November 27, 2011

What’s in a Word? Do we Engage Volunteers or do we Recruit Them?

Posted in Best Practice, Language at 4:54 am by Sue Hine

I did not intend a follow-on from last weeks’ post, but there has been a flurry of exchanges on the electronic networks in recent days.  We are back into navel-gazing on language and the way we use words.

Yes, it is important to understand meanings and why we use particular words more than others.  But what are the subtle differences between engaging volunteers and recruiting them?  Aren’t we being a bit specious here?

Let’s start with the original statement:

“….. volunteers are ‘engaged’ rather than recruited. This terminology distinguishes between employing people in paid and unpaid activities.”

The on-line responses went in different directions, covering the following ground:

  1. ‘Engaging’ is a more nurturing term, and it also gives a message to paid staff about the ‘engagement’ of volunteers.
  2. Getting the wording right helps ensures structured support and guidelines to those who co-ordinate or manage volunteer services.
  3. It’s both/and, isn’t it?  There is a formal process to follow in ‘recruiting’ volunteers, and ‘engaging’ volunteers is ongoing, a two-way relationship.
  4. Well really, ‘engaging’ is a more attractive word than ‘recruiting’, more enticing for volunteers.
  5. ‘Engagement’ can mean different things to different people: something done up front in the process in the process of ‘recruiting’; or it might be the formal act of making an appointment.
  6. Come on, get real – the words can be used interchangeably.

My initial response:

Hmmm…. So volunteers really need to be distinguished from paid staff.  Therefore they are to be treated differently, implying they are a lesser breed of workers.  I thought we had dealt to this misconception.  We need structured support and guidelines, do we?  Which go as far as telling us what words to use?

My rational takes:

I am not sure there would be whole-hearted support for ‘engagement’ in terms of ‘nurturing’.  Managers and leaders of volunteers need to do more than be kind and caring, and their organisations would certainly expect more.

But I do like the idea of engagement as a mutually supportive relationship, building on work tasks, respect for and recognition of skills, and appreciation for each contribution to the organisation.  That’s the whole “spirit and culture” of volunteering, isn’t it?

My reflective conclusion:

Yes there is a degree of inter-changeability between ‘recruiting’ and ‘engaging’ volunteers.  A disciple of Human Resource Management will apply ‘recruitment’, and ultimately a volunteer (or paid staff) may be ‘engaged’ in working for the organisation.  If steeped in a community development approach of collective purpose and common interests, attracting volunteers will be an ‘engagement’ process, though I might have to organise a ‘recruitment’ policy and programme.   And if I am hiring paid staff I would like to think this could be a process of ‘engagement’ too – in the best interests of the organisation.

The argumentation on this topic might seem like splitting hairs, yet it is always good to figure out what we mean, and to mean what we say.

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November 20, 2011

Volunteer Recruitment and Retention

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Professionalism, Valuing Volunteers at 2:01 am by Sue Hine

It has to be the chestnut season, because here is another topic much featured in the annals of discussion among managers of volunteers.

The Old Hands refer to Recruitment & Retention as MV101, one of the first steps in learning about management of volunteers.

The Newbies ask questions like:

  • Why am I having trouble finding enough volunteers for our programme?
  • What is the best way to recruit volunteers?
  • Why do they go through all the screening and training and then drop out?
  • Why do volunteers just disappear without giving notice?  They just don’t come back.

The Old Hands will ask:

  • What sort of paper-work have you got for your programme?  Volunteer policy?  Job descriptions?  Rights and responsibilities statement, or a code of practice?  Screening Process?  Training programme organised?  Volunteer performance review?
  • Do you have a budget to offer celebrations of volunteer achievement, rewards and appreciation?
  • Do you have a bag of ways to appreciate volunteer contributions to your organisation?
  • When volunteers leave can you catch up with them for an exit interview, even if it’s a fill-in form per e-mail?

And the Old Hands’ advice will be to get all this in place before you start thinking about recruiting volunteers.   Then they will add:

You want to get the best possible people to volunteer for your organisation?

  • You make sure you spell out what is expected via a job description and all that organisational stuff, plus all the support systems available to volunteers
  • You target the most likely resource population
  • You go ask them (Simple, eh?)
  • You get creative when a prospective volunteer offers skills not previously considered for your organisation – be innovative and enterprising.

You want to keep your volunteers engaged?

  • Make sure they have a good experience!
  • Say ‘thank you’ in as many ways as you can think of, and then some!
  • Respect and value volunteer work, and make sure paid staff do too!
  • Volunteers will stick around when you understand your role is more than nuts-and-bolts management, that you need to be a people-person, and how your leadership skills will ensure the best possible volunteer programme.

Now the Newbies cry “But how do we get there?”

Ummm…  The Old Hands pause.  They have to think about where they came from:

  • The school of hard knocks
  • The sink-or-swim school
  • The long-and-winding trail of a varied employment history
  • Training and education and professional qualifications in something completely different from managing volunteers
  • Lots of experience as a volunteer, even plucked from the pool to be a manager
  • Because it was added to a paid position when nobody else would do it

OK.  The Old Hands pause again.

You’re lucky, they say to the Newbies.  Training opportunities for managers of volunteers are available, in a sort of pick-and-mix way.  You can pick through

  • Volunteer Centre forums / seminars / workshops
  • Qualifications offered by industry or vocational programmes such as Tafe (Australia), NVQ (UK) or ITOs (NZ).
  • Programmes like Australasian Retreat for Managers of Volunteers, or a raft of Webinars being offered in the UK and US
  • On-line applied training through energizeinc.com or CVA and Volunteering NZ
  • A ‘relevant’ University level Certificate / Degree / Post-Graduate Diploma
  • And don’t forget learning from colleagues, getting into mentoring and peer supervision.

Beware!  The Old Hands have not quite finished.  We have not yet sorted what it takes to be a properly credentialed manager of volunteers.  Not the last word anyway.  You may have some ideas, and you need to go look at the current issue of e-Volunteerism to see what is going on, and to make sure you have your say.

Here ends a shorthand version of resolving the trials of Recruitment & Retention of volunteers.  Don’t let it put you off!

November 13, 2011

Network or Perish

Posted in Best Practice, Professionalism at 3:42 am by Sue Hine

Observant readers will notice a recurring theme over the past couple of months.  The word ‘networking’ keeps popping up in various contexts, mostly when I am talking about professionalism.  Go have a look here if you need reminding.

So let me give another plug for the virtue of networking as a tool of trade for a manager of volunteers.

It’s Network or Perish, like the book says.  Snappy title, evoking a parallel with the academic obligation to ‘publish or perish’.   Of course Network or Perish is written for all those Sales and Marketing managers, the lobbyists and PR people.  (Read a review here.)  Which sounds like networking fulfils the adage “it’s who you know, not what you know”.

Which is not quite how I see networking creating advantage for managers of volunteers.

Networking in MV-speak is what happens at local workshops and seminars, at Volunteer Centre lunchtime sessions, at the functions that recognise and celebrate volunteering and IMVDay.  Networking is what happens when you find allies within large institutions and organisations who know and understand volunteering and the importance of good management.  Networking is what happens through social media connections and subscribing to all those newsletters that stream to your in-box.

What you get from these occasions is opportunity to:

  • exchange information, opinions and ideas
  • learn from others
  • discuss issues, so that “a trouble shared becomes a trouble halved”
  • appreciate the presence of a collegial community, even a sense of solidarity with others for the role of manager of volunteers.

You can go further, by linking on-line with a global network of volunteer organisations, peak bodies, resource directories, research, training programmes, bloggers and newsgroups.  There is a virtual spider-web out there to take you as far as you want to go.

The pay-off for being a good networker is:

  • personal and professional development
  • potential to enhance volunteer contributions to your organisation
  • learning new tricks to raise the level of competence (yours, and the volunteers)

There is another trick or two about networking to learn from this definition:

Effective business networking is the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another. 

Ignore the reference to business.  It’s the relationship that matters, being genuine and authentic. And even if you don’t like the reference to ‘advertisements’ think about this in terms of being in the same boat, belonging to a really important professional occupation.

Because great volunteer programmes do not fall out of the sky, and we need to hang in together to ensure the best possible management practice.

Here is a personal testimony supporting informal networking:

For me an invaluable experience is in seeking the opportunity to meet for a chat over a cup of coffee with volunteer managers/coordinators who work in similar organizations. It’s a great way of finding out about what you are doing right, or doing wrong and how you can do things better.  But, best of all there is always laughter or grumbles when there has been recognition of circumstances or behaviours that you realize you all share – and then discussion how these issues are best managed!

Or go find on-line discussion groups to see how they can offer instant information, or illuminate an issue and teach you heaps you had never thought about.

Why should networking be important for managers of volunteers?

  • Because you are an entrepreneur, a mover-and-shaker (or a pusher-and-shover), in a social enterprise.
  • Because you are in the business of community development.
  • Which means that in between everything else you are promoting your organisation’s mission as well as attracting volunteers and running a great volunteer programme.
  • Because you are a communicator par excellence.
  • Because you know your community, and how to tap into community resources.

And if you are thinking “That’s not me” or “I can’t do this!”, take heart from some good advice offered to the introverts among us.

We are not likely to ‘perish’ from a lack of networking skills, but we sure have lots to gain.

November 6, 2011

Finding the X Factor

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter at 4:23 am by Sue Hine

In case you missed the celebration of the year (and I don’t mean the anniversary of a long-dead renegade who tried to blow up the English Parliament), here is an account of the event held in Wellington a couple of days ago as a celebration for International Day for Managing Volunteers (IMVDay).

You can read a brief summary of the event, but you really had to be there to get the full flavour, the spot-on comic timing, the bon mots and the audience appreciation in laughter and applause.

This poster introduces the context for interviewing short-listed applicants for a position in the Tree Rehab organisation – a rich source in itself for additional comedy.  All applicants are, in other lives, real leaders and managers of volunteer programmes, so they know their roles intimately.

What we get is a parody of management styles.  There is a humble ‘just a volunteer manager’ concerned with sharing muffins and warm fuzzies for ‘her’ volunteers.  The frenetic Fundraiser and the HR control freak speak in acronyms and refer to volunteers as ‘tools’ and ‘human capital’ like they are so many cogs in the efficiency machine.  The Executive Manager (the man in the suit) voices sexist opinions and is seeking a package that includes a car and a key to the executive bathroom as well as a hefty salary.

Like any good comedy there are moments of truth.  Teresa Green spoke about empathy, and its relevance to leading a ‘happy band of volunteers’.  H R (Hannah) Smith argued for protocols and policies that would protect both volunteers and the organisation.  Lottie Cash, when she could take the $$ signs out of her eyes and the wheeling-and-dealing with sponsors and the big-time funders, knew very well that without volunteers involved in fundraising there would be no organisation.  And Gary Gecko could climb down from his high horse long enough to point out previous experience as a volunteer could be an asset in his approach to management.

When invited to vote the audience is not really of a mind to make an appointment, though we have been given much food for thought in what does not make a good manager of volunteers.

But there is a clear X factor that emerges from the presentations we have witnessed. We need to add dramatic talent to the list of skills and attributes for managers of volunteers.

That capacity to project ourselves into other personae, to better understand what makes those volunteers (and paid staff) tick, to relate with them in ways that enhance the volunteer performance and the organisation’s real appreciation of volunteer contributions is a vital asset.  I do not mean we have to be drama queens – an introduction to models of personal styles or types is all it would take.

I’ll bet most of us already demonstrate that innate ability.  Maybe we just need to show it off a bit more often.

That is the educating up I get from Volunteer Wellington’s celebration on IMVDay 2011.