January 30, 2011

Sticks and Carrots

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Yes but at 7:15 am by Sue Hine

This week I have been reading a flurry of posts on cyberspace on charging fees for volunteers to be trained and engaged in organisations. 

Hooo-eee!  I am coming close up and personal with some concepts of volunteering that challenge everything I thought were important.

I am asking questions, like is a fee-paying volunteer a ‘true volunteer’?  What is ‘True Volunteering’?  Well – that’s a bit redundant, because we know in this day and age how volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, and from several different directions. When I reviewed definitions of volunteering late last year there was never a mention of charging for the privilege of giving time, skills and interest in a community organisation.  It cuts across all the accepted principles of being a volunteer, and I am a staunch NIMBY on this one.   

Why would you want or need to make volunteering yet another user-pays activity? 

This sort of stick appears to be concerned with retention of volunteers relative to the cost of recruitment: a monetary outlay can be an incentive to last the distance of a required commitment. 

Another argument rests on the significance of a particular training programme, and the benefit to the volunteer’s personal and professional development.   Like the skills gained in specialist health and social services, for example.   Well maybe that’s OK if there is a recognised qualification at the end of the programme, and there are not too many agencies that have reached accreditation status yet. 

My major objection is that any compulsory fee for volunteering discriminates against low-income people, and thus limits their ability to be an active citizen contributing to community well-being.  Such exclusion is also limiting for the organisation, narrowing the breadth and depth of experience and vitality it can offer. 

Of course, volunteering has never been cost-free, for either the organisation or the volunteer.   Many a volunteer is heard to say “I can’t afford to donate money, but I can give my time”.  And the value of their time, and their travel costs, and other incidentals.  Others find it too easy to write a cheque and prefer the challenge of real volunteer work.

So if I don’t like the sticks of fee-paying volunteers what are the carrots that will keep them coming and meeting the programme standards?

Good Management! 

It’s all that best practice recruitment stuff: getting appropriate information on the application form; plenty of information about the organisation and the volunteer programme, including expectations; a screening and orientation process that helps the manager and the would-be volunteer see if they have got a good match.   

It’s also that leadership, support, and communication stuff that keeps volunteers in touch with the organisation and on track in their work, making sure they know they are valued and appreciated.  Add in annual reviews, satisfaction surveys and exit interviews and you are going to get such a good return on your investment you won’t need to think about fee-paying volunteers.

Well – we know the real world is not always like that.  Volunteers come and go for all sorts of legitimate reasons.  It does not mean they are lost to volunteering forever.  If they have been exposed to a good experience they can also be the best possible ambassadors for the organisation within their local communities.

That’s what good management and great leadership of volunteers can do. There is no justification in requiring volunteers to pay for their services.

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January 23, 2011

Getting on the Radar

Posted in Managers Matter at 3:46 am by Sue Hine

This week, for the first time ever, my local newspaper included a reference to management of volunteers.  This publication is pretty good when it comes to acknowledging the work of volunteers and contributions of volunteering.  There’s always a big spread during volunteer awareness week.  But never a word about what is needed to make our services great, for organisations and for the volunteers.  Never a whisper about how volunteers get involved, what keeps them engaged and why. 

Well – this week there is an editorial in Wellington’s Dominion Post reflecting on lessons to be learned from Australia’s pain, and we know what is hurting our country cousins.  The reference to managing volunteers is brief, one question among several essential to a post-disaster review.   

How were the thousands of volunteers wanting to help, managed?

Simple question, no answers provided, except for this comment:

Those who would happily be part of a volunteer crew can tell tales of poor communication and lack of interest from emergency bigwigs.

Well yes, that may be so.  More important is to get into our heads that ‘spontaneous volunteers’ are going to pour into your agency in times of earthquakes, fires and devastating floods.  And you need to have some sort of strategy in place to cope with all that goodwill.  In May this year the Volunteering New Zealand Conference is devoting a whole stream to Episodic and Events volunteering.  There is much experience to teach us how to do better.

I got so excited about the mention of managing volunteers in the newspaper I just had to fire off a letter to the editor.  It has not been published of course, because it isn’t contentious enough, nor a carping diatribe against local authority or national politics, or a lament on the incidence of child abuse and domestic violence, or a lack of cycle lanes in the city.  And I was really talking about the ongoing everyday stuff in the life of being a manager of volunteers.  This is part of what I wrote:

“Managers of volunteers are the invisible beavers of community and voluntary services in Aotearoa New Zealand.  Given the enormous numbers of volunteers (over 30% of the population), the range of volunteer activities (events, fundraising, service delivery, and many forms of ‘support’) managers of volunteers can tell you a thing or two about involving volunteers and getting win-win outcomes for organisations and the volunteers.  There is also some professional literature available on managing ‘spontaneous volunteers’ in times of crisis.  These people know how and can do, and it’s time they became heroes on organisational charts and project templates, instead of being zeroes.”  

Maybe, just maybe, the people who get to read submissions like this will park my message as something to resurrect when they want a feature page or something. 

 Whatever, I reckon it’s a good start to getting managers of volunteers on the radar of IYV+10.

January 16, 2011

The 2011 Wish List

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managers Matter at 2:01 am by Sue Hine

Two weeks into the New Year and I’ve still got a bunch of good wishes to deliver.  Happy New Year!

I have never been one to make Resolutions at this time.  Not worth the effort when I know any vows about getting fit, losing weight or any other self-sacrificial pledge will be down the tube by the end of the month.

So I have idle thoughts instead, about other things that might happen this year.  Speculation is not a sound recommendation for investment on the economic front, and buying a Lotto ticket is another form of wishful thinking.  Well, I keep on hoping.  This year I am hoping a few more managers of volunteers can make a better deal for volunteers and their organisations, and specially for themselves.  And if you already have a good deal going for you as a manager of volunteers, my wish is for you to reach out your hand to help others learn what they need to know.

Here is what I am wishing for the coming year:

  • For all Managers of Volunteers to have the opportunity for professional development – to access training opportunities and mentoring or supervision as an employment right, not as a favour.  In Kiwi country that means spreading information about what is available.  We are very good at village pump communication – let’s get it formalised and around the traps, and tell people why it is important.
  •  I want to hear less about managers floundering in their role, struggling to find help.  In most places there is plenty of help at hand, and maybe my concern reflects too many examples of Managers of Volunteers trying to be all things to all people.  Which is saying a lot about a need to clarify my role and function for myself, and then to negotiate practicalities with the organisation.
  • It’s IYV+10, so it should not be expecting too much to get some acknowledgement from Government, and from organisations, to include a nod to the Managers of Volunteers who keep Volunteering keeping on.  2011 is just the year to rattle a few cages with management teams and boards, and with the government agencies that call the shots for many of our organisations.  After all, good relationships and regular communication are stock-in-trade for our work with volunteers, so why not with all those non-volunteer parts of our communities. 
  • And, being really ambitious, I would like to see progress towards strengthening our status as professionals.  This means we have to come out of the closet, demonstrate we can pass muster in terms of recognised entry qualifications, point to a set of performance benchmarks, and to wear the badge of our professional association.  The VNZ conference in May is designed to spur some action. 

These are pretty modest wishes, and while they are not properly translated into operational plans with defined performance expectations, they are likely to form the bones of ongoing blog-commentary.  There are plenty of sub-text issues to talk about, and no doubt there will be other topics flying in from left-field.  2011 is all Green-to-Go!

 For more on 2011 Wishes, Resolutions and Great Ideas go to http://djcronin.blogspot.com/2011/01/hopes-and-wishes-for-our-sector-for.html

My last great wish, which is also first on my list, is for a disaster-free year.  We’ve earned it I reckon, not just in New Zealand and Australia, but around the world.  From Haiti to Pakistan, from Iceland’s volcano to winter blizzards – 2010 has been a very bad year, the worst in more than a generation they say.  Right now there are two words for flood-recovery in Queensland: Go volunteers!