July 31, 2010

Being Volunteer Friendly

Posted in Leading Volunteers, Valuing Volunteers at 11:29 pm by Sue Hine

A Volunteer Centre in Dundee, Scotland has come up with a smart-sounding idea, the Volunteer Friendly Award. 

It’s designed “to support, recognise and reward groups who are good at involving volunteers”.  What a great idea to demonstrate how an organisation values volunteer contributions, and the management of volunteers.  What a great carrot to attract new volunteers.

You can find out more at http://www.volunteerfriendly.org.uk/.

Except when I look at the detail the process of achieving the award is based on a paper trail to ensure we are meeting national standards.  Silly me.  I thought being volunteer friendly was about the meeting and greeting stuff, getting to know volunteers by name, making sure they have a worthwhile job and a sense of belonging to the organisation, and showing appreciation for their contributions in both tangible and intangible ways.

Yes I know the paper work is important, that getting some consistency with national standards is a way of raising the bar in managing volunteers.  Yes, we need the policies, and job descriptions, the induction and training programmes.  We need to attend to all the health and safety stuff – after all, employers are charged with ‘a duty of care’ which applies to volunteers as well as paid staff.  And to be fair, the Volunteer Friendly Award is designed to encourage and support small organisations before getting into the big league.

But all that management formality needs to be balanced with good leadership.  And one of the qualities of leadership is friendliness.   Being friendly means I have an open positive style of communication; I am welcoming, and supportive when needs be; I guide, rather than direct; I stimulate, encourage and enable volunteers in their roles.  And it pays off in spades.

The benefits of being friendly are seen in the bigger and better volunteer performance, increased job satisfaction, the organisation’s growing reputation in the community and no worries when it comes to recruitment.

I reckon we could be asking volunteers to nominate what they think ‘Volunteer Friendly’ organisations look like.  As the people in Dundee are saying:

It has never been more important for groups to be able to show how good they are at involving and managing their volunteers.


July 25, 2010

My Eight Best Lessons

Posted in Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter at 1:29 am by Sue Hine

It seems that most of us learn about managing volunteers on the job, and then go find what we really need to know afterwards.  Yes, there is a litany of tasks and responsibilities and organisational requirements, but it is what is not written down that can offer the hall-marks of being a great manager of volunteers.  Here is a list of my best practice principles which have never appeared in a job description and have never been examined in a performance appraisal.  You could call these principles my ‘management style’, and I did not know I had learned them until they became integral to the way I worked in managing volunteers.  They are my style, not a prescription for yours. 

But worthwhile I think, to read, and to figure what is important in the way you operate, what your management style looks like.

Lesson 1:  Being a Volunteer

Over the years I’ve had the best of times and the worst of times in volunteering.  So in managing volunteers I want to make sure volunteers feel connected with the organisation, they have a proper job description and a full understanding of their rights and responsibilities, they get acknowledged and recognised – something as simple as a greeting by name and a ‘thank you’ (repeatedly).  I want to ensure volunteers get support, whether it is a practical question of ‘what do I do next?’ or ‘how can I fix this?’, or the big stuff like ‘help, I am floundering, and I can’t handle this’.  

Lesson 2:  Being responsive

I’ve always thought it a common courtesy to answer asap the phone message, the email, the unsolicited inquiry or application form.  It is also good practice in managing volunteers because (1) I might just miss out on the best possible person to take that difficult-to-fill role, and (2) delay or not responding at all is not a good look for the organisation.  In the volunteer recruitment stakes the community grapevine is the make or break avenue for a community organisation. 

Lesson 3:  Get organised

Every manager, of volunteers or others, needs plans and processes, a work-plan design.  Get the policies in place, design the programme and create a template to guide whatever I have to do.  This attention to detail and a solid base became my most valuable assets for keeping on track.

Lesson 4:  Finding the computer database programme that best suited my needs

Thank goodness I did not have to start with a card system.  Once I learned the programme’s facilities I got used to sending mass emails, elegantly crafted newsletters, a mail-out of personalised letters – all at the touch of a button.  I could send out e-mail birthday greetings and thank you cards.  What a time-saver.  And there’s all that social media stuff out there to keep connected with volunteers, and for them to talk about their experiences, good and bad.  A good programme will also allow collation of data on volunteering, analysis of recruitment and retention, range of tasks, hours worked, travel distance, and almost any other statistic you can think of.  And we need to do this, to demonstrate the contribution of volunteers to the organisation.

Lesson 5:  Be flexible

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, for all sorts of reasons.  Managing volunteers is not so much finding a volunteer resource as making the most of what comes your way.  I also have to remember that everyone has their own way of doing things – my way is not necessarily the best.  Other people have initiative too – they can be leaders and managers within the volunteer programme.  It took me a while to learn this one, to understand I did not have to do everything on my own.  So there were volunteers who could take responsibility for different parts of office administration – like updating the database, telephone reception, organising the details of the next training programme, putting the newsletter together, event management.  We could get a real team thing going and I did not have to be ring-master any more. 

Lesson 6: Keep on learning, honing your skills and finding new resources

There’s always something new to learn, and old dogs can learn new tricks.  Trouble is I have to find out what I need to know and then get out there to find the best resource.  I started with Volunteer Centres, going to a network forum, meeting others, and soaking up the presentations on management processes.  It did not take me long to discover there is an international community promoting the profession of Management of Volunteers.  They’ve been around for going on for forty years now.  I have put some of the best links on my Resource Page.

Lesson 7:  Advocating for Volunteers

Of course, there are many organisations run entirely by volunteers.  But when there are paid staff there may be some subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle differences in attitudes to volunteers.  Mostly these attitudes rest on assumptions around the distinction between professionals and amateurs.  So I have to go into bat for the volunteers – who may be professionals in their own right.  The messages I like to spread around are (1) volunteers add value to the organisation, they enhance the services offered; and (2) they are ambassadors for your organisation in the community at large, they can make or break your reputation and credibility.

Lesson 8:  Know your Volunteers

This precept might seem a bit obvious, but it was the first lesson I had to learn – how to identify all the people on the roster beyond their names.  So there was a deliberate effort to meet them on site, even if it meant unfriendly work-hours, to find out how they like their job, to listen to their personal concerns and family context.  Volunteers got to learn a bit about me too, so we got a relationship thing going.  So when I needed to ask for a little bit extra I knew enough about volunteer circumstances to know who to call.  I also got a picture of extra skills and experience that did not appear on the application form – and was able to call up specialist expertise when needed.

July 24, 2010

Leadership for Volunteers

Posted in Leading Volunteers at 3:07 am by Sue Hine

Look what I found one day on a Google Search and a bit of surfing the net:

Providing leadership for volunteers can be exhilarating, frustrating, exciting, tedious, rewarding and demanding, all at the same time.

I do not need to be told this!  It is all too self-evident in every day experience. 

 If you want to see what is being said in your name then go to http://www.joe.org/joe/1998october/tt2.php.   I do not know who Joe is, and his item is more than ten years’ old, but his message still resonates in my 21st century.  Here is the abstract:

The failure of volunteer organizations is commonly attributed to a lack of leadership for the organization. The failure problem may be more closely related to unrealistic assumptions rather than the lack of leadership. Identifying common assumptions about organizational goals, volunteer roles, information flow, and feedback is crucial. Addressing those assumptions by learning the arts of active listening, mentoring, public dialogue, and evaluation and reflection is critical to the success of an organization.

 There is a lot of good sound commonsense in this article.  Here is what I have taken to heart:

  1. I need to think about everyday assumptions and challenge the premises.  Will they hold up?  What do I need to change in my practice, in my thinking?
  2. The four arts of managing volunteers: yeah, they sound good, though I would probably want to add recruitment and training, the whole support and recognition stuff.

If I was looking for a framework for leading volunteers here is what I would like to find:

  • An outline of appropriate and relevant Knowledge, Skills and Attributes for the role and its responsibilities
  • Recognition and acknowledgement of volunteer contributions, written into the organisation’s mission and strategic plan.
  • And in the interests of continuous improvement I would really like access to a mentor for myself.

The leadership of volunteers should not start and stop with me.  It is the responsibility of all people engaged in the organisation to acknowledge and appreciate volunteer contributions, right from governance level.  That’s how you keep volunteers wanting to join your organisation, and to keep them for years to come.  And at http://www.bettystallings.com/ideas.htm you will find a salutary reminder to appreciate staff for their support of your volunteer programme.  Better still, download a pdf.doc on 12 Key Actions of Volunteer Program Champions:  CEOs Who Lead the Way – every organisation should have a copy.

July 18, 2010

Valuing Volunteers

Posted in Valuing Volunteers at 2:32 am by Sue Hine

Every year during Volunteer Awareness Week, and around International Volunteers’ Day I hear this litany:

Thank you to ‘our’ volunteers – You do a wonderful job – We could not manage without you.

Or variations on these themes.  And all through the year there will be rites of recognition for the work of volunteers, from certificates of service, to special functions, to letters and cards, and of course the regular utterance ‘thank you’.

Managers of Volunteers understand well the value of volunteers.  But I think the message needs to be spread around.

‘Value’ is a word that carries a lot of baggage and several different meanings.  When it comes to volunteers you can find meanings that relate to economic, political, social and cultural beliefs.

  • The economics of Volunteering are reported by Statistics NZ: volunteering contributes 4.9% to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  That is pretty significant, considering 4.9% is equal to the building industry and more than tourism (4.6%).
  • Politically, volunteering is favoured by governments around the world as a way to provide social services in cash-strapped economies, under the rubrics of Civil Society, Community Development and all those nice sounding words.  New Zealand’s Government is currently consulting on a ‘relationship agreement’ between government and the community sector.
  • There are lots of social and cultural reasons to volunteer.  Have a look at motivation research at www.sparc.govt.nz, or get a copy of Mahi Aroha: Maori Perspectives on Volunteering and Cultural Obligations to gain an understanding of a Maori perspective (available via www.ocvs.govt.nz.) 

Here are some questions you could ask yourself:

 Why do you engage volunteers in your organisation?

[You are absolutely not allowed to say “to save money”]

Think carefully:

  • What do volunteers bring?
  • What do they give?
  • What are the gains for your organisation?

 You could go round other people in your organisation and ask the same questions.  What sort of answers do you get?

 If people cannot answer the questions, or if they are just wondering why you need to ask, that should signal a need to do some marketing of the volunteer programme and some solid advocacy on behalf of volunteers.  Or get volunteers to talk to staff about why they volunteer. 

The whole point of engaging volunteers is a heck of a lot bigger than saving money.

Managing Better

Posted in Yes but at 2:20 am by Sue Hine

I have a feeling that a few tips about coping with time constraints are just scraping the surface of pressures facing the managers of volunteers.  So let’s have a closer look at the basics of the role to see how many things we are doing that can be left undone. 

In my view there are three generic functions for a manager of volunteers, looking something like this:

Direct Management and Leadership of a Volunteer Programme 

  • Recruitment
  • Training
  • Support
  • Recognition


 + Liaison and Networking

  • With other staff in the organisation
  • With other organisations in the community


 + Administration

  • Policy development
  • Job descriptions
  • Budget preparation and monitoring
  • Contribute to strategic and operational plans
  • Processing applications
  • Maintaining records
  • Programme Evaluation
  • Performance Assessment

If these functions are just the basics then the role is a huge ask, especially if you are holding other responsibilities in the organisation.  And this is before you even start thinking about the nice-to-do add-ons like getting a regular newsletter going or keeping in touch with all the volunteers by phone or email.  We can also get put upon with extra duties when it comes to a fund-raising event, or when there is a special request for an extra volunteer contribution.  We do it, mostly without complaint, because we know there is no-one else to step up.  Unless you step-up to finding the volunteer(s) who have the skills and enthusiasm to share some of your responsibilities.

It’s not just a matter of being a super-efficient multi-tasker. Managers of volunteers need to be multi-skilled.  Look at the functions above and go figure what it takes to accomplish all those role tasks.

 Marketing / Advocacy / Good Listening /  Attention to Detail  /  Persuasive  /  Group facilitation  / Interpersonal Communication /  Creative and Innovative  /  High level of People skills – good at establishing relationships  /  COMPUTER COMPETENCE  /  A working knowledge of HR management  / Understanding organisations and organisational development   /  Knowledge and understanding of the community sector

These skills are itemised at random, not in any particular order. Nor do you have to take this as a package deal: there is no box around this set of skills and knowledge.  Blimey!  That means the job is open-ended!  Do some thinking, and add and delete as appropriate.  And put some boundaries on what you are doing.

On-going professional development is not on the lists above, but should surely be included somewhere in your job description.  Yet when it comes to the point of attending training courses, mentoring and/or supervision I wonder how many of us skip the opportunities because we “don’t have time”.    

In my Wellington experience there are many people enthused about the idea of mentoring.  But why is there never a rush to take advantage of trained and experienced mentors being available, free of charge?  

The excuse of ‘haven’t got time’ is another way of saying ‘not on my list of priorities right now’.  That might also mean ‘I haven’t figured out what my priorities are’.  

I have not added any comfort on what tasks might dropped off the radar.  But I am saying:

  • Understand the role and function of Management of Volunteers
  • Get to grips with, and get some training in the skills you need
  • Involve volunteers, not just in regular programme delivery, but to enhance organisational functioning

 There are people out there who could do wonders for your sanity and your time management, and for the wellbeing of your organisation and its volunteer programmes.  Go find them, and you will find you are not alone.

July 11, 2010


Posted in Yes but at 6:06 am by Sue Hine

Ain’t it awful – that constant pressure, the competing demands, absolutely no work-life balance.  And certainly no time to browse a blog or read an interesting article.

Not when there are 30 emails waiting to be read, the phone is ringing, an anxious volunteer is hovering at the door, and you are late for an appointment and there’s a report to be written by 8.30 tomorrow morning.

Do I exaggerate?  I don’t think so.  Been there myself a few times. 

So I had to teach myself a few lessons which are worth a read, I think. 

 Because you can’t afford not to have time.   

  1. After two months of running round in circles I took a long hard look at the job description, and reviewed it every year.  Just to make sure what was written matched what I was really doing.  Very early on I got rid of that neat little clause that said ‘any other such tasks as may be required from time to time’.   
  2. I recognised the lack of time was not going to be resolved by attending courses on time or stress management.  It was the complexity of the role, the multi-tasking required – as well as numbers of volunteers – that was the burden.  So I really appreciated the organisational and relationship skills I had learned in household management and parenting.
  3. I learned very quickly how to prioritise, with and without a to-do list.  Once I had ticked off all the little things the load felt lighter and my head was clearer to tackle the major task for the day.
  4. In pre-computer days I was given this advice: Handle every piece of paper only once.  A helpful reminder when it came to managing emails.
  5. I reminded myself over and over:  Seek out the volunteer to help with this task or to take on that responsibility.
  6. Joining the Volunteer Centre lunchtime forums was a great way to meet and mix with other managers of volunteers, a kind of support network we all needed.  Mentoring or supervision is another means of support, and also skill development. 

Because you can’t afford not to have time.   

Because you owe it to the organisation, to the volunteers, and to yourself

Because you are worth it

And – if you want more than this homespun advice, the Energize Volunteer Management Update for July 2010** has some links to excellent websites under the heading Hints from Everyone Ready faculty.  And look for the book The (Help!) I-Don’t-Have-Enough-Time Guide to Volunteer Management, by Katherine Noyes Campbell and Susan J. Ellis.  I wish I had found something like this when I was floundering in my early days.  Read the blurbs and buy it. 

You see – it’s worth making time to look for resources.  There is always something to learn.

And that’s really why you can’t afford not to have time.

** If you are not already receiving this Update you can get the links at http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs070/1101128346960/archive/1103535999991.html#a6 

To receive the Update per email go to http://www.energizeinc.com/ener/monthly-update-archive.html

July 9, 2010

Managers Matter!

Posted in Managers Matter at 10:22 pm by Sue Hine

I do not recall ever seeing a New Zealand-based research study related to the management of volunteers.  Plenty of information about the contributions of the community and voluntary sector to the economy, to social policy, and to Civil Society.  Heaps of stuff about volunteers and volunteering.  Indeed there is a rich tapestry of resources about the sector, but you would have to dig hard to find something specific to management of volunteers.

 Sure, there has been a welcome upsurge in resources for managers of volunteers in the past ten years – guides on practice principles and policy development, either in print or on websites; opportunities for training through Volunteer Centre fora, international experts offering workshops, and Unitec’s post-graduate Diploma.  Access to information via the internet has expanded our access to knowledge and resources, including research studies and journal papers on management of volunteers. 

Finally an indigenous account of managers of volunteers has been launched.  Managers Matter is a survey undertaken by Karen Smith and Carolyn Cordery of Victoria University of Wellington addressing the question Who Manages New Zealand’s Volunteers?  You can find out who you are at http://www.victoria.ac.nz/fca/research-services/volunteer-management-research.aspx

It is not surprising to find diversity in job titles and employment status (paid/unpaid; full-time/part-time) given the diverse range of organisations in our communities.  Nor is it surprising that finding time and money to achieve goals is a major challenge.  Recruitment and retention of volunteers is also a significant concern.  Get the detail and further information by reading the report. 

This study is a small beginning, and it is great to note there are three more projects to come, under the heading of Volunteer Management Research Programme:

  • Valuing Volunteers’ Outcomes and Organisational Management
  • Volunteer Managers: Work, Career and Identity in an Emergent Profession
  • What works? A systematic review of research and evaluation literature on encouragement and support of volunteering.

Why have I gone on at length about the importance of research?  Especially when those findings mentioned above are self-evident to people in the field?  Think about it: the collective voice of national data; the power of evidence-based argument; a guide to future planning; the possibility of comparative studies and improved performance.  Because managers of volunteers are worth it!

I hope we are not going to sit back and wait for Victoria University to deliver the goods.  I’ll bet there’s a lot of informal small-scale research going on in several communities right now.  Or you could start a project.  Or engage volunteer(s) to do some (a lot) of the work.  And before you say “I haven’t got time!” please read my latest post.

July 5, 2010

Managing, or leading volunteers?

Posted in Leading Volunteers at 2:57 am by Sue Hine

New Zealand has just completed Leadership Week for 2010.  I picked up a fancy promotional booklet from a display at my Wellington Library, and also a book on leadership – an Australasian academic publication which led me down various theoretical  and highly intellectual paths.  Though important and interesting in themselves they did not shed any light on the management of volunteers, not for me, anyway.  

In our sector there is, these days, as much discussion on leadership as there is on the principles of managing volunteers.  Most of mainstream research is focussed on the public / private sector of organisational management, change and development.  I keep asking myself  What’s the Diff?  Am I a manager, or a leader?  And is my leadership in the NFP sector different from all those business and corporate hi-flyers?

My initial answer is Both-And, not Either-Or.  Think about it: 

  • Management is about systems and processes, getting the job done at the right time/place/by the best person in accordance with the organisation’s strategic plan and operational policies.
  • Leadership is about stimulating / encouraging / inspiring / facilitating / enabling other people to fulfil a mission, promote a cause – like the organisation’s strategic plan and operational policies.

Where do you fit? 

Not fair to ask this question.  Of course we have to do all the regulatory stuff, follow process, fill in the forms, write reports, compile the statistical data that feeds into funding applications.  But those leadership qualities, that enthusiastic drive, is what gets volunteer feet on the ground and what keeps them there, what makes your organisation keep on keeping on.

I’m going to keep on harping at these questions in future posts, so listen up!

July 1, 2010

Yes, but…

Posted in Yes but at 5:00 am by Sue Hine

It’s all very well to go on about managing volunteers as though it was a specific job, and that’s all they have to do.  Trouble is, there are people out there who have to be multi-taskers in multiple ways.  Consider the following examples:

(1) You are the sole charge paid position for running a community organisation – the philosophy, policy, practice, the volunteers – the lot.  Whew! – in terms of work-loads.

(2)  You have a paid professional position in your organisation (nursing / social work / administration / whatever) and you are delegated responsibility for the volunteer programme along with your principal role.  How do you divide your time?  Where do your loyalties lie?  Another whew!

(3)  Or you might be a volunteer called on to organise a team, a function, develop a new service, and you have no proper job description, and you really need a budget and it would be good to get some advice from someone else in the organisation, specially when you have never done this before.  And hey, I’ve got a full-time day-job as well.  Whew, again!

Whatever the circumstances of your organisation, volunteers need to be well-managed to get the best delivery of services and outcomes for your organisation. 

Which just makes you realise just how important it is to get management of volunteers right.  Right?

Watch this space, and tell me what works for you……..