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.



  1. Alison said,

    I was thrilled to see your wonderful letter to the Editor was in yesterdays Dom Post-well done. I read it and refrained from checking to see who it was from until the end-and as i read it i thought’wow someone else gets it!’
    And that someone else was you. Thank you for your very relevant and thought provoking comments.


  2. Sue Hine said,

    Well I was a bit premature in lamenting being overlooked. And I am discovering how many people really do read those letters to editors.


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