October 30, 2011

Three Cheers for Managers of Volunteers!

Posted in Good news stories, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter at 3:44 am by Sue Hine

It’s that time of the year again.  Come November 5 this week there will be noise all round the world to celebrate the International Day for Managers of Volunteers.

Why should Managers of Volunteers deserve a special day?  Here are ten good reasons:

  • Because your organisation would not function without volunteers;
  • Because your organisation would have trouble recruiting and retaining volunteers without a manager to get them on board;
  • Because the manager of volunteers works wonders to make your volunteer programme add value to your organisation, to enhance your services;
  • Because the manager of volunteers is an excellent communicator, ensuring the whole organisation knows what is happening and keeping volunteers involved;
  • Because the manager of volunteers reminds you about why we involve volunteers and why volunteers are important;
  • Because there is a training programme, and ongoing support for volunteers so they are never left floundering;
  • Because the manager of volunteers is endlessly creative and innovative in finding new ways to involve volunteers;
  • Because the manager of volunteers knows your community and how to tap into resources to benefit your organisation;
  • Because we love our manager of volunteers, and so do the volunteers;
  • And – just because managers of volunteers are worth it!

Most events will happen on Friday November 4.  At least we avoid the fireworks this time.  Have a look at what I wrote last year to remind you of the importance of the occasion.

And at the risk of repeating myself – except sometimes messages are worth repeating – please read again this volunteer paean to a manager.

Just so you know why this day is important.  Just so you can take pride in your achievements and in the wealth of favours you and volunteers contribute to your organisation.

October 23, 2011

People Power!

Posted in Good news stories, Leadership, Leading Volunteers at 4:35 am by Sue Hine

It is just about three weeks since the coastal freighter Rena grounded on the Astrolabe Reef out of Tauranga, home to a popular dive and fishing spot, close to Motiti Island, the fabulous Mount Maunganui beach and the rest of the coastline that embraces the Bay of Plenty.  Just about three weeks since the globules of heavy oil turned up on the beaches, containers toppled from the ship, and their rotting contents spilled ashore.

No specific cause for the grounding has been made public and the blame-game is yet to be played out.  But here is an ironic footnote: an astrolabe was a navigational aid used by early oceanic explorers to calculate latitude.  It was never an instrument noted for its accuracy.

Of course there is outrage.   New Zealand’s 100% Pure reputation takes another hit.  And this happens when we are show-casing the country to an influx of tourists here for the Rugby World Cup.  More than that is the threat to traditional summer holidays and the freedom to swim, surf and fish this coastline.  Already local businesses are suffering.

People Power is a headline writ large in the newspaper some ten days ago.  The people are volunteers, and their power is in their good intentions and commitment and energy to ‘Do Something’.  Volunteers have dived in to the clean-up along the beaches, initially defying official warnings about health hazards.  And it’s not just the beach – there are birds and sea animals to be rescued.  Volunteers are there, boots ‘n’ all, and latterly with the right protective gear.  There are more than 5000 of them.

Twice in one year to demonstrate volunteer power is more than usual.  Two
emergencies to call on volunteer power are more than enough in one small country.

Twice in one year there are challenges to official prescriptions and policies, and frustration with delays in getting help where it is needed.  So volunteers take the lead with enormous effect. Think Student Army in Christchurch in February.  Think volunteers and Kiwi ingenuity that gets them on the beaches and getting the oil off the beaches.  Think about a community that wants to pull together any which way they can, for the common good.  Watch the video to see what they can achieve.

There is a dedicated page on Facebook.  Volunteer Centres in Western Bay of Plenty and Waikato are offering information for volunteers.  Bay of Plenty Regional Council is the place to go for registration and latest info.  Maritime NZ is another source of good information.  Surf Clubs are taking a lead coordination role, doing the orientation and training, managing the volunteer task-force in conjunction with other authorities.  And do not forget the Wild-life Rescue Centre, doing their damnedest to recover oil-smothered birds.  Volunteers are there too.

Volunteers are not only on the beaches.  The support teams have swung into action, uninvited, spontaneously.  One person organises a bus to transport volunteers from up north.  Local polytech students prepare and provide a soup kitchen for the beach workers. Ordinary people do extraordinary things to support the efforts of this massive clean-up.

There is still a long way to go.  Volunteer groups in Tauranga and elsewhere are keen to do more, and to speed up progress. Politicians do the smooth-talking, and experts offer the dinkum oil as they see it.

Volunteers will continue with their efforts for as long as it takes, led by their coordinators.  I hope these leaders, who are demonstrating the best what and how of managing volunteers, will get the recognition they deserve.

October 16, 2011

Being Professional

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Professionalism at 4:26 am by Sue Hine

If last week’s effort has not started you thinking, let me whisper in your ear: what does it mean to ‘be professional’, and how will you know?

I have suggested some pointers already:

  • Being trained for the job via a formal qualification
  • Knowing about and applying a code of conduct and a code of ethics
  • Being open to ongoing learning – via seminars and workshops, and ‘supervision’

These might be important, but not altogether sufficient.  What else?

Susan J Ellis has been promoting professionalism in managing volunteers for more than thirty years.  In a 1997 Hot Topic she listed her criteria for being professional:

  • Professional association
  • Collective action
  • Literature
  • Education

She concluded:

“No one will buy you professional status. You either have it or you don’t. But it is different from competence on the job. It means affiliation with a field and a willingness to work together to build that field.”  [My emphasis]

Since then the evidence shows we have struggled to sustain professional associations.  Yes, there are plenty of training programmes, yet few managers where I come from are sporting a widely recognised accredited qualification.  Collective action?  Too often I am hearing about the ‘too busy / no time’ syndrome.

On the plus side, there is a growing accumulation of literature and published research, via (for example) UK’s Institute for Volunteer Research, Volunteering Australia’s Journal on Volunteering.  Yet these are more about volunteering than managing and leading volunteers, and much less about ‘being professional’.

I can learn about good practice principles and processes by tapping into websites like Volunteering England’s Good Practice Bank, or the huge catalogue of resources offered by Volunteer Canada.   I can follow various electronic newsletters and newsgroups that will keep me informed about the world of managing volunteers.  Or I can follow the bloggers, and there are plenty of people out there offering their wisdom or droll perspectives.  Maybe we are ‘the very model of a modern major-[manager]’, changing the criteria for a profession to meet the conditions of working in the community and voluntary sectors, and we are demonstrating our affiliation with a field by doing it on-line.

Conditions like the range of job titles, the range of programmes offered (many with specialist interests), the range of responsibilities (size and scope of programme, numbers of volunteers) – all these make for a complexity not usually encountered in other professions.  Not to mention being paid or unpaid, employed full-time or part-time, and variations in organisational status.

By my reckoning managers of volunteers are still at the stage of asking questions like Who are we? What do we want? And how do we get there?  And then the real question:  “Does it matter?”

Well, I have never been one to follow prescriptive advice, but I do believe being professional does matter.  Because being professional relates closely to the quality of Volunteer Management: one size prescription of management tasks may not fit all organisations, but the quality of management does!

Of course ‘quality’, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.  And it is really difficult in something like managing volunteers, in all its variations, to put parameters around quality.

Here’s my stab at a list of factors critical to quality performance:

  • Knowing and understanding and living by one’s beliefs and values – because the original meaning of the verb ‘to profess’ was ‘to declare one’s beliefs and values’.  There is an inherent sense of vocation in what we do.
  • Knowing about ‘community’, and supporting the collective good of civil society.  There are a dozen different terms, and we can learn much about the meaning and practice of communal values from Maori and other indigenous cultures.
  • These two points lead to a third: the sharing of knowledge and practice principles with other agencies and organisations.  We may not have a
    codified body of knowledge like traditional professions, but we are surely keen to share experience and accumulated wisdom with others.

Get these lined up and presto, we have commitment to the field and a willingness to work together.

Earlier this year Susan Ellis laid down a challenge: Leaders of volunteers UNITE!  In New Zealand this week there is an opportunity to get involved when the AGM of Australasian Association of Volunteer Administrators takes place.  Every month there is a Volunteer Centre or a community collective near you running a workshop or a forum to share information and ideas.  Every month there will be somewhere, some sort of training on offer.  There is no excuse for remaining isolated or ignorant.  There is every encouragement to be proudly professional in our own way.

October 9, 2011

Professional Development

Posted in Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professionalism at 3:39 am by Sue Hine

Professional Development is a chestnut that falls from the Management of Volunteers tree every year.  It turns up in research, and in workshops and seminars.  Yes! say the managers in unison – we want more, and there are a heap of suggested preferences for topics and content, and how this might happen.

There are plenty of provider resources for professional development, on line, and institution-based, for various levels of attainment.  Volunteer Centres can offer a year round programme of one-off workshops and seminars.  Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Programme is pursuing a learning and development pathway that could initiate a real career option.

Yet Professional Development is not just about acquiring an accredited qualification or a few notches on the belt of ‘training courses attended’.  Being professional has a few more responsibilities, as the chestnuts recognise.

Like embracing a code of conduct and a code of ethics.  Go here for an outline on professional standards and ethics for managers of volunteers.  There are not too many codes of conduct specific to managers of volunteers, and the one I found made no mention of professional development. So I have resorted to a New Zealand version for the social work profession.  Right up front you can see the commitment to professional development.  ‘Continuous improvement practice skills and knowledge’ is what you do,
and regular supervision is first on the list to get there.  Managers of volunteers are telling us they want continuous improvement too.

‘Supervision’ is a tricky word, used particularly by professionals in the human services field, like counsellors, psychologists – and social workers – and most recently taken up by the nursing profession.  ‘Supervision’ is certainly not that part of your job where your boss reviews your performance.  Nor is it about ‘supervising volunteers’.

Think about ‘supervision’ as your personal time to focus on what you do as a manager of volunteers, how you do it, and what you want to do better, and why.

There is a continuum of models for ‘supervision’ practice.  You can enjoy 1:1 supervision, or group supervision, or peer supervision.  Or apply the same formats to ‘mentoring’.  Or go for ‘coaching’.  Never mind the words – go find out more here, and here, and here.

Back in 2010 Managers Matter research reported the importance attached by managers of volunteers to external support:  mentor/external supervision (25%), local volunteer centre (25%) and Volunteering New Zealand (13%).  [Table 15, p33]  The researchers noted the following: Only 3% of respondents mention seeking support from other similar organisations, suggesting the potential of improving networking between organisations in the sector.

Picking pieces out of a very important piece of research is not always constructive, but I have to put this information alongside informal evidence of managers of volunteers clamouring for ‘professional development’ and ‘networking’.

Trouble is, ‘networking’ does not come to me – I have to get out and engage with others.  Volunteer Centres will help, but they can’t do everything for me.

Trouble is, we are beset by the “too busy/no time” syndrome.

Trouble is, supervision / mentoring / coaching can come with professional fees.

If the organisation baulks at the cost or does not have a HR policy on professional development then go for self-directed peer groups (which could be a way to build on networking).  Peer supervision or mentoring is not to be taken lightly – they need to offer more than a cosy chat.  There are various process models, which work best when there has been some introductory training.

The thing is, this business of professional development is not just about personal career development.  There are gains for all the volunteers and for the people they work with, for the mission of the organisation, and specially for setting and maintaining standards in management of volunteers.  You want a first-class volunteer programme?  Go look for Professional Development, via formal qualifications and / or mentoring.

October 2, 2011

Community Volunteering

Posted in Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers at 3:12 am by Sue Hine

Every week my letterbox receives a consignment of community newspapers.  Mostly there are two, and sometimes three different publications, offering alternatives to the daily blast of national scandals, global political and financial messes and natural disasters.

A community newspaper tells me what is happening in my suburban environment.  I learn about school achievements and sporting successes.  There’s a piece about a service club that restores a child care centre playground, and another about a painting bee undertaken by a group of corporate volunteers.  Retirements from community service organisations are noted with respect, and I can read about new appointees.

These pages are a great place to insert a small-ad for recruiting volunteers.  And one newspaper publishes a fortnightly column presented by various community organisations.

In scanning community newspapers I learn much more than village-pump gossip.  There is such a strong sense of ‘community’, and I gain a connection to a tribe of people as much as being located in a particular geographic zone.

There is more: a double-page spread recorded last month’s Volunteer Service Awards for North Wellington.  This is where I find out what keeps my community keeping on.  There are twelve awards, and not all recipients are there to get the gold watch for longevity in community service.  It’s all about ‘volunteer service’, in schools, service clubs, youth groups, amateur theatre, church, the Community House or local Progressive Association.  None of these organisations are formally contracted to provide services, but they, and their volunteers, are there to provide a range of options for community focus, drawing people to participate in their community.  We are social
animals after all, and there is a lot of strength in belonging to a collective.  As well as pursuing personal interests.

A week later one of the newspapers reports on another award presentation, this time to recognise young people achieving in a range of areas, mostly for Service to the Community.  There is an impressive array of achievements and widespread community involvement.  I am impressed by the youthfulness of the recipients – some as young as ten or twelve – and heartily encouraged for the future of volunteering.  The event was, in the words of the local MP who presented the awards, “a celebration of community”.

It must be the season for awards.  They are racking up, the call for nominations to celebrate the great and the good, both national and local.  Great to see how many are related to community service, volunteering, and even management of volunteers.

Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Award 2012 is much bigger than finding individuals, and there is also scope to honour Local Heroes (which I wrote about back in March this year).  Have a look here to get your nomination in for 2012.

Better still, get into finding the Volunteer Manager of Excellence, sponsored by Australasian Association of Volunteer Administrators (AAVA).  Last year Heather Moore, General Manager of Volunteering Waikato, became the first New Zealander to be acknowledged for outstanding contribution to the profession of volunteer management.  Can we make it two years in a row?  Find the form here, and get nominations in now.

Go Volunteers, and their Managers!