  In my reactionary moments I see a pincer movement to corral organisations into a private sector model of service delivery, to get the job done in the shortest time at the lowest cost.  There are risks of reduced public accountability.  Worse is how the ethos of a welfare safety net is further eroded, because investor profits will take precedence.  At the work-face performance-based contracting could mean a selective practice devoted to the most ‘deserving’ clients who will boost the return on investment.

Nowhere in the discussion so far has there been a mention of volunteers – neither their existing contributions to NGOs, nor their future potential.  Non-Government Organisations are those which contract with government. To be drawn closer to web and snares of government is to revert to the decades-old acronym of QANGO – a quasi-autonomous non-government organisation, the ‘almost, but not quite’ independent body, a phrase that will fool nobody.

Not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) can be thankful they are outside this net.  Yet they too will be drawn into this new environment, if only in their efforts to secure a share of the charity dollar.  Will philanthropists consider NFP applications favourably alongside a guaranteed return for investing with NGOs?  And, if the ROI from government contracts is lower than finance market rates doesn’t that reduce the size of the over-all funding pool?

What will become of volunteering when government-sponsored community services become the norm?

Well, here’s your example.  There is one institution, developed and run by volunteers for many years.  Since it gained a government contract a few years back there has been a huge growth in paid staff, and volunteers have been side-lined, reduced to wondering what their role is, and whether they are needed any more.  They do not feature on the organisation chart; they are bit-part players, not really essential to the way the organisation is playing out its mission and vision.

If I was writing a fictional scenario for the future I would be describing the growth in NGOs marketing and fundraising departments.  The organisation-wide volunteer programme will be down-graded in favour of ‘greater efficiency’ from paid staff.  Volunteer activities will be confined to promotional and fundraising events.  No need now for managers of volunteers, because HR and FR people know how and can do.

But if I was looking for inspiration I would go straight to Inspiring Communities, where community-led change is still the mantra to follow, where they know about ‘learning by doing’, about community development thinking and action.  Or I would read again the stories from NZ Social Entrepreneur Fellowship.

Volunteering shall not die, because it is in our nature to collaborate and to care about our families, neighbours, and communities.  We just need to our voice to be heard, and heeded.

April 1, 2013

Measuring Up

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Impact Measurement, Organisational gains from volunteering, Technology tagged , , , , at 1:40 am by Sue Hine

0_0_456_http___offlinehbpl.hbpl.co.uk_News_NST_40E0865A-FE42-BEE6-D70E8E44B24CF408[1]What do you reckon?  How does your organisation rate for effectiveness in what it does?  What is your performance rating?  Can you ring the bell at the top of the scale?  Bottom line question: what is the return to donors and funders for their investment in the services provided by your organisation?

There’s a global push these days to find answers to these questions, putting pressure on NGOs and NFPs to lift their game.  Do not mistake me, I am all for demonstrating impact and effective social change, but why do I feel like a captured mouse being teased by the cat?  Or like the caged big cats being whipped along by the circus ringmaster?

When you de-code the signals you can see how philanthropic donors and funder contracts are controlling and directing the community and voluntary sector environment.  There’s a sinking lid on what we are allowed to do in the name of ‘charity’, as well as reduced funding.  It’s like there is a takeover in progress, and we are letting it happen, being sucked into the ways and means of the public and private sectors.  Corporate sponsorship and partnerships with business are attractive to get leverage and influence for social change, but how long before we are dancing to the whims of the corporation’s board?  To the tune of the latest marketing programme?  Or to the political good idea that gets turned into a statutory regulation?

The language of inputs / outputs / outcomes, of efficiency and effectiveness has been around in business for decades, and community and voluntary organisations have made efforts to record their work along these measures.  But nothing is clear-cut, and I have yet to see a proven methodology for measuring outcomes and impact that works for the NFP sector.

Years ago I had to persuade a new manager who had come from a canning factory that disabled people were not cans of peas; they did not roll off an assembly line in neatly packaged ways; and really, there were multi-multiple factors to take into account in service planning and delivery, and in what could be counted as measures of ‘success’.

It’s still much the same these days.  Consider Buddy or Befriending programmes for example – they are out there in organisations for the elderly, in mental health programmes, in services for disabled people, for de facto grand-parenting and parent support groups, and for disaffected youth.  Think about the multiple stakeholders who could be involved in these services: funders and donors; the provider organisation; families; volunteers, and hello! the manager of volunteers who is responsible for making the programme work and best possible experience for the volunteer and for service users.

The impact of services like these goes in several directions.  Families and individuals get support / advice / information to keep on keeping on and to take new leaps into the future.  The organisation takes another step in fulfilling its mission, and maybe reporting to funders and donors on real achievements.  Volunteers gain in their personal sense of well-being, and in health benefits.  There are spin-off benefits for other health and welfare organisations, and for government services.  Managers of volunteers can glow with pride when they see what a great team of volunteers they are leading and what they have achieved.  The spread of impact goes way beyond performance indicators and a one-eyed review of measuring what the organisation does, even if we are not talking it up, or making formal assessment of achievements.  That is Civil Society for you, a large amorphous collective that keeps on keeping our communities and societies keeping on.

We should not need to be reminded about the role and function of Civil Society.  We should not need to recall there is a much larger view of the world than profit and loss accounts, of measuring outcomes and impact and social change.  Civil Society is the third leg of the stool that vies for social harmony at local, national and global levels.  As a significant part of Civil Society our community and voluntary sectors offer a countervailing force against the might and main of government and big business.  Do not let us lose traction by succumbing to hard-nosed political dogma, nor in being seduced by the attractions of social enterprise or the lure of venture capital and other funding arrangements.

But do – please – let us work together to find ways to report on achievement, successes, volunteer stories, and what really works to create change.  We – the community and voluntary sector, and the managers of volunteers – need to state our case, and to stake a claim in the politics of impact measurement.

January 20, 2013

Prospecting for a New Year

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Annual Review, Best Practice, Managers Matter tagged , , , , , , , at 3:43 am by Sue Hine

Happy-2013[1]  It’s that time of year for reflection, to look into the pool of 2012 and to assess the prospects for volunteers and their managers in 2013.

Looking good from last year was the continuing increase in numbers of volunteers, especially from youth cohorts. There was a lot more corporate volunteering too.  I was heartened by the increased support and recognition for International Volunteer Managers’ Day (November 5) and for International Volunteer’s Day (December 5).  And it seemed there was greater and more effective use of the e-waves than previously – for recruiting volunteers, for creative news reporting on volunteering, and for producing better and brighter organisation websites.

Volunteering New Zealand stepped up with the publication of Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations, outlining a steer on supporting managers of volunteers, getting the best from a volunteer programme and enhancing organisational attraction for volunteers and paid staff.  I am looking forward to the next publication, the Learning and Development Pathway for managers of volunteers.

But there is no time to rest on our laurels.  At the top of the search list for my blog, again, is Bad Volunteer Experience.   Again, it shows how many people miss out on good practice in management of volunteers.  More disheartening are the continuing accounts of raw deals for managers of volunteers, overburdened and under-appreciated, by organisations that should know better.  So work on promoting and educating on the basics – the essentials – of managing volunteers will continue to be a priority in the coming months.  Business as usual, you might say.

I picked up some signals last year that are going to be my worry-beads for 2013. I am not alone in my concerns:

Volunteering is becoming more transient, more promiscuous, more blurred

Convergence between NFPs and the business sector is not the panacea for all ills

Volunteering is an unloved child generally but was particularly so in 2012

Volunteers are demanding to be led – not managed 

Resources are being drawn away from volunteering for investment in fundraising

These quotes come from different sources and could all be placed under the rubric of The Great Unsettlement.  Here are the features I reckon are the ‘big-picture’ issues:

  • Corporate social responsibility has spawned corporate volunteering, and also sponsorship and partnerships with NFP organisations.  Good stuff, and sensible in cash-strapped times.  Except there is potential risk to maintaining organisation branding and identity if relations with a corporate business are not well-managed.  Worse is the way volunteering and the management of an ongoing volunteer programme seem to be sidelined in preference to scoring big business patronage.  This is particularly evident in marketing and managing fundraising events.
  • ‘Social enterprise’ has risen in popularity stakes as a business model for social outcomes.   Yes, good for the national economy, and more sexy than ordinary everyday volunteering – which (if you need reminding) has promoted social outcomes for generations.  I sigh, because the definition of volunteering is up for debate, again.
  • Government out-sourcing of social services has turned many NFPs into NGOs over the past 30 years, introducing an active if unequal interface between government and community.   Proposals for new models of funding such as social bonds will put a whole new agenda in front of many organisations, again challenging the place and the contribution of a volunteer programme.
  • Accountability, the business of measuring performance, not just inputs and outputs in dollar terms, has been around for a while now.  The current attention to Social Return on Investment (SROI) is more serious, more intense and we’d better get to know about it.  Except the impact of human service delivery is difficult to formulate, expensive to administer, and risks turning volunteering into a commodity.

The political and economic environment rules – OK?  So it seems, and in the process that part of social structure that is called Civil Society, or the Third Sector, or simply ‘the community’ becomes marginalised.  What’s a manager of volunteers to do?

Top of my wish-list for this year is to get beyond the hand-wringing and to turn questions of ‘what can we do?’ into ‘how do we get there?’  Notice how ‘we’ reminds us of the collective and the collaborative approach to action.  There is the stimulus, to seek out allies in local networks and to enlist support from the progressive organisations that were pilots for the Best Practice Guidelines.  Take some leafs from marketing and fundraising strategies: cultivate news media contacts, and never let up on social media plugs.  Become social entrepreneurs in the sense of community-building for social innovation, for volunteering and volunteer organisations.

There are already pockets of volunteering enterprise in various communities.  Just think what volunteering could become if we stitched those pockets into overalls.  There is our challenge for 2013: to gain a stake in the future we need to stake a claim, on our terms, for the territory of community and for volunteering.

November 11, 2012

The By-Products of Volunteering

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Motivation, Organisation responsibilities, Recognition of Volunteering, volunteer experience tagged , , at 3:24 am by Sue Hine

We know all about the benefits of volunteering, for organisations and communities.  We can count up the numbers – of volunteers and hours worked – which show simple aggregates of inputs and outputs, and we are finding ways to offer evidence of ‘making a difference’.

We know how a well-run programme can attract new volunteers and donors and gains in street-cred for the organisation.  (And how quickly the reverse can happen if quality standards slip).

These days we know volunteer motivation can be less grounded in altruism than in seeking ROI – skill development, work experience and social contact.  That’s the individual and personal gain.

There are other spin-offs.  At volunteer gatherings where a mix of teams get together I have known excited reunions of people who went to school together or who lived in the same street a long time ago.

When volunteers are really engaged in the organisation you can bet they are developing relationships and forging new friendships.  There’s many a tale of clusters of volunteers who meet regularly out of the workplace, organise a reunion, start their own Facebook page.  Rugby World Cup volunteers got together again recently, to reminisce and to celebrate their achievements.

But did you know that Volunteering is also Good for Your Heart?

So says a report on research on individual health benefits of volunteering (published 2007).

Volunteer activities can strengthen the social ties that protect individuals from isolation during difficult times, while the experience of helping others leads to a sense of greater self-worth and trust.

Those who engage in volunteer activities are less likely to suffer from ill health later in life and may be introduced into a positive reinforcing cycle of good health and future volunteering.

Even when controlling for other factors such as age, health, and gender, research has found that when individuals volunteer, they are more likely to live longer.

These claims are substantiated in more than 30 studies reviewing the relationship between health and volunteering.  It is suggested by one commentator that Civic Engagement and Volunteering is the new hybrid health club for the 21st century – and it’s free to join.

Which is all very encouraging for volunteerism and community organisations and community well-being.  But is the correlation of volunteering with good health dependent on practice standards in organisations, and quality management of volunteers?    Feeling good about volunteering is certainly related to job satisfaction, a supportive work environment, and being respected and appreciated – all charged out as organisation responsibilities.

So the launch this week of Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Organisations is to be welcomed, by administrators, managers of volunteers, and surely – by volunteers themselves.

June 10, 2012

The Changing Volunteer World

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Professionalism, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:06 am by Sue Hine

Nothing can be certain, said Benjamin Franklin in a letter written in 1789, except death and taxes.  I am surprised he did not include ‘change’ in his aphorism.  He lived through a fair bit of historical change himself, in his enterprising career and as a Founding Father of United States, and he must surely have seen what was coming to France when he wrote his letter.

Well – change in the not-for-profit sector, and in volunteering, is all around the world at present.  I read the exhortations for managers of volunteers to get up to speed with social media – for everything from organising fundraising events to volunteer recruitment, and for regular organisation promos.  And for networking and conversations on common interests for managers of volunteers.

I read about the impact of generational differences and the statistics on who volunteers and what for and why.  Short-term, time-limited assignments please.  A specific focus, relevant to my skills. Or please, some work experience that will get me a job (when you give me a reference).  There are significant increases in prospective volunteers out there.  They are clamouring for roles – particularly the younger age groups.  And despite the huge bubble of older people, the baby-boomers, newly retired, this cohort is not rushing to fill the ranks of volunteers.

There is no denying the global financial crisis (GFC) is creating change, forcing governments to downsize, to rethink priorities for community support and development.

Change is coming from another direction too: the ethos of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is generating waves of corporate volunteering.  Corporates are going beyond conventional sponsorship and funding grants: active partnerships with non-profits are being pursued.  Even ‘Philanthropy’ gets a new connotation, loses its original glow of generosity, munificence and beneficence.  Now philanthropy is about venture capital for social change.

A whole new way of looking at the community and voluntary sector is evolving.  The social value of volunteering is increasingly seen in economic terms.  We trumpet the significant contribution volunteering and the NFP sector makes to GDP.  We are trying to improve reporting on volunteer impact beyond numbers and hours and donations in kind.  We look for ways to measure the social return on investment (SROI) in volunteering.  The word ‘social’ starts appearing in front of words I thought only bankers and accountants used: capital, innovation,  investment – and even New Zealand’s OCVS has a raft of papers and information social finance and social enterprise.  What will these terms mean for volunteers and
the community sector?  They sound good, but will they really do good?

Well – if we want to get volunteering and management of volunteers properly appreciated and recognised by those holding the purse-strings, then we need to learn and understand this language.  We need to be able to promote our causes and to argue our cases on an equal footing.

Yet in all the heady engagement between the not-for-profit sector and business and government, and with current trends in volunteering, I have not seen specific comment on the future for managers of volunteers.  Yes, we need to ride with changing times, adapt programmes to fit with the expectations of new generations of volunteers, be flexible innovative, creative.  But no-one has raised a direct question of what an alliance between public, private and community sectors might mean for managers of volunteers, and what will happen to volunteering further down the track.

What if CSR becomes the dominant source of volunteers, a formal process that may require a different style of management?  Different from the basic model of engaging individuals who want to ‘help’ add value to an organisation’s services?

That’s when managers of volunteers need to rise to Rob Jackson’s challenge: instead of organisations headed by “someone who knows how to make money … what we need is people-raising skills” (my emphasis).

We have been people-raising for several decades.  We have adapted to major change in the past.  Let’s demonstrate for the new era the know-how and can-do of our management expertise.

June 4, 2012

Looking for an Answer

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 4:03 am by Sue Hine

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?

Which are?

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 6, 2012

Whose Side are You On?

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Organisational gains from volunteering, Role definition, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 1:19 am by Sue Hine

We can talk about management of volunteers forever.  We can have endless conversations that wander through the ins and outs of competence and tasks.  We can venture into the thickets of community issues and political pressures and questions about sustainable funding.  We can do a moan about the lack of recognition for our work (and volunteers).  But it’s not very often that we stop to figure out the fundamentals of the role of a manager of volunteers.

What is the purpose of the role?

Last year I wrote a clear statement:

The purpose of being a Manager of Volunteers is to contribute to the organisation’s mission, to facilitate delivery of services. So my role function is to attract, train and support (etc) volunteers to carry out tasks that will do just that.

Now I want to take the opposite position:

The purpose of the role of Manager of Volunteers is to develop the very best team of volunteers and to ensure they have the very best experience of volunteering.

A good volunteer experience takes precedence over the organisation’s mission and delivery of services?  Yes, absolutely.

So the volunteer benefits at the expense of the organisation?  I knew you would jump to that conclusion!  Let me persuade you otherwise.

Think about developing a team of volunteers.  There they are, knocking at your door, keen to ‘help’ the organisation.  They are a mixed bunch, with a dozen or more different motivations, and another dozen or so skills and aptitudes.  That’s your raw material, and you are not into conveyer-belt production.  Your job is to meet their expectations, as best you can.

So the training programme is designed to sustain volunteer enthusiasm as well as to introduce them to boundaries set by organisational policy and the roles they will be undertaking.  That is, there is a framework to follow, and enough flexible space within it for volunteers to flourish in their work.

The devil for ensuring a good volunteer experience is always in the detail.

Communication is the big No 1.  Follow-up, check in with volunteers, ask them how they’re doing.  Communicate regularly via various media to keep volunteers informed, to help them feel part of the organisation.  At the same time, be visible and proactive in advocating for volunteers with paid staff, including supporting staff who work directly with volunteers.

Continuous improvement for volunteers also needs to be on the agenda.  Volunteers may want to move their skills to another level or to try something different as much as paid staff.  The volunteer who does not ‘fit’ need not be turned away if you hang on to your sense of innovation.  That’s where management of volunteers becomes an art, way beyond the confines of human resource management.  Volunteers are a source for inspiration, not just a resource or an asset for exploitation.

Feedback on performance is as important for volunteers as it is for paid staff.  Get beyond the regular (and sincere) “Thank you” to add positive reinforcement of a job well done:

I was impressed by the way you….

Or try extending skill experience by adding:

Next time you could think about having a go at …. 

This is not just buttering up a volunteer ego, it is demonstrating your confidence in volunteer competence and ongoing capacity for development.

An annual review for each volunteer is another string to maintaining volunteer satisfaction.  Not so much a review of performance as a self-assessment of present involvement and future aspirations – and always including reflection on how to improve the volunteer programme, management of volunteers included.

Don’t forget the exit interview.  That can be another strand for comment on possible improvement and change.  Keeping a record of ‘reasons for leaving’ will draw a useful picture on turnover and levels of volunteer satisfaction, which could be incredibly useful in indicating to senior management and boards on the state of the organisation.

So what is the pay-off?  Why is a good volunteer experience important?  You will get any or all of the following:

Support for organisation mission     ADDING VALUE TO SERVICES            Retention          Loyalty       Commitment                Public Relations

Ambassadors in the Community               CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Volunteers pilot new ways of delivering services          INNOVATION

Volunteers build Civil Society         Community Development

SOCIAL INCLUSION        Service enhancement

Get the best team of volunteers and enable their very best volunteer experience and you will find volunteers contribute OTT to organisation mission and service delivery.  All round there is a Win-Win outcome.

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