May 29, 2011

Making Connections

Posted in Conference communication at 1:10 am by Sue Hine

You know how it is.  You send off an email, you Facebook and Twitter, you spread your messages abroad and count your number of friends to see how far your words have roamed.  These are the cyberspace connections we embrace these days.

Yet connections are not quite the same as having a face-to-face conversation, an exchange of words, ideas, meanings and understandings.  It’s not the same as R D Laing’s interpretation of communication interchange which was all about experience of the other: I experience you experiencing me experiencing you experiencing me… a pattern of infinite regression.

When you put the two together, connections and communication, you get a Conference, like we had this past week at the Volunteering New Zealand Conference.  That’s where you could get the best in exchanging ideas and understandings on volunteering and management of volunteers.  Of course having a live streaming facility for others to participate in proceedings would have widened the connections – maybe we will get there next time.

There were three streams of interest: Episodic, Event and Emergency Volunteering; Building Volunteering Infrastructure; and Developing the Leaders.  Three streams of opportunities to hear a presentation, to workshop a topic and to get some appreciation of volunteering and management of volunteers.  Not to mention powerful and inspiring addresses from keynote speakers, both national and international.  Not to mention the buzz of conversation between sessions, the real-time personal meeting and greeting of colleagues who had previously been an abstract email address.

Of course the conference was a timely opportunity to review and analyse the experience of emergency services from the Christchurch earthquake.  Of course it was important to reflect on best practice for event management, given New Zealand’s biggest volunteer programme happening later this year – the Rugby World Cup.  Contributions to these parts of the Conference programme were received enthusiastically.

You can take a sure bet that my focus was on Developing the Leaders.  What a feast was on offer!  Consider the key words and phrases and the images that have peppered presentations and commentary:

  • Creative leadership
  • Organic movement
  • The Starfish Effect
  • Strategic Collaboration
  • Momentum
  • Legacy

Each of these words needs elaboration.  Find out more in the coming weeks on the VNZ website.

In the end there is only one way to express the importance of Developing Leaders in our sector: best practice in management of volunteers adds value to the value of volunteers.  That’s what we do best and we want to make sure you know about it.

May 22, 2011

They’re Stealing Our Thunder

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers at 3:30 am by Sue Hine

It has been said quite often that managers of volunteers could offer a thing or two to managers in other spheres.  Now I think those other spheres are creeping on to our patch.

My home town celebrates Gold Awards each year to recognise enterprise and excellence in business.  There are seven business categories and three to acknowledge best practice.  The one that draws my attention is Team Gold, which pays “special tribute to those businesses that invest in their people with innovative HR programmes”.

We have had the debates about the relationship between Human Resource Management and Management of Volunteers.  Mostly the outcome falls somewhere in between – Yes, HR is part of our job, but there is also so much more.

I am intrigued by a newspaper article with a caption that reads: Investing in people can bring many rewards. I read about the nominees for the Team Award, and they range from a State-Owned Enterprise, an IT consultancy, a hotel, and (bless-them) a non-government organisation with a large team of (paid) professional staff. Each of them describes the advantages of being a people-centred organisation.  Like:

  • Supporting staff, developing team leaders
  • “Happy staff make for happy clients”
  • “You drive – we guide” – individual effort is noted and rewarded
  • Attracting team-focused people, plus a career progression plan

Pretty much the primary principles for managing volunteers. When you add in all the references to training, to mentoring and a buddy system there is more of the same.  And when they start talking about better rates of staff retention and improved performance it is same-same all over again.

If morale sinks, man the lifeboats – this is the headline of another news item a few days later, concerned for managing stress and anxiety at work.

I doubt if any manager of volunteers would get to this point. Look at the advice offered:

  • Open channels of communication
  • Closely monitor workloads
  • Reprioritise
  • Acknowledge, praise and reward
  • Build camaraderie and community

Nothing new here for me.  That’s what gets managers of volunteers out of bed every day.

I am not objecting to business organisations upping their recognition and support for staff – though I do resent the expression of ‘investing in people’ as though they are a commodity to be exploited for a profit.  That’s business-speak.  In volunteer-speak we would say recognition and support are the sine qua non of a win-win experience, for the volunteers and for the organisation.

What gets up my nose is the way effective management of paid staff is being taken up as something unique.  Managers of volunteer programmes and leaders of volunteers have been following the strategies and precepts above for years.  Take note and learn from us.  And, please, it would be nice to get a bit of credit for our best practice models.

Next year I will be hell-bent on getting a Team of Volunteers nominated for the Team Gold award.  “Investing in people with innovative HR programmes” is a bit of a tautology, so it should be a shoo-in for a hip community organisation to win the Gold for their volunteer team.

Nominations are now open – send information to me!

May 15, 2011

The Marketing of Volunteerism

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Language, Valuing Volunteers at 12:24 am by Sue Hine

You:   How dare you put ‘marketing’ and ‘volunteerism’ alongside each other!

Me:      Well – volunteering is a product, isn’t it? Like shampoo and shaving cream or the contents of a cereal box?

You:   No way! Volunteering is a different order altogether. It’s a service industry covering a wide range of community and social interests.

Me:      Ah, a service industry – like those that keep my telephone going, maintain my electricity supply, collect my rubbish and so on. Or maybe you are thinking of Child Care services, Drop in Centres, Home Care services for the elderly, and a whole lot of other stuff where most of the people involved are being paid for what they do. Volunteering is also a service industry – and it comes for free.

You:   So if services are for free, why would you need to promote volunteering?

Me:      Glad you asked! Let me tell you about a marketing programme for volunteering and how it plays out around the world.  The major promo is Volunteer Awareness Week. In the US they’ve been and done their National Volunteer Week in mid-April, and already you can get some marketing tools and resources for 2012. (You see – the US knows about the power of marketing!) Right now, Australia is winding up its week of events; UK is gearing up for their efforts in the first week of June; New Zealand will do its thing from June 19. I have yet to see an evaluation of such promotions that indicates real gains for the industry.

I hope you have noticed 2011 is also IYV+10. Yes, that’s right, volunteering got its own special recognition from United Nations, in 2001, wanting “to enhance the recognition, facilitation, networking and promoting of volunteer service”. Ten years on, and the General Assembly wants “to consolidate successes attained and to build on the momentum created by IYV”.

A nice plea.  Back in 2001 the slogan was ‘Ordinary people doing the Extraordinary’. This year the slogan is Inspiring the Volunteer in You, also adopted by Australia for its Volunteer Week.  The UN Vision Statement concludes with the notion that volunteer action will inspire millions of others.

I’m sorry folks – good intentions and high-flown aspirations never made great profits in world markets. It’s not enough to extol the achievements of volunteers, nor to play the ‘feel-good’ card.  The UN call to Governments, volunteer involving organizations, civil society, private sector, non-governmental organizations to engage in marking IYV+10 has brought only a minor blip to my radar screen.

I have never studied marketing, though I think I have figured the various ploys used by advertising agencies to sell a product. Audio-visual assault through various media, billboards, slogans, jingles, logos – you’ll know them all. The underlying message is all about the benefits of the product, whether the gain might be on price, health, quality, advanced technology, social status or whatever.

There could be some great multi-dimensional promos on the benefits of volunteering.  Volunteering deserves more than the inspiration tag – that’s no more inspiring than breathing in and out.

Forget the abstract virtues.  Let’s focus on the advantages volunteering brings to NGOs, to the substantive gains accrued by volunteers to large and small organisations in our communities.  Let’s see what volunteering adds to the private sector and to Government.  Let’s get real about the real meaning of volunteering, that dynamic force that binds our societal structures.

May 8, 2011

The Quest for Respect

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managers Matter, Valuing Volunteers at 4:03 am by Sue Hine

I do a lot of reading across a wide range of genres, mostly the stuff that requires paper and binding – a real book. I do a lot of on-line reading too, web-searching all the leads a good Google will introduce.

Reading is how I get to meet different writers and ideas and thoughts and theories on management of volunteers.

I first met Steve McCurley when I was a brand new manager of volunteers. Through his writing, you understand. My predecessor thoughtfully left several publications on Managing Volunteers in the bookshelf, and McCurley’s name was included in most of them. I have forgotten the titles, but it is the sound commonsense of his advice on the structure and process of managing volunteers that remains.  Ten years later I’ve discovered his writing on professionalism in the archives of e-Volunteerism, and wow, he agrees with me!

Like me he does not like the word ‘professionalism’, specially when professions build walls and become elitist. Though I think, like me, he knows a true professional when he sees one. Like me he knows that respect and recognition as a manager of volunteers comes from who you are and what you do – not a job title, not plaques on the office wall denoting educational attainment and membership of a professional association.  I also doubt that the level of your salary should be contingent on professional credentials.

Here is “McCurley’s Law of Respect”: The respect accorded a manager of volunteers within an organisation is directly proportional to the respect accorded the work done by volunteers within that organisation.

DJ Cronin echoed this hypothesis recently: If an organisation truly values its volunteers then it truly values Volunteer Management 

And I use this tag-line in my email signature: Promote management of volunteers and you promote volunteering!

What we are reading here are not claims for professional status. The bottom line in these statements is a plea for paid staff, for executive managers and NFP boards, and for funders, to understand and recognise the worth of volunteers – and the worth of those who manage and lead volunteer services. Volunteers, and their managers, offer much more than services for free.

Management of Volunteers is an exciting creative endeavour.  Volunteers offer the raw material for new ideas, for developing communities, and for creating social change.  Volunteers will most often have the best ideas, know their communities best, and be most willing to chance their arm on a new project.  Their leaders will know how to achieve the best ends. As McCurley says:

Involving volunteers isn’t about how things get done, it’s about what gets accomplished.

Steve McCurley is a foundation publisher of e-Volunteerism along with Susan J. Ellis. The quotes above come from an article Should Volunteer Administration be a Profession? published October 2000, and is worth a thorough read. Susan Ellis argues Yes! And Steve McCurley says No!

I think they are both right in their views. But there will be no resolution until we get due respect for volunteering and its important contribution to our communities and social well-being.

May 1, 2011

What’s so Special about Management of Volunteers?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Management of Volunteers Project, Managers Matter at 1:47 am by Sue Hine

As an ardent supporter and promoter of the role and function of managers and leaders of volunteers how dare I ask this question!

Yet it is important to figure some answers.  Because “anybody can do it” is what I hear at times from paid staff, though none of them want to take on the job.  Other people see managing volunteers as simply a function of human resource management.

And if volunteers are not valued as a skilled and well-trained resource for the organisation it is no wonder managers of volunteers do not see themselves as a specialist occupation.  The litany of “I’m just a volunteer” gets to be repeated in “I’m just a volunteer manager”.

So I’ve gone looking at management training opportunities to see what I could learn from all the certificate and diploma courses out there (not to mention tertiary degrees in business management).

One polytechnic offers the following subjects for a National Certificate in Business (First Line Management) Level 4.

  • Time Management
  • Business Writing
  • Problem Solving
  • TeamBuilding
  • Managing Conflict
  • Health & Safety
  • Organisational Principles
  • Workplace Relationships
  • Performance Management
  • Training & Development
  • Staff Selection

Great – the course meets NZQA standards, and I think the topics could be useful to managers of volunteers.

Another institution, for the same qualification, offers three compulsory unit standards, plus an additional two of three options on communication, and then more credits from a range of unit standards.  All of the listed unit standards are relevant to management of volunteers.

I am willing to bet, with a high stake, that in all these subjects and unit standard descriptions there is never a mention of volunteers. I will have to do some translation of theory and practice principles to make the descriptions relevant. Again, I am begging the question of ‘what is different in the management of volunteers?’ – or ‘is there any difference?’

Now I have found an Australian programme offering a Certificate in Volunteer Programme Coordination.  To gain the certificate I need to complete seven core competencies covering team effectiveness, communication skills, the legal and ethical framework, OSH processes, recruitment, work-based learning, and the principles and issues of volunteering.  Good stuff, though I would have thought this last competency should be first.  On top of this foundation you need to add three elective competencies, from a range of more than twenty options.

Not too much difference here from the credits to be gained in the New Zealand Level 4 Certificate in Business.

I note Level 4 is a first base qualification, and also how slow organisations and the community sector have been to pick up on the value of such education.

There are masses of training opportunities for managers of volunteers out there already, from certificates, to diplomas and degrees, within New Zealand and internationally, both on-line or on-site.  If only organisations and individuals would recognise the value of professional development, to enhance not just management performance but also the service contribution of volunteers.

Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Project is working on these concerns.  An Advisory Group drawn from educators, Volunteer Centres and other key players has been established to develop a Learning Pathway for existing and new managers at all levels of experience – and of course to find ways to recognise prior learning (RPL).

What’s so special about Management of Volunteers?  You will tell me now, please, to set me straight, and so we can get the Learning Pathway on the right track.