August 29, 2010

Tales from the Road

Posted in Managers Matter at 3:02 am by Sue Hine

I’ve been travelling this past week, encountering old and new friends.  So what are you doing these days Sue? they ask, and as soon as I mention volunteering or management of volunteers out come their stories.  Unsolicited, spontaneously.  Everyone, it seems, has a tale to tell of both good and bad experiences.  Here are some of them.

  1.  I love this job, says the woman who volunteers as an Ambassador.  I meet such interesting people, and it is so good to be useful.  Yes, we got some training, but I haven’t seen or heard from the coordinator since.  Never mind, I’ll just keep on coming and doing the best I can.
  2. My organisation has just introduced a new computer system.  Oh what a headache.  We’ve had lots of help and guidance but it’s still not enough.  It’s like having a new toy and not knowing what to do with it.  I’m worried what’s going to happen to our services.  The other thing is, we are trying to get a new chairperson for our board and no-one wants the job. It makes me wonder what is happening to the organisation.
  3. Yes, the Book Fair is an annual event.  I’ve been helping with it every year since it began.  Great fun, and there’s always some gems to add to my own bookshelves.  Management?  In the early days the people in charge were hopeless.  They didn’t know what they were doing, and neither did we, so it was all a bit of a jumble.  We have a great manager now who is very organised, keeps us informed, gets a roster going for helping with sorting, shares out the work, and she says Thank You, twice, when I’m there for the morning.
  4. I do a driving job as a volunteer.  There’s quite a lot of responsibility and what I appreciate is the training.  I like to be very clear on what is expected, where the boundaries are, and how to get back-up if I need it – who to call if something goes wrong. 
  5. I busted my guts for the organisation.  It was a very demanding assignment, made worse because there was absolutely no help from the manager.  Phone calls and emails were not answered, requests for information and help were refused.  I won’t be going back there – it’s really put me off volunteering.

These stories are not unusual, but the themes are interesting.  Volunteer motivation, training needs, communication, role responsibilities and expectations cover most of the basics of management of volunteers.  I can also note the importance of a strong and healthy organisation structure and systems. 

Shortcomings in management of volunteers leave me uneasy, because it seems that some organisations are relying on the volunteer’s personal qualities like loyalty and commitment, empathy with the client group, or beliefs about community service.  That puts the well-being of the volunteer at risk.  Worse is the potential damage to volunteerism and the non-profit sector.

And that’s why Volunteering New Zealand is supporting a project to develop management of volunteers.  Follow the progress at


  1. Interesting how stories such as these, coming from people we know who are volunteering, become the complex stuff of qualitative research. The good stories are affirming – the bad are sad as, in the case of your last example, valuable volunteers are too often put off the sector by this unfortunate experience. Thank you for your awareness raising stories.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Formal research would be really telling a story, and much better than casual anecdotes. And then we could be looking more closely at the why’s and how’s of volunteer experience, and be well-informed about management of volunteers.


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