October 31, 2010

A Letter to My Manager

Posted in Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter at 3:08 am by Sue Hine

It’s International Day for Appreciating Managers of Volunteers next Friday.

I’ve thought of all sorts of ways to tell you on November 5 just how much I appreciate the work you do.  I thought of organising a street parade, but there’s been enough demonstrating lately, what with Hobbit marches and labour union protests.  And I can’t compete with Guy Fawkes and all the fireworks – just hope they don’t detract from the importance of the day for you.  I thought of starting a Facebook page, or getting all my fellow-volunteers and the staff to send you e-cards.  We could come and sing to you, except my voice would add a discordant note.

So I decided an old-fashioned letter would have to do.  Here is what I really like:

  •  The way you communicate, by email or phone, in your regular newsletters – you make me feel this is a personal message, that I am really important.
  • And you keep us up-to-date with what’s happening in the organisation – so even when I am volunteering only once a fortnight I still know I belong.
  • You make sure we know our efforts are valued, just how much volunteers contribute to the organisation.  I specially like it when you can show how we have ‘added value’, like when a customer lets you know how about the extra-thoughtful service a volunteer offered.
  • The training and support you organise is spot-on.  You know how to get the right pitch to get us engaged and to keep us on track.
  • You have set the standard for performance.  We are striving to match it, and to outdo your expectations.  Because we want to follow your lead.
  • You know how to stretch our abilities, so I am learning new skills and more about myself.
  • You give us responsibilities, and then trust in our capacity to carry them out. 
  • And you make sure we always have a back-stop to go to for help.
  • You introduce me to all the staff, and it’s so nice when they welcome me and remember my name.
  • You say ‘Thank You’ over and over, and it never sounds like you are just parroting a phrase.
  • I love the way you are always so ready to listen, to have a conversation – about whatever.  And I can hear in your responses how well you listen to me.
  • You are interested in what is happening with our families, in our personal lives.  Which means you also know just when to tap me for an extra job, or when to leave me off the list. 

Thank You, dear Manager, for all these things.  Three Cheers, for your professionalism, your creative leadership, and most of all for your faith and confidence in me and all volunteers.

October 24, 2010

Measuring Outcomes

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managers Matter, Valuing Volunteers at 3:44 am by Sue Hine

For years I’ve been trying to figure how to measure volunteer inputs and translate these into outcomes for the organisation, instead of saying “we couldn’t manage without you”. 

A 5-year census survey can capture data on New Zealand’s volunteer population.  Numbers and hours per week of volunteering can be turned into a $$ figure to illustrate the value of volunteering to the domestic economy.  Annual Reports for many an organisation offer a gloss on numbers of volunteers, perhaps some recognition of length of service, and appreciative acknowledgement for their contribution.  Managers of volunteers can put a lot of energy into monthly reports on volunteer hours, travel distances, and in maintaining a database to record volunteer activities.

But all these measures are simply recording inputs and outputs, a quantitative summary of achievements.  There is nothing here that will tell me about volunteers making a difference, how they contribute to achieving organisational goals.  Which is something of great interest to donors and funders, especially when the organisation is contracted to provide specific community and social services.

Volunteers are not cans of peas rolling off a production line.  Volunteers (and their leaders) and what they do is much more about the qualitative difference they make to an organisation. 

So it was really good to hear from Drs Karen Smith and Carolyn Cordery (Victoria University, authors of Management Matters) describing at a recent Volunteer Wellington forum how we might improve our capacity to measure outcomes. 

First up, I needed to figure which line to follow “Volunteers are priceless”, or “Volunteers do not come for free”.  In the latter case I can add up actual costs of running a volunteer programme, from overheads to training to police checks, and work up a balance sheet against volunteer time and travel inputs.  A straightforward cost / benefit analysis.  But if I overlook the ‘priceless’ contribution I am (1) discounting the quality of people who volunteer and the intrinsic value of their work, and (2) ignoring how much impact volunteers can have on achieving organisational goals. 

The second key question is ‘Are volunteers substitutes/replacements for paid staff?’  This question is an absolute no-no in volunteering philosophy, but let us confront some reality tests.  If volunteers are substitutes or replacements, how would you reckon their rates of pay?  What are the benchmark positions for the jobs done by volunteers?  What is the opportunity cost for a medical doctor to be serving cups of tea, or for the lawyer doing the photo-copying in the basement, even if that is his/her preferred role.  How about the volunteer board member who brings mana and expertise to the organisation, for free?  Alternatively, how would you put a price on the ‘unqualified’ volunteer who offers (after training) expert advice and information, skilled listening and personal support, advocacy, team leadership, event management, etc, etc……..

All of these questions and examples are leading to consideration of ‘added value’.  Engaging volunteers is not about substituting or replacing paid staff.  Engaging volunteers means an organisation has some extra resources, the means to turn their vision into a reality.  Engaging volunteers is about enhancing services, pushing boundaries, making a difference.

Measuring that difference is the problem.  The researchers suggested we could arrive at a net benefit by evaluating volunteer services on key performance indicators (KPIs).  The model they demonstrated looks very promising – as long as we can get the KPIs reflecting what volunteers do in relation to our organisation’s mission.

It’s worth a try I reckon, to see if we can really measure outcomes of volunteer services.  And, if you need reminding, you do not accomplish anything like this without an accomplished manager of volunteers.

PS:  A really good article on measuring Return on Investment (ROI) relating to volunteering is now available in the latest edition of e-volunteerism.   Calculating the ROI of your Volunteer Programme: It’s Time to Turn Things Upside Down, by Tony Goodrow.  Go find it at http://www.e-volunteerism.com

October 17, 2010


Posted in A Bigger Picture, Valuing Volunteers at 2:54 am by Sue Hine

The Internet is such a great invention.  All that information, that knowledge sharing, the marketing, the social media chatter – I can no longer enjoy the bliss of ignorance.  My daily newspaper gets thinner and thinner because the news is reported on a website as it happens.  I do not write letters to friends and family any more, I just stack up the emails.  But, I draw the line at reading an e-book – because how would I curl up in bed with a lap-top or a techno-gizmo like an I-pad, or whatever-you-call-it? 

Of course there are millions of trees saved from being turned into paper, and between Google and Wikipaedia I could become a walking encyclopaedia.  And when I want to do some volunteering I can let my fingers do the walking, researching organisations and finding out how to get involved.

It doesn’t always work like that however.  Every organisation urges me to sign up to their Face-book or Twitter page, or both.  They are very good in promoting themselves, but rather short on being inviting for volunteers.

I’ve got a few criteria for marking volunteer-friendly websites:

  • I want to know what the organisation stands for, so I can figure if I want to join their tribe.  I want to see an outline of vision, mission and values, to be found either on the Home Page, or the About Us Page.  If these are not up front I have to wonder if the organisation is clear about what it does.
  • I want to find information about volunteering without having to do a time-consuming search.  Ease of navigation is critical.
  • And beyond the hype of achievements and photos of happy volunteers I am looking for real information on what is expected, the range of jobs available, and details on training – an outline of the volunteer programme that indicates a good manager at work.  I know organisations that publish brochures to attract volunteers.  Why not, for goodness’ sake, reproduce the brochure on the website?
  • My pet peeve is being referred to a box at the bottom of the page to send an email or call a phone number if I am interested in volunteering and “we will contact you”.  Because too often that call-back does not happen. 
  • Why can’t organisations get their application forms up and on-line?  Get the process rolling, the information a manager and prospective volunteers want to see?  Avoid the time and energy spent in telephone-tag.

Here is what I have found in reviewing five different organisations, all engaging a significant volunteer population.

Organisation A

I picked up a brochure which told me how sensational it would be to visit this place.  There was no website reference, so I had to resort to a Google search.  Oooh, the website is full of enticing experiences, you just have to go there, as a visitor.  Anything related to the organisation’s mission, vision and values is buried in the promotional hype. 

On the plus side is a dedicated Volunteer page.  It lists a range of volunteering opportunities, each describing what the role requires.  If I am still interested I can send an email or make a phone call.  That lowers my rating quite a bit.       

Organisation B

The Home Page makes a good start with side-bar links under the heading How do I…?  But I find volunteering is tucked under the Get Involved page.  There is a brief description of volunteer roles and expectations, and then I can fill in the Volunteer Registration form.  In addition to personal contact details I am asked to ‘tell us about yourself’.  Well, I think, I would sooner you asked what you need to know about me.  And I would like to know more about training and support and how the volunteer programme works.  And how long do I have to wait to hear back from you?

Organisation C

I was given a hard copy of the Annual Report, and right inside the front cover is a list of statements: the organisation’s vision, key objective, principles and values.  Hurrah!  Now I can see what they are on about, and decide whether I want to be part of what they do.

As a national organisation it was a bit harder to navigate this website, made more difficult when the branch I was looking for was not identified by its city location.  Information about the volunteer role and expectations was reasonably clear.  But oh dear, the point of entry was, again, just an email address and a phone number.

Organisation D

This website was a bit weird.  Yes it had a whole lot about all the volunteer programmes, but when I went to look at what was involved in a particular programme I got shunted to something quite different. 

Finally I found an application form.  It put me off to start with, to find I had to reveal a clean record up front, and whether I had any limitations.  Eventually I got to the question where I could indicate what my interests were and what time I could commit and a tick-box list for different programmes.  I was surprised to find only four of the programmes required specific training.

On the plus side I did find an excellent page on the organisation’s philosophy and policy.  You can’t have everything, but better navigation tools and a less inquisitorial application form would help.

Organisation E

Finally, bingo!  Here’s the place to go.  Home page is up front with the organisation’s vision, and a big tick goes to having values translated into Maori – haven’t seen that anywhere else.  And from the Home Page I can go directly to information about volunteering and volunteers.   There is a good introductory paragraph and then a list of volunteer roles, each with a brief description of tasks.  And I can contact the Manager of Volunteer Services by name for more details and even get a job description sent to me.  Wow!  Then, oh joy, application forms are all there to download and submit. 

Ummm… the forms are asking much more than where I live and what my phone number is.  What personal qualities make me suitable for this work?  Why do I want to volunteer?  What previous experience is relevant?  Gulp – this is like a full-on job interview, but it makes me think, and when I send off the completed form I know that’s what I want to do and why I want to be part of this organisation.  Which gives me and the manager a head start when it comes to interview time.

There are some extra big ticks.  The application form also asks me to indicate which role(s) interest me, and what time I can give – which day of the week, morning or afternoon.  It’s looking more and more like a real commitment.  Especially when there is a description of the training programme, and why it’s important, and then what sort of support is available to volunteers.

But there is one more thing this organisation could do.  Just a simple message like: If you have other interests or skills you would like to offer please contact….  It’s a way to indicate the volunteer programme is not limited to all the traditional volunteer roles, that there is a creative and switched-on manager at work who is also savvy about current trends in volunteering. 


When I read how the internet can be such a great tool for non-profit organisations and the voluntary sector I expect to see a better deal for prospective volunteers like me.  After all, if volunteers are integral to service provision they need to be integrated with the organisation, a feature on the website, adding value, not being an optional extra.  Get all this right and we are going to find great leadership and a really good deal for volunteers if they are coming to meet you via Twitter or Facebook.

 See the resources page for references and more good reading.

October 10, 2010

The FAQs for Making Better Managers of Volunteers

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter at 4:00 am by Sue Hine

I think we should start a dedicated website on this topic.  Here is why, and what I would like to include:

  • To help people find out the real oil on managing volunteers. 
  • To make sure people know what they are letting themselves in for when they accept an appointment as a manager of volunteers. 
  • To point out to employers what they should be looking for. 
  • To ensure volunteers get a good deal.   

 There is no reason more important than this last point.

Here are a few questions for starters, with my answers.  Additions and amendments totally welcome.

What does it take to become a manager of volunteers?


Physical and mental stamina. 

Ability to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  Managers of volunteers do not have to be a Hamlet, nor suffer his fate, but by heck you might have to work hard at ensuring your organisation understands why volunteers are involved and what they contribute, and then make sure everyone appreciates and values each volunteer. 

All blessings if you do not have to be such a staunch advocate, but I bet there will be other challenges to test what you are made of.

How do I get there? 

Well, sorry folks, there isn’t really a professional career path to follow, though we are trying to get this going.  Mostly you can fall into the job through your years of voluntary service, or there is a Sits Vac advertisement that catches your eye just when you are thinking of changing jobs.  Or you are employed part-time, and hello – you could do manage volunteers as well, couldn’t you?

 And for some people, when you do get there the job is like nothing else and you want to stay there forever.  For some people.  For others, it might be the job to run from as fast as you can.

What do I need to know?

Ah – Ummm – Well……… Actually there is a whole heap of stuff, but we haven’t quite put it into a marketable package just yet.  Or you can choose from a whole lot of different packages.   There is general agreement that core knowledge of Recruitment and Retention, Training and Support and Rewards is essential, though you should really go a lot further than this.  Everyone has different ideas on exactly what a manager of volunteers needs know.  You need to be selective, to pick what fits with your organisation, to mix it with your personal style and then add a stir or two of downright commonsense. 

And how do I learn?

Yeah – well most people just learn on the job.  There are training programmes dedicated to managing volunteers, from university courses to one-off seminars – both international and local.  And that sets up a question of ‘what don’t I know?’ and ‘which course is right for me?’  Which is a bit troubling to answer if I have not figured what I need to know: that is the first question to address.  

There are also lots of learning opportunities in joining a local network for managers of volunteers.  Contact your local Volunteer Centre to find out what they offer.

What are the rewards?

Discovering the joys of watching other people (the volunteers) grow and develop their personal skills

Seeing how a well-run volunteer programme can work wonders for the organisation.

Taking pride in your contribution to making the volunteer programme work; acknowledging your own skills and abilities.

Being part of an organisation that espouses values you believe in, and is active in working towards those values.

There are lots of challenges in becoming a manager of volunteers.   Have a look at recent research publications:

 From People First, Total Solutions, Martin J Cowling’s Global Survey (2008) – see particularly the Volunteer Leadership Data  http://www.pfts.com.au/documents/0805GLOBALVOLUNTEERMANAGEMENTSURVEYDRAFT6-4.pdf   

Victoria University (Karen Smith and Carolyn Cordery): Managers Matter: A Survey of Volunteer Management Capacity in New Zealand.  (June, 2010)  http://www.victoria.ac.nz/fca/research-services/volunteer-management-research.aspx.

Valuing Volunteer Management Skills  (September 2010), published by the Institute for Volunteering Research (UK)  http://www.ivr.org.uk/aboutus/News  The following paragraph comes from the forward of this research:

 “There is a lot of good practice in volunteer management across the sector, but [the report] highlights the need for training and development to plug key skills gaps among people who manage volunteers.  It also identifies that volunteer management remains undervalued and under-funded in many organisations, including those with largest incomes.”

I rest my case on the need for a better deal for managers of volunteers.

October 2, 2010

What are Managers of Volunteers Made Of?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managers Matter at 11:42 pm by Sue Hine

When I was engaged in hiring paid staff in the public sector I had to learn HR management processes like writing policies and drawing up job descriptions and defining a person profile around the specific knowledge, skills and attributes required for the position.  And quite a bit more about all the niceties of employment law. 

Managers of volunteers need to do all this basic stuff too.  Developing policies, defining roles and job tasks, setting up processes for recruitment, orientation and training, and for the supporting mechanisms of performance review and appreciation – all these are the fundamental tasks for a manager of volunteers.

But what specific knowledge, skills and attributes make the ideal manager of volunteers?  If I want to hire someone to run a volunteer programme what would I be looking for?  Sometimes I reckon we go for ‘snips and snails and puppy dog tails’, or ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’.  That is, we are not really clear on what we want.  Or we do not fully understand what managing volunteers is all about.

Martin J Cowling, of People First, Total Solutions, describes the role as a combination of Human Resource Management, Community Development and Entrepreneurialism.  Yes, I get that, and also a sinking feeling that I have to be superhuman to be a manager of volunteers.  I need to ask Martin to please explain in terms of knowledge base, skills and personal attributes.

Alternatively there is a huge amount of detail in the National Occupational Standards for Managers of Volunteers, available at http://www.ukworkforcehub.org.uk.  Included are ‘role profile charts’ and an extensive matrix of knowledge, understanding and personal qualities needed for competent management.  I need to set aside some time to work my way through these.   

In the meantime here is my recipe, reflecting my educational and occupational experience.  Like any good recipe it can be adapted to organisational requirements and the ingredients at hand.  And you will have to make your own call about expected formal qualifications and the weight of prior learning experience.


  • Sociology of groups and organisations
  • Principles of Community Development
  • Organisational Development – and managing organisational change
  • Basic introduction to management and leadership theory and practice
  • Legal issues and obligations (health and safety; ACC; privacy; human rights)
  • Community resources: the range of services available, how to access them and the criteria needed


  • Communication and relationship-building
  • Advocacy – for volunteers and the volunteer programme, within the organisation and externally
  • Leadership – ability to enable good performance in others
  • Networking in local community
  • Strategic planning, policy development
  • Computer literate, including database management
  • Highly organised, able to attend to detail as well as maintain a big picture focus
  • Excellent time management


  • Commitment to the organisation’s values
  • Integrity – an ‘integrated’ person
  • A ‘people person’ – friendly, outgoing, easy to get on with
  • Humility – understanding the importance of listening and learning from others, and how to engage the strengths of others
  • Experience in the sector (especially as a volunteer)
  • Inspirational team leader

Managers of volunteers come from all sorts of different backgrounds.  I know people whose origins are as diverse as teaching and nursing, social work and occupational therapy, grass roots community development and journalism, or on-the-street life experience. There is no single pathway to a qualification in managing volunteers, and in-post training opportunities offer a pick’n’mix array.  We can knock on the door of several different academic disciplines, or do our learning through forums and seminars offered through Volunteer Centres, or through the school of hard knocks on the job.

No wonder we have trouble in gaining due recognition of professional status. 

By contrast, academia is ablaze with research publications, theories, critiques, symposia, conferences et al, on the Third Sector, Civil Society and Volunteerism.   Research and writing on management of volunteers is left to the major trainers and writers in the field, and to the bloggers like me. 

In the end, the question of what knowledge, skills and attributes are critical for the role of a manager of volunteers does not matter so much as defining for ourselves what we need to learn in order to do better.  Volunteers deserve no less.

And if you are still wondering how entrepreneurialism enters the role of managers of volunteers consider the following comments from Ashley Berrysmith of NZ Fresh Cuts (DominionPost June 12 2010, p C4, Small Business Page):

What makes someone an entrepreneur?  Thinking outside the square and allowing nothing to stop you.

Tips for budding entrepreneurs:  Never give up your dream.  And don’t try to chase 100 rabbits at once – chase one or two because you’ll have more chance of catching them.

I’m off now, to catch a rabbit.