September 25, 2011
The challenge issued last week to managers of volunteers has not aroused a spirited defence. I am surprised, given the impetus and real progress the Volunteering New Zealand’s Managers of Volunteers Programme (MVP) has been making around New Zealand. Nobody has yet come out trumpeting visions and dreams and just what makes management of volunteers a great career option and why it is important. Or even telling me I am talking through a hole in my head.
Now I will try the affirmative story. The MVP is on the road right now, offering workshops on Leadership in selected locations. Participants are enthusiastic. They have to work of course, thinking on their feet and around the room and scribing views on large sheets of paper. They are asked to spell out wish lists, priorities, what works, and what more is wanted in the name of management of volunteers. The questions require a wider perspective than what is happening for me right now.
For example: What do you see as priorities for you and the team, for the organisation, the community, the sector and the nation? That’s a pretty big ask, but heck the answers keep flowing. Like we have already done the analysis, and we know what needs to happen.
At the end of the day there is a map for future directions, and a lot of enthusiasm for going forward. There is an identified agenda for making things happen in local communities, in the name of Leadership and Management of Volunteers.
This process is classic community development, an example of the ‘think global, act local’ strategies that have proved effective in the past. The workshops are also the start of ripples that can turn into waves.
The first ripples are engaging managers of volunteers to work together, across organisations. The next ripple is to promote our cause, finding ways to engage with the market. Defining competencies and best practice for the role would be a good start, along with a learning pathway and a shared resource base and discussion forum. Another ripple will start when we engage with our organisations and sectors and the wider community, with the key messages on volunteering, volunteer management and their real significance.
That’s when the real wave starts, when the MVP gets to surf on the crest of an ocean roller.
If you need some encouragement try Cleo Laine’s full-throated version of the Sondheim song.
Or look at the innovative webinars on management of volunteers offered by the Volunteer Centre Warrington (UK). This summary includes links to further detail.
Or take in Susan J Ellis’ wisdom, It Takes a Whole Organisation, recorded in Queensland a few months ago.
The point is, if you didn’t get it last week, is to get out there to market our wares to those who need to know. If managers of volunteers do such a great job of recruiting and retaining volunteers what is so different or difficult in explaining who we are and why we are important?
September 18, 2011
A long time ago I was involved in debating, the competitive kind where you stand up and state your case and rebut opposition arguments. It was always much better to draw the negative of the moot, because you could spend your efforts in pulling the affirmative case to pieces without having to go into a lengthy exposition of your own, which was usually rather thin.
I have started to note how my blog posts are slipping too often into the negative argument role. Too easy, isn’t it, to get into hand-wringing, saying ‘ain’t it awful’, to be carping and critical about what is wrong, and how volunteering and managers of volunteers are hard-done-by.
Where are the writers of constructive ideas? Who is out there to challenge this culture of negativity? Who will lead us to a new view? Remembering, of course, how volunteering became an industry through the efforts of early (volunteer) crusaders.
It would be great to get a flood of good news stories, and I know they are out there. It’s just we don’t hear them too often.
Instead, we get the ‘poor-me’ syndrome, and comments do not come much better than claims like:
They just don’t ‘get’ volunteering, nor the importance of management of volunteers.
‘They’ of course are the anonymous and amorphous crowd of paid staff, the executive team, the Board, the funders, the government. ‘They’ cop the criticism while we, the volunteers and their leaders, sit back and wait for ‘them’ to ‘get’ it.
Well, the All Blacks are not going to win the Rugby World Cup by waiting for all the other teams to lose. Steinlager is not going to accept a major fall-off in sales just because Heineken is the official beer for the tournament: they’ll be on to other ways to keep their product flowing. Making the $$ targets in the hospitality and accommodation and entertainment industries associated with RWC means a lot more than putting up a sign and just being there.
It’s called ‘marketing’, and we all know how marketing works from the audio-visual assaults we suffer daily as consumers.
So why do managers of volunteers sit on their hands waiting for ‘them’ to ‘get’ it? How come we are not out there presenting our wares and the arguments on why it is important to buy into what we offer?
If by chance we could attract the attention of a public relations consultant or an advertising agency (pro bono of course), what information could we present about our industry?
- What do we stand for?
- What is the vision for our occupation?
- What images would represent our dream?
- What is the point of difference that gives management of volunteers an edge in the community and voluntary sector?
- What would a marketing programme look like? What do we want it to look like?
Tricky, eh? Makes you think?
We’ve been working all these years, and never figured how to package the deals we can offer, how we fit in the scheme of things. Of course there are lots of impediments, like diversity and multiple sector interests. But that should not stop us from going all out to figure what we have in common and finding the best message and the medium for proclaiming our identity.
September 11, 2011
Back then, the International Year for Volunteers brought the New Zealand community and voluntary sector important gifts, like:
- A government office dedicated to our sector (OCVS), and a Minister to champion our interests
- A government statement on intentions for volunteering
- A new organisation dedicated to advocating for and promoting volunteering and the community sector – Volunteering New Zealand.
- A “Support for Volunteering Fund” (SVF), administered by the Department of Internal Affairs
- A national conference on Volunteering
Ten years on United Nations Volunteers proclaims 2011 the year to celebrate IYV+10:
We call upon all leaders in Governments, volunteer-involving organisations, civil society, private sector, non-governmental organisations, the United Nations system and from communities to recognise and celebrate the achievements of volunteers by actively engaging in the marking of IYV+10.
(From the Vision Statement drafted at the consultative stakeholders meeting in October 2009)
There are grand aims:
- to promote the values of volunteering;
- to recognise the positive impacts of volunteering;
- to build and reinforce volunteering networks; and
- to facilitate people’s contributions to peace and the Millennium Development Goals through volunteering.
The International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) kicks off the Year with a conference in Singapore. Europe declares 2011 their own Year of Volunteering, and there is a wide range of activities on offer. Volunteering Australia celebrates early in the year with a public launch hosted by the Governor-General, and now has a dedicated website to publicise events and activities, both local and global. The international website offers a huge array of events and information. The last entry made under New Zealand’s name is dated February 2009, recording events around International Volunteers Day in December 2008.
In effect, New Zealand has fallen off the bottom of the world map of volunteering, and has been absent for nearly three years.
This year we could have been reporting on:
- OCVS workshops on public sector relationship-building with community organisations.
- The Kia Tutahi project which translates government intentions into an accord between Government and Communities of Aotearoa New Zealand to strengthen their relationship, and to promote a development programme.
- Volunteering New Zealand’s decision to embrace the Programme for Management of Volunteers in their work
None of these developments were designed to be part of an IYV+10 programme. The calendar that might record Kiwi events and activities for IYV+10 is singularly blank.
Of course we have other things on our mind, like earthquake recovery in Christchurch, like the Rugby World Cup, just the biggest-ever event involving volunteers. In effect, these events have given us our own year of volunteering – one demonstrating the impact of community solidarity during a civil emergency and the other showing how ‘getting involved’, in belonging, and in offering service is part and parcel of citizenship.
But these are time-limited events. Those of us who volunteer throughout the year, and those who develop and manage volunteer programmes, who recruit and train volunteers and provide on-going support and recognition for volunteer work, are looking for some real acknowledgement that goes beyond a pat on the head.
There is still time to plan significant events, or to deliver a grand gesture for our sector. November 5 is the occasion for International Day for Managers of Volunteers, and International Day for Volunteers will happen on December 5. Usually we organise the flag-waving and blow up the balloons and bake the festive fare ourselves, within our organisations and local communities. How good would it be to find the flag-bearers are from outside our sector? How good would it be to find our funders and supporters and other sector agencies want to mark IYV+10 with a bit more than lip-service?
That would keep Volunteers, and their managers and leaders, going for another ten years.
September 4, 2011
To invigorate the great unpaid workforce of volunteers … it takes more than snappy motivational speeches, persistence and stunning organisational skills. You need to be a people person. You need to have the ability to quickly read people’s wants, needs and desires. If you don’t have this you are liable to lose them.
“Power to the People” in Forest & Bird, Issue 341, August 2011, p31.
There is nothing new in this opening paragraph for people who manage volunteers, though it gives me a glow to see acknowledgement for our management skills in print. The article goes on to make a tribute to the retiring manager / coordinator of a huge forest restoration and conservation project in the Waitakere Ranges of north-west Auckland.
The achievements of the project are pretty amazing, in scope and scale and specially in the numbers of volunteers engaged. What interests me are the words “volunteer wrangling”. This is what (according to the writer of the article) the leader of the volunteers started doing, to redeem the project from ‘organised chaos’.
Now, I know that ‘wrangling’ is something a cowboy does when herding horses or cattle. You have to ride your horse, whistle your dogs, get in amongst a mass of unpredictable animals, show who is boss, make sure the herd gets going down the right trail.
I know also that wrangling can be an angry disputation, an occasion for haggling and bargaining. Or you might say ‘wangling’, to win an argument. The origin of the word is said to come from 14th Century Old German, meaning ‘to struggle’, which injects a new word for what some managers of volunteers experience.
But a ‘wrangler’ of volunteers?
Astute readers will recognise that ‘wrangling’ is not beyond the role of managing volunteers. There are times in ‘negotiating’ with senior management on volunteer policy or programme details which might become ‘disputatious’. Running a major event project involving hundreds of volunteers can certainly involve ‘herding’ volunteers into the right place at the right time.
Perhaps it is not a stretch too far to acknowledge we ‘herd’ volunteers to fit specific job descriptions, or to draft them into new positions to fit their skills and interests. But there are such a whole lot of other things managers of volunteers do to ensure their programmes work well for volunteers and the organisation. Read the opening paragraph again.
I do not see any banners lobbying for adoption of the style and meaning of ‘wrangling’ into the language of managing volunteers. But I do like the reminder for minding our language.