April 3, 2011

The Fifth R Word (2)

Posted in Best Practice at 4:12 am by Sue Hine

Some people will be remarking there is more to Relationships in community organisations than a cosy trust and confidence thing between volunteers and their managers.

Some people will know about the gulf that can exist between paid staff and volunteers. Which is when we get quite a literature about poor Staff-Volunteer Relationships and how to repair the damage.

Staff will say:

·         Volunteers are unreliable

·         Some volunteers are useless, and we have to pick up the pieces

·         They don’t stick around; they come and go as they please

·         Volunteers don’t know and understand the organisation like we do

·         Volunteers might be ‘nice to have’, but they are more trouble than they are worth

Volunteers will say:

·         Staff never say hello or thank you for my work

·         When I ask for help or advice staff look at me like I am an idiot

·         Staff seem to think it is my fault when anything goes wrong

·         “I don’t really feel I am a part of this organisation”

·         “I’m just a volunteer, so what else can I expect”

When you get to this sort of scenario some hard-thinking analysis has to be done.  The contributors to poor staff-volunteer relations can arise from:

·         ‘Professional’ superiority over the ‘Amateurs’.  The perception that professional training creates an expert is sad, but true – especially where clinical disciplines are involved in the community and voluntary sector.  Professional expertise can dominate volunteer contributions in asymmetrical power relations.  

·         Staff are employed to do a job – they have never thought about (or been properly introduced to) the philosophy and values of the organisation, and even less about the nature of volunteering and how it can contribute to the organisation’s goals.

·         A pecking order prevails, percolating down from executive level attitudes and their treatment of paid staff.  Volunteers are relegated to be Cinderellas in the kitchen. 

·         Nobody has asked staff about involving volunteers, and what would work for them, or how volunteers could make a real difference towards achieving staff programme goals.

·         If staff do go the extra mile to support and to appreciate volunteers nobody seems to notice their efforts.

·         And anyway the volunteers belong to the Manager of Volunteers – not a staff problem.  It’s the Manager’s fault if anything goes wrong.

·         Teamwork?  Collaboration?  Conflict Resolution?  You gotta be joking – not where I come from.

The worst indictment I have ever seen is the case of the Manager of Volunteers who ‘owns’ the volunteers.  They are never ‘my’ volunteers, as I wrote in this blog months ago.  Management of Volunteers is about running a service or programme for your organisation.  What you do with volunteers in all the training and support and communication and relationship stuff is Leadership (another story, another time).

If you don’t get this, then you get the kind of stand-off between staff and volunteers that can lead to a (metaphoric) pistols-at-dawn shoot-out.  

If you want to get out of this trap, or want to avoid ever falling into it, there are some great resources available.

On the other hand, if you know and understand about the importance of Relationships you will also know about the contributors to good relationships as I described last week.  In the quest for better staff/volunteer relations there are a few words to be added.  Like Collaboration and Compromise.  Like Listening and Effective Communication.  Like Appreciation.  Like being non-judgemental. 

And another R Word: Respect.  It’s a word that can make a deal of difference in relationships in your organisation.

Simple, eh? 

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1 Comment »

  1. DJ Cronin said,

    Spot on Sue. Great Post. Thanks.

    Like


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