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.


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