March 27, 2011

The Fifth R Word

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers at 2:37 am by Sue Hine

In the canon of management of volunteers there are three R’s that come after Recruitment.  Rewards, Recognition and Renewal are functions of support for volunteers, the means to enhance performance and to value volunteer contributions in both tangible and intangible ways.  (Martin Cowling  could tell you more.)  Attending to these functions is also a means to monitor the volunteer programme, to ensure standards are maintained, organisational goals are met and general well-being is sustained.

 None of these operational processes will be effective without Relationships, the fifth R word. 

In the beginning is the screening interview.  Volunteers get to show what they are made of, and in return they learn a bit about the person who is going to be guiding their volunteer experience.  Managers learn about the volunteer applicant interests, their skills and reasons for volunteering.  An exchange of information is the first step in forming a relationship.

During follow-up and training sessions the volunteer begins to assess management style and expectations, especially through the tone and responsiveness of communications.  If the manager can personalise the emails, make newsletters friendly and involving, keep up with Face-book or Twitter posts then volunteers will feel connected with and committed to the organisation.  The manager of volunteers is the entry point, and thus a key figure in establishing that relationship.

So a good motto for managers of volunteers is know your volunteers.

I was reminded of this precept recently when reading a journal article on Coping Skills of Hospice Volunteers.   

Volunteering in hospice services can be stressful, difficult and challenging.  But so is working in the fields of refugee settlement, mental health and addiction services, domestic violence and any number of health and social services.  Being the volunteer coordinating your child’s sports team can be tricky too.  Even volunteering in your local op-shop can place demands on your coping skills.

Well, hospice volunteers in the study were coping pretty well, by talking with others (organisation staff, family and friends) and by seeking information and assistance.  They found playing with their pets was a good way to relieve emotional stress.  Physical activity also helped.

The most significant coping mechanism utilised by volunteers in this study was “talking with the volunteer coordinator”.  Volunteers acknowledged the value of training provided.  If a problem arose they had confidence their manager would listen to them, would offer sound advice, would be supportive and encourage them in finding solutions.

Managers of volunteers can get no greater kudos than this.  And all of it rests on the Relationship between the manager and the volunteers.   

 How are your Relationship-building skills?

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March 20, 2011

Honouring Local Heroes

Posted in Good news stories, Valuing Volunteers at 2:45 am by Sue Hine

Kiwibank is a New Zealand-owned institution, the minnow that says look-at-me-now! in the big banking pond.  Which is rather like Kiwis see themselves on the global stage.  When you live at the bottom of the world there are so many extra miles to go to meet the rest of the world and to make your mark on it.

Kiwibank goes further in its New Zealand Awards programme, wanting to recognise contributions from people who embody “pure kiwi spirit”.  (100% Pure, right?)

So we have had the big fanfares for the national awards and now the Local Heroes are being announced.  There are 250 medals for distribution across New Zealand for people doing extraordinary things in their local communities, to make them a better place. 

(I hope we do not have to wait till next year to properly acknowledge the heroes of Christchurch.)

In my region the line-up of medallists is an impressive display of volunteer achievement.  More interesting for me are the comments recorded alongside their photos in the newspaper:

  • I’m just part of a team
  •  [Volunteer work] is a very practical way of making things happen
  • I’m just the face of what we do.  All recognition should go to the families we’ve worked with.

You will note the self-deprecating tone of these pretty typical Kiwis. 

Another medallist declared ‘Connecting with people is more meaningful than any award’, indicating the importance of belonging in a community.  That’s what being human is all about, isn’t it?  And connecting with people is pretty well what you do in volunteering.

And here is the best statement about volunteering I have seen in years:

Volunteer work is as non-negotiable as brushing your teeth.  You just do it.  Being part of the community isn’t something that you tack on to life – it’s a really important part of life.

None of these worthy heroes worked single-handed – they are part of a team and their work has covered many years of effort.  Yet they are also the leaders, the initiators, the drivers, the enthusiasts that make things happen, the people who ‘make a difference’.  Like the leaders and managers and coordinators of volunteers in our community organisations who are working just as hard to achieve similar ends.  When one of them is awarded a Kiwibank medal I reckon the profession of management of volunteers will have arrived.

Last year we made the grade when Heather Moore, General Manager of Volunteering Waikato, became the first New Zealander to win the AAVA Volunteer Manager Award of Excellence.  AAVA (the Australasian Association of Volunteer Administrators) is our professional association, so the next step is to get the likes of Heather on our national stage.

And lest you think the Kiwibank awards are the only way to honour volunteers you would find that any organisation worth its salt could tell you a million different ways of recognising and appreciating volunteers for the work they do.  Beginning with thank you, going through rites of celebration, organisation functions, letters, cards, and ending with thank you, over and over again.

And all the time there is a leader, coordinator a manager of the volunteers in the background, creating the climate that allows volunteers to do their wonders.  Please, can we make them heroes too?

March 13, 2011

Accentuate the Positive

Posted in Best Practice, Managers Matter at 4:31 am by Sue Hine

There’s a yellow rose on my windowsill.  It is starting to droop a little since I received it on Tuesday this week on the occasion of International Women’s Day.  The yellow rose is the symbol for Zonta the service organisation working to advance the global status of women, and women’s rights. 

At the function I attended (co-hosted by Zonta) the speechifying gave much attention to the plight of women in developing countries, and some reference to the problem of domestic violence within our own communities.  Not to mention the inequities in representation in management and on boards, and in pay scales.

Women’s status, and their rights.  Hmmm….  We’ve been a long time on this one.  And we’ve been pushing for recognition and status for Management of Volunteers since around the time of the 1970s global wave of feminism.  And when I go to meetings and conferences I can see one of the reasons why: the majority of people employed in this occupation are women.

Which is no bad thing.  Women’s multi-tasking skills, relationship-building, eye for detail as well as the big picture are great assets in managing volunteers. 

But somewhere along the line there’s a big chunk of something missing.  When managers / leaders / coordinators of volunteers are run ragged, never given a jot of recognition for what they do, exploited to the nth degree, and the devil-may-care for volunteers it is small wonder there is such a high turnover and on-going stories of burn-out. 

And I start to wonder whether it’s the nature of the job, or the nature of female traits that causes such distress.  

So in the interests of self care and better management of volunteers here is my get-up-and-go list:

  •  Take responsibility for your own needs – find the supervisor or mentor, the support group to prop you up just when you need it; draw a line between what your organisation expects and what you can offer – and stand up and tell them what you think! 
  •  There is heaps written about the professionalism of managing volunteers.  So go explore the training options for professional development – figure out what you need to know and go find out how to get there.  And note: ongoing education / training is the mark of a true professional. 
  • Decide for yourself what is best for you – don’t wait for other people’s advice because it might not be right for you.  
  • Don’t you dare tell me you have not got time!  You cannot afford not to take time, specially if you are wanting the best experience for volunteers.
  • Self-care is really important.  If you do not look after yourself how can you expect to provide support for volunteers and to run a great programme? 

 So – in the words of a very old song:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.

March 6, 2011

Running with Good Ideas

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership at 3:14 am by Sue Hine

Factors that make a difference for good ideas to take centre stage: leadership; chance; participatory decision-making; money – and humility to learn from people on the ground.

I can’t remember where I found this quote, or its context, and nor did I note its author.  I latched on to the words and pinned the statement to the wall in my office.  It has become a kind of mantra.

Of course leadership is important in getting good ideas off the ground.  We always need people to lead by example, to set a standard, stir the pot, to take charge and to steer us in directions that might have been beyond our courage.  We can also be a leader by facilitating and encouraging others to fulfil their dreams.  That’s a pushing sort of leadership, and let us not deny its effectiveness.  Leadership comes in different forms and there is plenty of literature to give us a steer.

Of course money is a big one – we do not get anywhere without it these days.  A dollop of money can be just the stimulus to put a good idea into action.  I am mindful however that kitchen-table committees established the major institutions of IHC, CCS, Play Centres and Parents Centre, long before government contracts and philanthropic support were readily available. 

Of course, participatory decision-making was just what you did back then, and is no less important in organisations right now.  When you share common goals and values then sharing in decision-making is plain commonsense.

Chance is a fine thing, so they say.  You might have the good ideas, the best leadership, a band of willing supporters and enough funding to cover photocopying and telephone calls.  All you need now is a bit of luck, like being in the right place at the right time to mobilise community action.  Or to strike the right political moment when governments are willing to listen; when what you offer is what government wants; and when donor organisations put your bright idea on their agenda. 

It’s that last factor that sticks with me: humility to learn from people on the ground.  ‘Humility’ is a really tricky word.  My desk-bound dictionary offers a meaning of ‘humble’ as having or showing a low estimate of one’s own importance.  Hello, I think, so this is where managers/leaders of volunteers get their low self-esteem from.  Then I find an article that says ‘Humility is the most beautiful word in the English language’, describing its effectiveness in leading organisations.  Other sources tell me ‘humility’ is a universal religious virtue.  So I am discarding my dictionary and the Uriah Heep connotations, and taking up words like ‘modesty’, and ‘unpretentiousness’.  I learn about the behaviours of humility: recognising the talents of others, acknowledging my own limitations, and not reaching for what is beyond my grasp.  (That way leads to the deadly sin of Pride, the kind that brought the downfall of Faustus and many another.)

So ‘humility’ brings me full circle back to ‘leadership’, and I have to conclude that in managing volunteers you cannot have one without the other.  When you think about our philosophy and practice there is no other way.