July 23, 2011

Management, Leadership, and Accredited Competence – Which way Ahead for Managers of Volunteers?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Managers Matter at 4:09 am by Sue Hine

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.

Phase Three of current reflection has come via a blog entry from Rob Jackson and subsequent discussion at UKVPMs, presenting an interesting array of things to think about.

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.

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