February 27, 2011

Community: the Idea and the Reality

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leading Volunteers at 2:51 am by Sue Hine

Today is for mourning the deaths of those crushed in the shake-up that happened in Christchurch last Tuesday.  People throughout New Zealand – being a place where just two degrees of separation is the norm – are all shook-up too.  And the tragedy goes global when you count in the tourists from overseas and the language-school students who have got buried under bricks or crushed by concrete beams and building collapses.

It will go on for months, the unfolding of this disaster. 

In human terms there is bereavement and trauma.  Already the population flight from Christchurch indicates high stress levels.  For those who stay the struggle to start again when your home is destroyed will be enormous, especially when the after-shocks keep coming.  The loss of possessions and artefacts that represented your history is like losing your identity, the sense of who you are.

I do not want to count the economic costs to the country.  There will be job losses, businesses will shut down, and a drain on government welfare support and services.  Investment rates will go down, funds for the community sector will dwindle.  And no doubt there will be a continuing migration outflow to greener pastures.  The ‘shaky isles’ have a shaky economic future.

Lest you think I am diving into depression let me count the positives for recovery:

  • Kiwi ingenuity and Number 8 wire thinking
  • Taranaki Gate initiatives
  • And if a Royal wedding in April is pumped as a feel-good event for the UK then we are surely going to have the best-ever Rugby World Cup in October.

 These ideas are the big picture stuff.  Much better to start small, at our local level.  That is what Christchurch people are telling us right now.  Read the reports, look at the pictures to find the spirit of community is alive and well, demonstrating how much survival depends on interdependence with others. 

In our techno-driven world it is easy to forget about belonging to a community, being part of a wider group.  Texts and twitters have become the communication of choice over face-to-face interaction.  (Yet vitally necessary in times like this.)

Christchurch people are telling us different.  Christchurch people are demonstrating some fundamentals of being human, opening their homes and sharing resources, looking out for their neighbours, talking to strangers, helping any-which-way they can. 

 And that spirit, in case you need reminding, is the stuff of community groups and organisations, at local and national levels. The idea of community can be the inspiration for leaders and managers of volunteers.

February 20, 2011

Inside the Organisation

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managers Matter at 2:29 am by Sue Hine

Last week I looked at the big picture of Community Development, so now is a good time to go from global to local.

Organisational Development has intrigued me for years. I’ve done the academic study. I’ve lived through (survived) the major restructuring of public health services in New Zealand (1988 – 98). I have been a participant-observer of organisations in the voluntary sector for a long time, and not always supported the changes in the regulatory environment enforced over the past 20 years. What I see of late in some quarters is a greater concern to implement survival strategies than to develop creative and community-led initiatives. Too many organisations have become enthralled as minions of government service delivery.

We forget our heritage, as a recent item reported in the OzVPM newsgroup  reminds us.  And when we forget our origins we begin to overlook our reasons for being, and our values can become empty slogans.

Why and how can this be? As always there are easy answers relating to power and politics, or to expediency and the socio-economic climate. And to the people who sit in positions of influence.

At the governance level the well-intentioned committed supporter may have to sit alongside the status-seekers. Or the newly elected board member from the private sector sees only the corporate model for planning and decision-making. Some executives can be more equal than others in their management practice and leadership skills.

The organisation can have its structure and function well-defined, but it is the culture and climate that will determine how its operations are implemented. The shape of organisational culture and climate is a function of leadership and its flow-on effect to staff/volunteer relationships and interactions.

So this is what the manager of volunteers is confronting, in addition to the regular responsibilities of leading a volunteer programme. It is like being a boundary-rider: one foot in the camps of management and the other in the leadership of a willing bunch of people. “Middle-management” has always been a difficult position.

Yet managing volunteers is much more than being a go-between. When you think about it, the role is trans-organisational. It is linked with policy, crosses over all service programmes, has functional relationships with all staff, and is the bottom-line when it comes to organising and implementing effective volunteer contributions. Plenty of opportunity to influence organisational climate, if not the culture.

So why is the role such a poor relation in many organisations? Why do so many managers of volunteers hang their heads and under-value their work?

Of course this is not the case for everybody. Much better to ask What does the manager of volunteers contribute to organisational development?

I reckon we could use some Good News Stories.

February 13, 2011

Mapping the Environment

Posted in A Bigger Picture at 4:08 am by Sue Hine

I’ve been sticking my head above the parapet lately, having a look at the wider world.  The view from the top is pretty amazing, and it’s not just seeing the range of organisations out there that engage with volunteers. 

When I start looking at the bigger picture I get way beyond the mission focus of my organisation.  The big picture is broad spectrum, reaching beyond community garden endeavours in my local suburb and further than the grunt of a national campaign on a political cause.

I am learning about Community Development.  It is a broad-band exercise, a collective approach to social change.  Community development might be political or economic, social or environmental, and everything in between. 

Descriptions of Community Development include some really important key words:

  • Participation
  • Capacity building
  • Social capital formation
  • Mobilisation
  • Sustainability
  • Empowerment
  • Networking
  • Collaboration

Powerful stuff, and when you add in ‘social innovation’ and ‘social entrepreneurialism’ you can get a picture of the active dynamism that is ‘community development’. 

That is when I begin to see that Managers of Volunteers are really practitioners of Community Development.  They are agents of social change.

Think about it:

  • You mobilise  volunteers to participate in your organisation;
  • The volunteers enhance and build your organisation’s capacity to deliver services;
  • You are able to build social capital  for your organisation, drawing on volunteer enthusiasm and expertise; and
  • You do not achieve any of this without establishing networks in local and/or national communities;
  • And you don’t get anywhere without collaborating with others on projects and programmes;
  • Engaging volunteers in your organisation mobilises communities of interest, and empowers individuals to become more than they thought possible;
  • All of which contributes to make your organisation sustainable.

I am talking about civil society here, that social cohesion, association and democracy and ‘communal health’ that acts as a kind of glue for humanity.  It has worked for people in Egypt this weekend, and it works every day in large and small organisations under the leadership of a manager of volunteers.

February 6, 2011

Getting to GO!

Posted in Management of Volunteers Project at 2:30 am by Sue Hine

In our globalised networks we’ve been talking for a long time about the importance of good management for volunteers.  Screeds have been written about the what and the why.  We have debated and argued at conferences and in on-line newsgroups for yonks.  Sometimes a plaintive voice asks Why Not Do Something?  And we keep on talking.

Enough!  Here in New Zealand our small team on the Volunteering NZ Managers of Volunteers Project has got to the action phase.  There’s a little bit of stage fright, and it’s a bit scary to look at the steep mountain ahead of us, but we’ve also got a lot of grit.

If you have read the Volunteering NZ Update for January you will know we have secured a 6-month paid internship for Claire Teal, the Project’s co-leader, and you will know more about specific objectives for the project that will run till the end of 2012. 

The project is turning into a really neat bit of community development.  It ticks the boxes of

  • Active involvement, and a sharing of skills and knowledge
  • A collective process to achieve agreed goals
  • Empowerment (in the recognition and valuing of management of volunteers)
  • Challenges for change

To make the plan work properly, as any activist knows, we have to spread the word and create networks.   We have to be open and flexible; we need to involve a wide range of organisations; we need to build a broad-based understanding of our mission and a vision we can all share.  Communication all over the place gets high priority, and we’ll need a lot of coordination for action.  Maybe there will be disagreements about strategy and approach, but debate leads to incorporation of new ideas to achieve our ends.  There is never a one-way concrete path. 

Members of the Project Team are not driving for their own ends.  They mean to act as catalysts, facilitating as far as possible the ideas and initiatives that others dream of.  Our vision is simple: Managers/Leaders of Volunteers are valued, well-resourced, competent professionals.

In three short weeks of creating a new and active network the response has been enthusiastic and enlightening.  As though people have been waiting to be roused.

This time a ripple, next time a wave(Stephen Sondheim, from the song Everybody Says Don’t)

Why are we doing this?  Good question, simple answer: for volunteering and for those who volunteer – they deserve no less than best quality management.

To join the network, contact Claire Teal at projects@volunteeringnz.org.nz, or phone (04) 384 3636.