November 28, 2010

What is Volunteering (1)?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Language, Leading Volunteers, Valuing Volunteers at 5:50 am by Sue Hine

I have been puzzling over this question in recent weeks.  It would be easy enough to ask who volunteers: there’ll be lots of demographic statistics to describe the person or population groups, the numbers who volunteer, the hours they put in, and possibly something about the sectors that engage with volunteers.  Describing ‘volunteering’ is another matter.

This week we have a good opportunity to give some thought to the definition of volunteering.  December 5 is International Volunteer Day, designated by United Nations in 1985.  I raise huge cheers for volunteers in New Zealand and around the world, yet continue to worry about the real meaning of volunteering and the way it is interpreted.

I start looking for answers to my questions with the UN Volunteers working definition on ‘Volunteerism’, a so-called ‘big tent’ approach taken by the UN General Assembly in 2001:

  1. It is useful as “service” or “productive work,” not purely enjoyment for its own sake.
  2. It is directed to other people outside the immediate family/household. If it takes place inside the family/household, the action is considered “informal care, “family care,” or “household care,” not volunteering.
  3. Volunteerism must be non-compulsory, thus not coerced or forced externally by law, contract, or other powerful social influences.
  4. While the act of volunteering, the expression of volunteerism, may receive some expense-reimbursement or other financial payments, it is not done primarily for monetary gain, and the payments in monetary terms are usually less than the economic value of the volunteer work done.

Yes, I will accept the first clause.  And acknowledge the UN is seeking to extend the parameters of this definition, in tune with contemporary trends, though not yet refining the wording of these clauses. 

I object to clause 2 on the grounds that it excludes cultural obligations of extended kinship networks.  Attending and participating in Maori hui or tangi, kapa haka events, or a hapu meeting is just as formal as any national or regional meeting convened by other organisations.  In my pakeha culture I object to calling my support of friends and neighbours as ‘informal care’.  I volunteer because these people are part of my community as much as all those other organisations providing services and productive work.  This clause kinda contradicts the spirit of volunteering that has been around for 10,000 years, as the UN summary tells us.

Clause 3 rules out all those people dependent on welfare payments when they need to demonstrate their willingness to look for work.  And it wipes out those sentenced in the justice system to community service.  I object to this clause, because however you come to volunteering, whatever your motivation – the external directive or the spirit of altruism – you are getting involved in an organisation and in a community.  You are exposed to the kind of ‘service’ and ‘productive work’ that might just get you hooked into volunteering and belonging in communities for a long time to come.

Clauses 3 and 4 are problematic, given contemporary trends in ‘volunteering’.  Think corporate volunteering where the goodwill of service can be corrupted because a business wants to do some team-building or to show-case their ‘social responsibility’.  If I am paid for the time I go and do some good work, is this real volunteering?

There are many hearts and minds that have addressed this question before me.  I shall review some of these resources in Part 2 next week.  And in Part 3 I will consider the adulterated usage of ‘volunteerism’. 

In the meantime have a look at how many events for IV Day are happening on Friday or Monday, and how few are scheduled for the due day, December 5.  It’s a Sunday by my calendar.  I hope you know how volunteering goes on 24/7, throughout the year.  I hope you are going to start asking why we cannot do something on a Sunday.  Are we really celebrating volunteering, or are organisations and managers of volunteers giving greater weight to the convenience of normal business hours?

Explanatory note:  This post was generated by a couple of UN papers:  Meaning of the term ‘Volunteerism’ for the SWVR, a working definition, and Paradigm Shifts in the Volunteerism Debate, a Background Paper.

November 21, 2010

What real Managers of Volunteers know and can do!

Posted in Best Practice at 12:36 am by Sue Hine

If I heard last week the sad-sack stories of managing volunteers I have now got a bunch of positive advice from a different group.  They were asked to offer their best tips about managing volunteers, and if they did not know it then I told them loud and clear that they were demonstrating the best of best practice principles. 

With their permission I offer their range of best tips.

The basics

  • Make sure people know their job description
  • Constant training
  • Huge communication and encouragement
  • Sorting all the paperwork details.

 Value your volunteers

  • Make sure volunteers know how much they’re appreciated. This can be as easy as thanking them every time they finish a shift, or baking them cookies
  • Find out (based on their motivation) what kind of encouragement they need, and do it. I am genuinely in awe of fabulous volunteers, and I let them know it.
  • Let volunteers know how much we appreciate their time and energy
  • Recognise the hard work and effort that goes into some of the projects
  • Work with volunteers to identify any problems, to make it better for the next time.
  • If volunteers are listened to, and appreciated, they will keep offering their services.


  • Keep volunteers in the loop
  • Ensure prompt responses to phone and email messages
  • Reply to every e-mail they send, contact them at least once a week, either as a group or individually.
  • Open my ears and listen to volunteers.
  • Respecting that volunteers have a right to be kept informed
  • Take time to relate and talk to individual people on a work and personal level.
  • Your communication style can be a model for volunteers


  • “Lets tackle this together as a team”!
  • Set the goal, revisit the goal, speak constantly of the goal and openly talk about how ‘we’ the team are all going to achieve and realise this goal.
  • Then celebrate it once you are there! (even with a few packets of bikkies)
  • Strengthen what you have achieved by praising, referring back, relating to the journey and enjoying the rewards again.
  • Make the whole journey fun and memorable.
  • Create an environment where people want to commit their time and energy because they enjoy the people, team work, the ‘whole experience’. 

 The Golden Rule

  • Treat everyone as I would expect to be treated.
  • This approach shows your willingness to help others achieve the most out of their experience of volunteering.

 Do not exploit volunteer willingness

  • But do utilise volunteer expertise
  • Tap into skills they might use in their other lives

 Never stop learning

  • And always accept there are other ways of doing things and sometimes they are better.   


  • Screening volunteers properly and be selective rather than just taking anyone on
  • Only recruit volunteers that are the right fit for the role and for your organisation

 Be well organised

  • I make sure I am really well organised so everything is all ready for the volunteers when they get here.

 Personal attributes

Be honest, humble, passionate, supportive, communicative, encouraging, trusting, empathetic, understanding, a good listener, have belief in yourself and others, respectful, equal, value all, sad, happy, friendly, able to accept criticism, a team player, enjoy life and being alive, realistic, giving without the expectation of a return, caring.


There is no last word on management of volunteers.  The role is one of the most multi-skilled, most multi-tasking of all occupations.  With statements like these the profession is in good heart.  And I specially thank S for the following proverb:

“He nui maunga e kore e taea te whakaneke, he nui ngaru moana ma te ihu o te waka e wahi”.
A great mountain cannot be moved but a giant wave can be broken by the prow of a canoe.


November 14, 2010

Will the real Manager of Volunteers please stand up!

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter at 5:39 am by Sue Hine

We have a problem.  I heard about it last week, amid voices of passion and concern. 

The people who respond to surveys and questionnaires, said the voices, are not the people who do the real management of volunteers.  The results we read about are not what we know happens on the ground. 

I listened to the stories and the examples.  I am not sure what the real nature of the problem is, but this is what it looks like.

There’s job titles for starters:

  • Volunteer Coordinator
  • Volunteer Manager
  • Manager of Volunteers
  • Manager of Volunteer Services
  • Volunteer Programme Manager / Coordinator / Supervisor
  • Team Leader
  • Administration Officer
  • (Chief) Executive Officer
  • HR Manager

And probably a few other fancy names to add to this collection (please advise!). 

Well, maybe the title doesn’t matter so much.  The important thing is what the people who wear these labels do in the name of volunteering and management of volunteers.  Some people think the job is a piece of cake and can be done by anyone with a bit of commonsense.

Then there is the person doing double duties, and more, assigned multiple responsibilities, including ‘management’ of volunteers.  Enough to send anyone schizoid.  Because managing volunteers is among the most complex of multi-skilled, multi-tasking occupations.

Or there is a valiant volunteer plucked from what (s)he knows best to be thrust into tasks without a proper job description, with no training and no support.  That’s what I was hearing most.

I’ve heard about them before, these souls wandering in purgatory.  I’ve seen how organisations rely on innate skills and previous experience as a volunteer in selecting a ‘manager’, thinking they will know it all.  I have read how an organisation can rate their volunteer programme as excellent, on the basis of “no complaints received”.  Keeping the peace is obviously the preferred KPI over ‘enhancing services’, ‘adding value’ or ‘making a difference’. 

 So why would you involve volunteers in your organisation?  What are they there for?  What are they really doing?

There are three possible scenarios going on here:

  1. The organisation does not really value its volunteers and their contribution
  2. The organisation does not understand the importance of good management in making the most of their volunteers
  3. Or perhaps the people in charge of the organisation have become hidebound by procedure and process at the expense of developing the skills of their primary resource: volunteers (and staff).

 The problem has just got a whole lot bigger.

It has become a question of understanding what ‘management’ is all about, of remembering that managing an organisation is also about managing people.   I would specially like people to recognise how volunteer work in an organisation is also a contribution to communities.  Maybe then the light-bulbs will switch on, all over the country, to see how training and support for managers of volunteers (whatever their title) can do wonders for organisations and delivery of their services.

That’s when we will find out who the real managers of volunteers are.

November 7, 2010


Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managers Matter, Professionalism at 4:22 am by Sue Hine

A long time ago I watched my grandmother tatting lacy doilies and place-mats.  She used a small shuttle that wove in and out of her fingers with the speed and dexterity of much practice. It was a domestic craft I never accomplished, though it seems there is a global revival movement in progress.

Like knitting, embroidery, weaving and tapestry, tatting is an art that takes a thread to create something else, something larger and more complex than the original material.

So it is with ‘networking’, a word much favoured these days.  ‘Networking’ crops up in many different contexts.  Telecommunications is a big one – all that electronic interconnection, and the sub-systems of multi-media transmission and reception accomplished through Broadband.  And we can’t get enough of it.  ‘Networking’ is also a favourite tool for the public relations industry, and aspiring politicos and business executives.

‘Networking’ is high on the list of must-do’s for managers of volunteers.  Here are a few examples of the advantages of making connections and interacting with other managers and organisations:

  • In a meeting of trust and confidentiality you can let off a bit of steam
  • Sharing experiences and concerns is also a forum for learning more about the art of managing volunteers
  • Take this a step further and you can form a group for peer mentoring or professional supervision
  • The business of being creative and innovative as a manager of volunteers demands a community development approach, and you cannot do this without being involved and closely connected with your local community.
  • Networking is a two-way street – there are mutual benefits for your organisation and your community, like in recruiting volunteers, learning about trends, finding new opportunities for development.
  • And when you sign up to newsletters, email groups, blogs or face-book you are getting linked with the wider world, connecting with a global community as well as an information highway.

Last Friday there was a flurry of lace-making, locally and globally.  The International Day for Managers of Volunteers brought people together in small-town communities and clusters in the cities.  Supporting messages from politicians and civic dignitaries were published.  Events were recorded on a global website (, and a face-book page introduced regular updates and encouragement.

What we produced on this day was a classic piece of tatting, the whorls of delicate circles, linked with each other.

 There are connections within connections.  There are nuclei that spread to connect with others, a bit like the biochemistry of the central nervous system, stimuli that spark off each other.  So the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

 IMV Day can be an annual one-day wonder, or it can be the start of something that pushes Management of Volunteers into a work of art, for volunteers and for their organisations.  All it takes is a thread or two and the connections can last a lifetime, like my grandmother’s lacy doilies.