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.


  1. Wendy Moore said,

    Great article Sue. I believe that the management of volunteers requires a very diverse skills base. The business skills including time management, problem solving etc. as you listed would be very helpful as well as HR but also some psychology, marketing and event management would also be ideal skills to have. I was fortunate to have studied a diverse range of subjects in my Bachelor of Administration however I have learnt even more over the last few years by following the examples of leaders in the volunteer management field.


  2. Sue Hine said,

    Thanks Wendy – and yes I’m in favour of a bigger dose of social sciences, including a good bit of philosophy as well. I daresay there would be no universal agreement on core subjects, but that’s the diversity of the sector for you, as well as all the different paths that have brought into the role of managing volunteer services.


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