August 15, 2010

A Question of Value

Posted in Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter at 11:31 pm by Sue Hine

A couple of years ago I was engaged by a national organisation to compile a new edition of guidelines for managers of volunteer services.  Exciting stuff, supported by several keen and experienced in-post managers.  We did some good things I think, revising content to be more explicit about why we engaged with volunteers and what they offered.  Even better, we established a new job title.  No longer a volunteer anything, in this organisation we were now going to be called Managers of Volunteer Services.   

 There was more good stuff on offer about the basics of developing a volunteer programme: the business of recruitment, training, reviewing performance and rewarding volunteers.  And more about paid staff / volunteer relationships, the regulatory environment, and encouragement for support and mentoring first-time entrants into the occupation.  Another first was a raft of collegial offers to share information, so that no newbie had to reinvent the wheel.  We extended the list of references for further information.  The final document was as up-to-date as it possibly could be.

 This was pretty exciting because my previous experience with this organisation had offered plenty of evidence of the ‘Just a Volunteers’ Manager’ Syndrome.  Why would we do this to ourselves when we would never let a volunteer get away with being ‘just a volunteer’?

 And then a voice of wisdom spoke up, from outside our circle:  To be valued as a manager of volunteer services you need to start valuing yourself. 

Now there is a wake-up call, a real Ah-Hah moment.  Let’s cut the ‘poor me’ stuff and point some fingers at where the lack of appreciation is coming from.

The government supports volunteerism in many ways.  Well heck, volunteering and NGOs contribute 4.9% to New Zealand’s GDP.  There is much lavish praise for volunteering, but never an acknowledgement that volunteer activities and good volunteer programmes are dependent on skilled managers.  Let alone a bit of funding for professional development, or a salary commensurate with qualifications and experience.

 Many organisations accept all the goodwill and effort volunteers can offer, not realising how far volunteer contributions depend on the training and support and people skills of the Manager of Volunteer Services.  Volunteers are the ‘added value’ for their organisation, enhancing services.  Or they can be destructive ambassadors, cutting the reputation of an organisation in an instant if their volunteer experience is not a happy one.  Good management of volunteers can make the difference between adding value to services and ruined street cred.

Have a look at the websites that pop up when you Google Volunteering or Volunteerism – you have to go a long way down the list of 12 million+ hits before you find a mention of volunteer management. 

Have a really good look at NGO newsletters and Annual Reports to see what they are not saying about management of their volunteers. 

And all the time You know you are doing a great job; You know how much the volunteers appreciate your training and on-going support; and You know just what volunteers are contributing to your organisation’s services.  You are not ‘just a volunteer manager’, and not ‘just’ anything!

 So stand tall, and follow Volunteering NZ’s Updates to keep in touch with the Development Project for Managers of Volunteers.  In particular, look for our promotion (coming soon!) of International Day for Managers of Volunteers (November 5) when we will be celebrating and acknowledging the Heroes of volunteer management in local communities. 

 Pssst! Tell your volunteers about it too, so you can get nominated.

1 Comment »

  1. Sue Kobar said,

    Thanks Sue H. You always provide such clarity in your writing. After a few rather down days you have given me a lift which is very much appreciated!


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