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.


  1. It’s a good point. If someone is giving up their time to help out and volunteer the least they deserve is good management and to make sure they are happy with what they are doing. If there is no support or enthusiasm coming from who they are volunteering for there will appear to be a lack of appreciation which can lead to the volunteer thinking ‘What am I doing here?’. Clear communication and appreciation are key. Thanks for the post. Very interesting.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Glad you find the post interesting. It’s what we do about supporting managers of volunteers that will make the real difference. Thanks for your comments.


  2. Jane Kibble said,

    How fast of you to get these comments out so quickly,I would like to take the information we discussed to the volunteer coordinators/managers support group which i coordinate,is that ok with you and how do you feel about me using your”will the managers of volunteers please stand up”in our next newsletter,i am so keen to reach the “real” managers and those who “manage” the managers.
    Glad to be part of the wellington gathering last week,good to talk to you and thanks for going all out with this.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Hey Jane, I’m glad the post is relevant for you. You will know anything like this is very public material the moment it hits cyberspace. So you’re welcome to use it any which way.


  3. Ruth Gardner said,

    You might add ‘Leader of Volunteers’ to your list. This year I’ve run a workshop called ‘Basic Leadership of Volunteers’. Next year it’s going to be called ‘Learning to lead Volunteers’. It’s aimed particularly at those new to the role who often don’t realise they are a ‘Volunteer Manager’. It’s important those people are included in our discussion, but how to attract them and have them understand that what they’re doing is managing volunteers can be a challenge.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Good one Ruth! Leading can be so much more important than ‘management’. Really great you are taking a lead in your training workshops for the newbies. There are too many of them, and I would like the challenge to be directed at the CE and Board level. I think we should also talk about promoting your workshop beyond your region.


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