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.

Knowledge

  • 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

Skills

  • 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

Attributes

  • 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.

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5 Comments »

  1. Sue Kobar said,

    This is great Sue and reminds me about how diverse our role is. No wonder sometimes I have the “duck syndrome” — floating along with the apperance of being calm (hopefully) while underneath my feet are working very hard to keep me afloat.

    I’d also add to the list a love of working with people and helping them to fulfill their dream to be of service to others.

    I love your blogs…keep up the good work.

    Like

    • Sue Hine said,

      Thanks Sue, especially for your reminder of the ‘duck syndrome’.

      Like

  2. Hi Sue
    Hows the Rabbit chasing going? I loved your blog (as usual!). Completely agree with your definition if Entrepreneur. My observations of the “best” managers of volunteers globally is that there are a set of behaviours that mean they are innovative, manage to be at the centre of organisational activity, visionary, and able to take people, physical resources and limited capital and create signifncant outcomes. These are what i see as Entrepreneurial behaviours.

    To I take you up on your challenge: “to please explain in terms of knowledge base, skills and personal attributes”
    You made my job easier. I agreed with your list except for one attribute. I have added some additional qualities and put the category next to to each quality (Human Resource Management, Community Development and Entrepreneurialism). the assigning is based on research of what the most successful people exhibit in those three areas.
    I have changed the wording of a couple of yours and added some
    The next challenge is that a successful manager of volunteers cannot possess all of these. What are the essential ones they must have! Want to work on that together? (i see an article here)

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

    Skills
    Team Builder
    Communication Skills (E))
    Rrelationship-building Skills(CD)
    Advocacy – for volunteers and the volunteer programme, within the organisation and externally (CD)
    Leadership – ability to enable good performance in others (E)
    Networking in local community (CD)
    Strategic planning (E)
    Policy development (HR)
    Highly organised (?)
    able to attend to detail as well as maintain a big picture focus (E)
    Excellent time management (E)
    Technologically focussed (HR)

    Attributes
    Commitment to the organisation’s values (E)
    Integrity – an ‘integrated’ person (all)
    A ‘people person’ – friendly, outgoing, easy to get on with (CD)
    Low Need for Status/ Humility – understanding the importance of listening and learning from others, and how to engage the strengths of others (CD)
    Experience in the sector (especially as a volunteer) (CD)
    Take what they do seriously (E)
    Enjoy what they do (E)
    Manage money wisely (E)
    Customer focussed (E)
    Excellent Positive Promoter (E).
    Self-confidence. (E)
    Sense of Urgency (E).
    Objective (HR)

    Like

    • Sue Hine said,

      This is brilliant Martin! Why haven’t I seen something like this before? You have put the role of MV out there and it sure looks awesome. Which is one of the reasons we are stuck with recycling training on the 4 R’s. What are the essentials? Knowledge and Skills can be learned; it’s the development of Attributes I think should be a starting focus.

      Like

  3. that was “of entrepreneur” not if entrepreneur!!!

    shout out to Sue Kobar too…hiya Sue..might be in your city in November now!

    Like


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