June 5, 2011

The Role of the Manager of Volunteers

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Role definition at 5:21 am by Sue Hine

What is the role of a manager of volunteers? Now there’s a challenge, a gauntlet laid down by Susan J Ellis at the recent Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management held inWellington.

Responses came thick and fast: recruitment, training, support, appreciation of volunteers. No, no, says Susan, those are tasks, not the role.

Doh! So we talk in our small groups and have another go.  The role is about being creative, enterprising, energizing, resolving problems.  No, that’s not quite right either.

OK – I have to go back to Sociology 101.  A role is made up of expected patterns of behaviour, enabling us to identify and place an individual in our social structures.  We have expectations of people in particular roles – like teachers and doctors, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers.  There are social norms attached to roles dictating our rights and obligations.  A role can indicate social status, an identified place in the division of labour. You might also encounter role conflict, and role ambiguity, ascribed roles and achieved roles.

Much easier, I think, to understand role from an actor’s perspective.  An assigned part means I have to act within the dictates of the script.  Playing the same role does not mean I am a clone of everyone who has been a Hamlet or Ophelia before me: there is reasonable flexibility and tolerance, though I will be told soon enough if I step over the mark.

Now I get it!  The role is a label, a tag denoting a particular part I have to play, and the words to describe a role are active doing words.

So what is the role of a manager of volunteers?  Here’s my litany:

Leader, Advocate, Multi-tasker, Organiser (par excellence), Communicator – face-to-face, on-line, written, and specially good at building interpersonal relationships, a Networker, Enabler, Community Development worker, a creative Entrepreneur, a Big-time Trouble-Shooter, a Coach, Facilitator, Negotiator……..

Please add your own labels to this list – it is not exhaustive.

I begin to see the purpose of being a Manager of Volunteers as a contribution to the organisation’s mission, to facilitate delivery of  services.  So my role function is to attract, train and support (etc) volunteers to carry out tasks that will do just that.

There is a load of role expectations here that makes me wonder how one person can undertake all these responsibilities.  Yet we keep on taking up the challenge and achieving wondrous things in the name of volunteering and for our organisations.

Wouldn’t be luverly to get the respect and recognition we deserve, to access professional development as of right – either in training courses or in mentoring.  Wouldn’t be luverly to get other sectors understanding the nature of volunteering and its contribution to our communities, and to our social structures.

That’s when I would really get the full picture of my role as a Manager of Volunteers.


Note:  I shall be off-air for the next five weeks.  Transmission will resume on July 18.