September 23, 2012
Posted in A Bigger Picture, Language, Motivation, Valuing Volunteers tagged Job satisfaction, Management skills, social capital, volunteer contributions, Volunteer motivation and retention, Volunteer recruitment at 4:46 am by Sue Hine
At the beginning of this month I was extolling the nature and philosophy of volunteering, quoting words like Citizenship, Engagement, Generosity, and a Felt Sense of Community. No question, these words represent the best concepts of volunteering.
Except…. Unless…. Until…. I start thinking about the other reasons why, in this day and age, people give their time and skills and energies, for free, for community benefit.
I have banged on a lot about the Gift Relationship, spoken in hushed words about the virtues of Altruism and the Spirit of Community. You see, all these words (they deserve no less than Capital Letters) are the true representations of volunteering. Except…. Unless…. Until….
Now it is time to get real, time to see just how inclusive volunteering and volunteer programmes can be, outside the Goodwill and Community Solidarity philosophy.
At the local Op-Shop the customer service volunteers are pretty much all older people. They tell me their time here is the social highlight of their week. Yes, they are unpaid, and all there by free will, though their ulterior motive is socialisation, to meet and greet people, have a conversation and a bit of a laugh. And maybe a chance to pick up a bargain as well.
Also on the staff at this Shop are the sorters and cleaners, a right mix of volunteers. There are young people looking for work experience to put on their CVs. There are migrants and refugees practising English language skills. There are the people working off community sentences. Others are there as evidence of job-seeking in order to retain their welfare payments.
In the administration office of another organisation I meet the ‘interns’, mostly students on placement for their applied degree qualification, and a fair smattering of new migrants. Unpaid internships are welcomed as work experience to improve job prospects, especially for these groups.
And then I come across the team of Corporate Volunteers who are out on their ‘day-release’ programme, that annual event that demonstrates ‘corporate social responsibility’. They have engaged with the Department of Conservation to check out bait traps in a protected reserve. Whoa, I think. The exercise is likely to be a whole bit of hiking, and possibly encounters with some health and safety hazards in the not-so-nice parts of the day when dealing with captives in the traps. It is quite a bit different from their day job. Next time they might prefer to offer pro bono services of their professional skills in governance, or in organisational management and administration.
Volunteering is not what it used to be. The ideas of ‘free will’ and ‘compulsion’ have been mixed and stirred in a blender. (I can even confess to volunteering as an escape from tele-marketing calls.) Take a look at Volunteering Tasmania and how they are describing volunteering for our new age:
- It has a direct benefit to the community and the volunteer (whether the benefit is tangible or intangible);
- It is undertaken by choice; and
- It is unpaid. (However, the volunteer may receive reasonable or appropriate reimbursement for expenses incurred that are associated with the role, and/or may receive a monetary or other incentive/reward.)
That’s the commonsense reality of volunteering in the 21st century for you. Volunteering is always a two-way stretch of reciprocal benefits.
Because, whatever the reason for volunteering, the experience of working for nothing is also an exposure to community services, to the values and commitment supporting development in our communities. Many a volunteer has extended self-interest to an employment career in the community and voluntary sector. Or a corporate volunteer programme has introduced people to organisations and opportunities for on-going volunteering.
Understanding these details gives you a head start in recruiting volunteers, and in knowing how to reinforce the rewards, and how to retain volunteer support.
July 21, 2012
There’s an old word getting serious attention these days, giving me pause for some serious thinking.
Collaboration is a word that denotes ‘working together’, for a common goal. It is a word that connotes shared interests, which can lead to shared resources.
In my mind Collaboration is associated with Cooperation, Consideration of others, Collectives, and of course, Community. The idea of Collaboration invokes team-work, collective problem-solving, multi-party representation and partnerships. At the end of the day Collaboration has the potential to offer a gestalt, a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.
Collaboration has been turning up in different contexts, so it is starting to look like a trend. Here’s the evidence:
- The practice of Public/Private Partnerships (PPPs) is not a new form of collaboration, though it is a hot topic in New Zealand at present.
- I am following the rise and rise of social enterprise, and the partnerships negotiated between business and community organisations, between government and community.
- I note one philanthropic funding source is encouraging joint ventures for community-based services.
- The influence of community organisations on government policy is limited by the diversity of organisations, and I hear a passionate plea for collaboration, at least at a national level. Dammit, we need to get our act together.
- Genuine partnerships between Not for Profits and Government, corporates and clients are “crucial to the achievement of positive social outcomes”, is the theme for a conference in Western Australia later this year.
- Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Project has certainly benefited from shared information and a collective approach to developing the programme. There is a great deal of collaboration from diverse interests to achieve an outcome that will be mutually beneficial. The Draft Competencies are now out for consultation. (Note how ‘consultation’ can also be interpreted as a relation of ‘collaboration’.)
What is going on here? I know we can all be ground down in efforts to be heard, so “if you can’t beat ‘em, you join ‘em”. I know how funding pressures can push an organisation into new collaborative ventures with another party, outside the regular frame of reference – or out of existence altogether.
I also know about ‘patch protection’, how proposals for economies of scale like sharing back-room functions with other organisations never go anywhere, and how a ‘silo mentality’ can blinker many a community organisation to the potential benefits of shared interests and collaboration with others.
Because the way the world works is through competition, right? Evolution determines survival of the fittest. Supply and demand in the market place predicates which product, which business wins out. Business mergers are more about swallowing and destroying competitors than a re-invention of enterprise. Politics is all about winning over rivals, or the other party. Right now we are heading into the opening of the London Olympics and a few weeks of achieving individual glory and national rivalry to top the medal tally tables, no matter how much we talk up the spirit of internationalism. All of which is the antithesis of collaboration.
I daresay the business of competition will never go away. We will still want to cheer the All Blacks to another World Cup, and to climb a few pegs on international tables.
Yet, the signs of collaboration on the radar suggest there are some new dynamics entering the business of political, social and economic organisation. The opportunities for ‘doing good’, for achieving qualitative and positive social change are there if we go look. As Tom Levitt says in the preface to his book Partners for Good, “In today’s Big Society it is said that ‘we are all in this together’”.
Does anyone notice there is never a mention of volunteers and volunteering? Nor of managers of volunteers who have been practising collaboration for years, working with volunteers to get great outcomes wherever they are engaged.
June 10, 2012
Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Professionalism, Recognition of Volunteering tagged business, community and voluntary sector, community-led development, cost benefit analysis, leadership, Managers of Volunteers, OCVS, Organisation development, Philanthrocapitalism, Qualitative outcomes, social capital, social entrepreneur, Social Investment 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.
May 6, 2012
Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Organisational gains from volunteering, Role definition, volunteer experience tagged leadership, Managers of Volunteers, Qualitative outcomes, social capital, volunteer contributions 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.
April 29, 2012
Posted in A Bigger Picture tagged Charities Commission, Civil Society, community and voluntary sector, community-led development, Philanthrocapitalism, Qualitative outcomes, social capital, social entrepreneur, social innovation, Social Investment at 9:44 pm by Sue Hine
I’ve been to a few meetings lately, listened to presentations and viewed the power point slides. They were not meetings about volunteering or volunteer management, but the information and ideas sure made me sit up and take notice.
Here is my take on some of the straws in the wind that have come my way.
- Demographic trends indicate a shrinking working-age population
We’ve heard about the dramatic increase of older populations for decades. On the flip side is a decline in people of working age, which will give us the benefit of lower unemployment. We are going to get ZPG without even trying. The bad news is a big revenue problem for government and a rise in resource demands. All this, on top of a national economy struggling to recover from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
NGOs, already struggling to maintain their funding base, will be under pressure to do more with less. In rural areas where population change will be greater community organisations will face shrinking resources, of both funding and volunteers. There are serious implications for national organisations providing outreach services in provincial areas. On the other hand there could be opportunities to work more closely with local government, to develop partnerships with other organisations and subsequent economies of scale.
- Collaboration, Participation, Innovation
These words are the catch-cry for change in the community sector, the drivers for action. Proposed changes in both central and local government offer an opportunity for community organisations to articulate a new view, to occupy a new space and to develop new coalitions. Yes!
Can we do it?
- Collaboration is the buzzword of the month
There are plenty of models to follow: community development partnerships, through community engagement, the effective use of social capital and linked with social enterprise. None of these words are new, but they gain increased currency in a time of sector uncertainty. What is new is the trend towards alliances with the business sector and philanthropic trusts. But I worry about collaboration, and whether it is another word for the public and private sectors to take control while proffering the hand of partnership.
- “A new phase of capitalism, where new ways of creating wealth are identified”
In all the talk of Social Investment and Social Impact and Outcomes it is difficult to see who benefits. Governments can transfer risks to the community sector. Social investment from the private sector could lead to creaming off the best of NFPs and ignoring others, thus creating new forms of underclass. It also leads to the Marketisation of Charities. That sounds more like a death knell for the sector’s capacity for innovation. When organisations become risk-aversive it is too easy to curtail services in areas where outcomes and impacts are less impressive. The spectre of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor is resurrected, specially when funding gets tagged to results.
- “The community sector is not considered a peer of Government”
Too true, I sigh, and has been so for decades, despite terminology like Third Sector and concepts of Civil Society. Volunteers and their organisations might enjoy praise and platitudes of appreciation, but never do they get to be equals at negotiating tables.
So I am disappointed the recent report on public services makes never a mention of relations with NGOs, NFPs or the community sector. It is like these organisations do not exist.
Well, it is proclaimed, the Government and the community sector need to get to know each other better. They need to build mutual trust and understanding, not stand-off bargaining. They need to reduce the power imbalance, get a pay-off for both funders and recipients (not to mention the beneficiaries). I wish.
Yes, I know the NFP sector is complex. We struggle to establish a common definition and language, and to determine the essence of the sector. Yet the diversity of communities and organisations means a single voice and a unifying philosophy is unrealistic.
Yes, there is room for collaboration where there are shared interests. Yes, we need to break down the silos and patch protection. And Yes, we have been in the business of change for generations. Except this time it seems like the change is being done to us, and not in the spirit of community development.
To gain a stake in the future it we need to stake a claim, on our terms, for the territory of our communities and their missions.
April 1, 2012
Posted in A Bigger Picture, Valuing Volunteers tagged community leadership, community-led development, Kia Tutahi, social capital, social entrepreneur, social innovation, Third Sector, volunteer awards at 4:33 am by Sue Hine
Last week’s review of national awards honouring volunteers pointed up the extent of voluntary activity outside the mainstream not-for-profit institutions, and generally beyond a formal volunteer programme. I was reminded of my long ago introduction to sociology, and early studies of New Zealand society.
Forty years ago I was reading about New Zealanders as ‘a nation of joiners’. Research in 1970 in a country town of 14,000 people found there were 200 organisations, and 60% of the population belonged to one or more of them. You could find similar patterns all over the country, and I was part of them.
Forty years ago academic research and writing never mentioned ‘volunteers’ or ‘volunteering’, despite the existence of health and social service organisations that had been active for many years, largely supported by volunteers. Organisations were lumped together as “voluntary associations”, regardless of purpose or function. Or they were pressure groups, sometimes regarded with suspicion by dismissive politicians. Our open political system, said one writer, “has what amounts to an unrecognised fourth estate” [after legislature, judiciary and administration]. Voluntary participation in communities was surely taken for granted.
At last count (2004) there were 97,000 non-profit organisations in New Zealand. More recent studies (2008) estimate that 67% of the non-profit workforce are volunteers, and that more than one third of the population aged 10 and over volunteer each year. It seems we are still a nation of joiners, though under changed circumstances.
Over the past twenty-five years Government has devolved responsibility for delivering many services to community-based organisations, and volunteers can play a large part in these. Government organisations like Sport NZ (formerly SPARC) and the Department of Conservation are directly engaged with volunteers and supporting volunteering. A formal relationship accord between government and communities of Aotearoa NewZealand was signed in 2010.
Terminology shifted too. We absorbed new labels and acronyms: non-governmental organisation (NGO); non-profit institution (NPI); and not-for-profit (NFP). Collectively, community-based organisations are tagged the Third Sector.
The focus on service delivery and ‘consumers’ and on accountability brought an attendant raft of regulations, eroding the real virtues of volunteer-involving organisations. Their capacity for developing creative solutions and experimenting with new practice methodologies was hard to fit into the new environment, even though volunteering and volunteers remained an essential part of an organisation’s operations. Neither did the new model enhance belonging and social connectedness in local communities.
“Voluntary associations” never really went away, but somehow dropped under the radar. We are still joiners, because we are hard-wired to the idea of community, to social connectedness. The philosophy of community is as old as – well – communities, and history is chequered with examples of community-led development and change on social, political and economic fronts.
So I should not be surprised to observe some winds of change over the past decade. Concepts of Civil Society and social capital are re-surfacing in mainstream discussion and actions. Social entrepreneurs are showing us the way to create sustainable change in our communities. We can even put a positive spin on NGOs by re-naming them Social Profit Organisations. And wouldn’t you know it: the theme for this year’s Volunteer Awareness Week is Building Communities through Volunteering.
There is much to encourage us in the present state of volunteering. National and local awards for volunteers are evidence of a depth of experience and commitment to communities of all kinds. “Voluntary Associations” deserve more air-time because their activities can build flourishing communities.
No doubt the next forty years will record more social and political change. I am in no doubt that “voluntary associations” will participate in that change, if not leading the charge.