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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1 Comment »

  1. Dragonlady said,

    nice piece Sue

    Like


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