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!



  1. Wendy Moore said,

    Interesting article Sue. As you point out many of the above mentioned principles are already being put into practice when managing volunteers. It’s great news that Human Resource managers are also implementing these principles.

    I think that we need to be very careful of the “them and us” mentality of Volunteer managers and Human Resource managers, which seems to be emerging in conversations and articles. This does not do our profession any justice.

    I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to attend Australian Institute of Management AIM seminars and been part of a group of individuals who manage people. There is no differentiation of role depending on whether we manage paid staff or volunteers. We all go to the seminars as equals, willing to learn new skills and share our own management experiences with our management peers.

    Good luck with your Team Gold Award.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Well I haven’t found another opportunity to enter a Volunteer Team. But I take your point Wendy, that we risk being too precious about our profession. But then, not all managers are equal, either in HR or Volunteering.


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