July 31, 2011
A year ago, almost to the day, I posted a glib off-the-cuff piece on a bad volunteer experience. One year later it turns out to be the ‘most-viewed’ of everything I have written, by a wide margin. A lot of people, it seems, want to know how bad the experience can get, or to commiserate with others, and they plug into a search engine to find out.
I’d love to know why the topic generates so much interest. Are people hoping to find a site where they can vent dissatisfaction? Or to find out the pitfalls of being a volunteer? Of course the anonymity of cyberspace will not give me any answers: I can only speculate.
At the time, back then a year ago, writing up the impact of a bad experience was a way to turn a spotlight on the importance of good practice in the management of volunteers. That’s the focus, the driver for keeping this blogger keeping on. That’s the driver that has sustained the Management of Volunteers Project over the past eighteen months. When you get good management and leadership of volunteers you get great volunteer service. The flow-on effect to the quality of service delivery in all spheres of public, private and community interests is enormous – for individual volunteers and their communities, and for the programmes and the organisations the volunteers support.
So it is enormously gratifying to learn the Volunteering New Zealand Board is working to include the work of the Project as core VNZ business. As Claire Teal reports, the Project has evolved to building ‘the critical infrastructure of volunteering in New Zealand’, and VNZ is in the pole position to undertake that building.
In another year’s time I would like to think we have swung the search queries from negative to affirmative – maybe even a fan-base generated to report on really good volunteer experiences. That will tell me there is wide acceptance and application of best practice principles in management of volunteers. And a greater acknowledgement and appreciation of managers of volunteers
and what they contribute to their organisations.
July 23, 2011
Quite suddenly the season for introspection is upon us.
There is nothing new here. Those of us slogging our hearts out at the coal face regularly question why we stick with a job that is poorly resourced and inadequately valued. Those of us who think and write about these things, and who get to teach on professional development, review the questions over and over, revisiting the arguments on the best way forward.
Right now the stars are in conjunction, and cyber-space is humming on the issues of credentialing management of volunteers.
It started a few weeks back with a small spark ignited when a New Zealand candidate for the (US-based) Certificate in Volunteer Administration, a person with more than a few years experience, failed the multi-choice question test that would have given her a qualification in Management of Volunteers. She found she was not alone, and there is a bubble of email exchanges.
Susan Ellis took discussion to the next level, addressing the subject of credentialing in her latest Hot Topic, arguing “If we test or approve only the narrow basics of our work, we lose the opportunity to reward those already at a much higher level and, worse, send the wrong message about what our profession is really about”. Susan laments the lack of attention by training resources to understanding the why, the philosophy, the social context of our work, and the omission of organizational development. She asks: Where is our vision of what our work stands for, should be, or can be when done with full organisational support? The commentary that followed posting of this topic illustrated a continuum of opinion that continued previous debates on the business of qualifications and/or certification. I am sorry to find identifying a vision for what our work represents is pretty-well overlooked.
From my reading here, my experience of living in and volunteering in my local communities, from doing the hard yards as a manager of volunteers, and from my own certified credentials (academic and other, not directly related to management of volunteers), I can identify the following tensions:
- Formal qualifications vs practical experience and local knowledge
- Assessing competency (providing acceptable standards are established) vs ‘anyone can do the job’
- “Being professional” vs becoming professionalised
- Professional vs the ‘amateur’, particularly in organisations where clinical staff work alongside volunteers
- Management vs Leadership (best not seen as antagonistic but as two streams of managing volunteers: managing processes like recruitment, training and support, and leading the volunteers – though this distinction is not well understood by the community and voluntary sector, nor in other sectors for that matter)
- Academic research illustrating current factors in volunteering and managing volunteers, vs a seeming lack of interest from organisations and government.
- We want to raise our performance and standards and the expectations of others, vs apathy and inertia from organisations and governments.
- Our belief in volunteers and volunteering vs nobody else does!
- Subjective understanding of ‘good’ management of volunteers vs getting an objective measurement and assessment
Now here is a back-story relating to the Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Project. One of the project’s principle objectives is to develop a learning and development pathway. The dilemmas around professionalisation and proper measurement of competency are well understood. The educationalists, the researchers and the volunteer management practitioners engaged in the project are committed to identifying multiple pathways to cater for different points of entry relevant to different responsibilities. There will be no one-size-fits-all determination. Like Susan Ellis, we too are searching for an approach that will validate the knowledge and skills of people who manage volunteer programmes.
The next phase is for the future. In New Zealand we await further developments of the Management of Volunteers Project. In October I will be looking out for the issue of e-volunteerism which will be devoted entirely to credentialing. I hope you are reaching for your debating gloves, and working up your arguments to make a case, one way or the other.
July 17, 2011
Six months ago, around the middle of January, Claire Teal embarked on the ride of her life, putting some wheels on a year-long discussion to create a vehicle for promoting the role and value of Managers / Leaders of Volunteers. This week marks the end of her internship with Volunteering New Zealand, sponsored by the Department of Internal Affairs.
What happens next is contingent on the outcome of funding applications and crossed fingers for other support.
The project began as a spontaneous response to the Inspiring Leaders stream of the Volunteering New Zealand Conference in November 2009. For a year a small group representing Sporting, Volunteer Centres, academic research and direct practice interests chewed over what we wanted to do, researched and discussed, explored options. There was never any doubt that our mission was to promote the role and value of Managers / Leaders of Volunteers. We wanted to see them well resourced with plenty of professional development opportunities.
The publication of Management Matters in June 2010, a research study undertaken by Karen Smith and Carolyn Cordery of Victoria University Wellington, offered significant benchmarks on the state of management of volunteers in New Zealand. As elsewhere in the world, the occupation ranges from full-time and part-time paid employment to volunteer engagement in leading volunteers. As elsewhere, the salary range, qualifications and professional development opportunities varies enormously.
Karen and Carolyn have followed this research with more on the economic value of volunteering and with a literature review What works? A systematic review of research and evaluation literature on encouragement and support of volunteering. This report illustrates good practice in managing volunteers, and highlights key success factors for participation in volunteering and the support of management of volunteers within formal organisations.
From January 2011 Claire Teal initiated a community development approach to soliciting support for the project, developing relationships and establishing networks around New Zealand. One significant group is considering Learning and Development for Managers / Leaders of Volunteers, drawing on academic and educational expertise, Volunteer Centre knowledge and the experience and ideas of practitioners. The focus is on finding a range of pathways for professional development. Putting a straitjacket on professional qualifications is not in our book: one size, as we keep on saying, does not fit all.
A second strand, and possibly more significant, is drawing together organisational executives to champion the cause of management of volunteers – which is really about recognising the significance of volunteer contribution to the organisation. This enthusiastic group will do much to promote volunteering and management of volunteers throughout New Zealand.
This brief overview does not do full justice to the work Claire Teal has undertaken. Without doubt however, she has driven the project within range of achieving its goals.
In May this year the Volunteering NZ Conference included a stream on Developing the Leaders. Sessions for this stream were largely over-subscribed. The Conference was followed by the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Managers of Volunteers. Both these events engendered comments like the following:
- It was a tremendous experience to be surrounded by people that share the same vision but at the same time have such a variety of view points, experiences and organisational practice. The obvious passion and energy for me was the ongoing highlight of the retreat. It was so gratifying to hear from others a shared believe of the importance of world citizenship and broadening our view of where we sit in the community – local, national and international.
- The light bulb moment for me being so new to Volunteer Management is that it is a PROFESSION rather than just a job, that there are amazing, passionate, talented people managing volunteers and I have lots of colleagues! I now know that I am a Volunteer Manager and I tell people so! I have also changed my language not only to promote our profession but also to encourage volunteers to value what they do in a professional sense. It’s great to read of people taking action and capitalising on their heightened energy following their ‘aha moment’. Thanks for the inspiration.
- I guess the thing that stands out most to me is the sense of being part of a global community of people who are passionate about what we do and what we can achieve… I know now that I have an amazing support/reality-checking network around me that ‘get’ why I do what I do and why I fight for what I fight for. That’s pretty awesome…
- I can now better articulate what it is we’re all trying to do: make a difference/impact/change through engaging the community in the work we do. = not a ‘soft option’ profession. Crucial.
- We are professionals, not “just a volunteer manager”. I learn that I need to change the language I have been using to promote our profession.
Right now the following themes can be observed:
- The project is attracting international attention
- International trainers are quoting New Zealand as a model for developing Management / Leaders of volunteers
- There is a groundswell of support and enthusiasm for the project within New Zealand, from organisations as well as Managers / Leaders of Volunteers
- There is a spin-off in the way the profile of volunteering has been raised, leading to increased awareness of the political and social significance of volunteers and community organisations
From a community development perspective there are two really important messages:
- We are building the critical infrastructure of volunteering inNew Zealand; and
- There is no effective volunteering without the creative, strategic input of Managers and Leaders of Volunteers.
There is a lot at stake here for organisations and the managers and leaders of volunteers. There are more than one million volunteers who stand to gain from good management practice and from organisational recognition and support. The gains for volunteers and their organisations are also gains for New Zealand communities and our social well-being.
We must not allow this project to lapse.