September 18, 2011

To Market, To Market

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managers Matter, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers at 6:22 am by Sue Hine

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.


  1. However Sue, diversity (3rd line from end of this interesting, thought-provoking story) is where I see so much of our impact, achievement and reward as managers of volunteer programmes working with people who represent different ethnicities, needs and skill-sets. This is where the ‘power’ of the voluntary sector steps into its own offering opportunities for those of us who are different to work together, share our cultural identities, feel involved and that we belong…as well as gaining new knowledge about a cause and/or support organisation that we will remain loyal to (in a number of different ways) for the rest of our lives. That is if we have had a good volunteering experience.


  2. Sue Hine said,

    You are quite right in the power of our impact and achievements – but couldn’t we do so much better if ‘they’ knew and recognised our capacities and skills??


  3. Laura Hamilton said,

    I completely agree that endless theorising and complaining about why volunteering and volunteer management isn’t well understood and resourced is unhelpful. I’m a firm believer in starting from where we are at and doing whatever we can to be proactive and improve the situation, both within our own organisations and more widely. After all, most of the charities/vol involving organisations we work for have a long history of raising the profile of issues that most people would choose to ignore or not consider a priority! We could do to apply the same feisty persistence to shaping and influencing attitudes to volunteering and volunteer management.

    As part of European Year of the Volunteer 2011, a group called Volunteer Management Champions has been doing some work around this very issue, here in the UK. One of the tools we’ve been using is Webinars, and the last one focused specifically on the issue of positively influencing within your organisation to build understanding and resourcing of volunteering and volunteer management. The webinar featured practical examples of how volunteer managers within our group have influenced their organisation’s culture around volunteering. The ability to “sell volunteering” to senior management was explored by one of the contributors.

    You can take a look at the summary and listen to the webinar here:
    You can also follow our weekly thoughts on volunteer management on twitter: #ttvolmgrs


    • Sue Hine said,

      Thanks for your comments Laura, and especially for your link to the Warrington Webinar. Very encouraging. I expected my post to be thoroughly challenged, so next week I shall be itemising some of the good things I know are happening around New Zealand.


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