May 27, 2012

Creating a Learning Pathway

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Management of Volunteers Project, Managers Matter, Professional Development, Professionalism tagged , , , , , , , at 4:16 am by Sue Hine

Those of you who receive the Updates on Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Project will notice a gathering momentum.  The Learning and Development work-stream, charged with creating a professional development pathway, is making good progress towards a significant milestone.

As a reminder, the two key areas of the group’s work programme are:

  1. To identify key competencies for leaders and managers of volunteers
  2. To establish a process for enabling Assessment of Prior Learning (APL)

The part that has taken the most time and effort is figuring out how to frame Competencies.  A whole issue of e-volunteerism (October 2011) devoted to ‘credentialing’, with contributors from all around the world, could not produce a consensus.  It was not simply a matter of establishing options for certification, nor in identifying particular tasks or skills.  Much of the debate roved around the meaning of competence and its application to the business of managing volunteers.

The Learning and Development group is not engaged in determining the detail of what knowledge, skills and attributes signify competencies for managers of volunteers.  That way overlooks the huge diversity in organisations, responsibilities, communities and sector interests.  There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula.  Prescription could also become stifling for people wanting to move beyond standard practice, for people wanting to carve out new territory in leading volunteers.

The principal concern for the group is to identify a learning pathway, a road-map that offers clear entry points, recognition of prior learning, indications for further learning, and for leadership extension.  The pathway is open to all non-profit organisations, will offer something to all managers and leaders of volunteers, regardless of scope and scale of the organisation.

Think of a motorway with on-ramps, and passing lanes, and exits to different destinations.  Think of short journeys for immediate and relevant development needs, or taking the long road to a higher goal.  This learning pathway will have signposts and markers for different options, and room for personal choice and direction.

The Wellington Leadership Group met a couple of weeks ago to consider a draft proposal for the motorway. We are impressed with the breadth and depth of the work that has gone into compiling the documents. We are excited by the range of ways the model could be used, and how useful it will be as a development guide for both new and experienced managers of volunteers.

The draft competency framework will be available for consultation in a matter of weeks.  Getting feedback is one small step towards the significant milestone that will benefit all managers and leaders of volunteers inNew Zealand, and their organisations.

May 20, 2012

There’s a New One Every Day

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Celebrations, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , , , , at 1:31 am by Sue Hine

In all the gloom and doom of national and international economics the volunteer industry keeps on keeping on.  Numbers of volunteers continue to increase, now spread across a wider age range than in generations past, and across different sectors.    The range of volunteer activities broadens as organisations raise their expectations and the standards of volunteer programmes, as the manager of volunteers becomes recognised as a leader holding a pivotal role in developing and maintaining volunteer services.

There could be quite a number of people wanting to tell me “it ain’t necessarily so”.  Somebody is bound to point out how volunteer recruitment and retention is so often the most wanted topic on Volunteer Centre training schedules.  There are lots of reasons for this: turnover in people working with volunteers, a lack of specific training on management of volunteers, getting behind the times in new ways to attract volunteers, and the different expectations of volunteers – you know, using social media, getting upbeat in advertising, creating new roles for volunteers.

There will always be room for improvement.  And there are always people out there thinking about volunteering who need a bit of encouragement.

Like a conversation I had last week that went like this:

–          I am asked: Are you working, or retired?

–          I talk a bit about being involved in the Management of Volunteers Project, and why.  Of course it’s a great opportunity to do a bit of a sell, on volunteering and on the importance of good management for volunteers.

–          Oh, she says a little wistfully, I’ve thought about volunteering, and I could ‘cos I work part-time.  I do like shopping, she adds, eyes lighting up at the thought of being a volunteer that got to browse the malls and shopping meccas.

–          Well, I advise, it’s really important that you get a job that you like, and managers try to match your interests.

So then I went on about how to connect, how to find out what volunteer positions were available.  Easy as, I said – you can do it all on the computer.  Or you could go to Facebook – there are regular inserts on volunteer opportunities.  Or go visit a Volunteer Centre.  That’s where you can get registered and get referred to places that could meet your interests and expectations.

I don’t know if I have enabled one more person to join the ranks of volunteers, but at least I have taken the opportunity to offer some good leads and some encouragement to give it a go.

In just four weeks’ time New Zealand will be alive with exhibitions and events to promote and to celebrate volunteering.  Volunteer Awareness Week will have something for everyone.  This annual programme serves to illustrate the breadth and depth of volunteering and all the organisations that go to make our Civil Society.

Volunteers are everywhere.  When I go to catch a bus I walk past the Community Centre which is always alive with people meeting for community purposes.  Around the corner I can find the local Community Garden, and further on is the Citizens Advice Bureau staffed by warm and welcoming volunteers.  When I go walking on one of the many trails around Wellington I see the work of volunteers who have been landscaping a desolate environment, restoring native plants and trees, recovering a waterway to re-introduce native fish.  During the weekend I’ll be watching some kids run around a cold and muddy sports field, and I will be admiring the volunteers who are team coaches, managers and referees, and the ones who organise the rota for half-time oranges and the jersey washing.  My weekly community newspapers tell me more, about op-shops run by volunteers, about food collections for Food Banks, or a meal delivery service for new mums.  Volunteers knock at my door, doing their stuff as collectors for a fund-raising appeal.  Email newsletters turn up in my in-box, crafted by volunteers.

That’s the way of my community, just a small part of it.  This year’s slogan for Volunteer awareness week is Building Communities through Volunteering.  That’s what we do, and you can read more here.

May 13, 2012

Management, or Leadership of Volunteers?

Posted in Language, Leadership, Leading Volunteers tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:23 am by Sue Hine

Are you a manager, or a leader of volunteers?   How would you answer such a question?

Yes, and no. 


What’s the diff?

I guess most of us will skip over such a conundrum to keep focused on the important issues of recruiting and training a new bunch of volunteers.  Spirited debate on management of volunteers disappears over the horizon when you are time-poor and multi-tasking and trying to prioritise today’s to-do list.

Please keep reading, because you might just find a germ to keep you motivated as a leader of volunteers.

I know, we have struggled for years to get our management skills recognised, and now we are inserting leadership in the way we talk about running volunteer programmes.

I use ‘management’ for convenience and brevity, instead of a long-hand mouthful of manager / leader / coordinator, and having to explain the differences.  I use the word as a collective noun, including the notion of a ‘volunteer’ volunteer manager/coordinator.

That’s because I am a Both-And kinda person.  A fence-sitter, if you must.  I prefer the metaphor of a boundary-rider up on the range, being able to see both ways.

A manager needs to attend to systems and processes, to get the job done in a timely fashion by the best person, according to the organisation’s strategic plan and operational policies.

A leader needs to stimulate, encourage, inspire, facilitate and enable other people to fulfil a mission, to promote a cause, as in the organisation’s strategic plan and operational policies, as I encouraged last week.

As a both-and person I see virtue in both approaches.  Management is practical and task-focused; leadership is people-centred and focused on relationships.  Surely management and leadership are both important and relevant in managing volunteers?  Well – Peter Drucker, the 20th century management guru, had the answer:

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

Notice how value-laden “the right things” could be, and how you have to think carefully about what you might include in such a category, and how ‘the right thing’ could be different for every organisation.

There is a huge literature on leadership.  Sociologist Max Weber might have been the starting point in his classification of authority: charismatic (personality and leadership), traditional (patriarchy and feudalism) and rational-legal (bureaucracy).  Contemporary theorists talk about transactional and transformational leadership styles.  The former is process-driven, as in the description of a manager above.  The latter is about values and purpose and meaning – about behaviour, about people and their capacity for change and their desire for development.  That sounds to me more like what we do in leading volunteers.

Take Transformational Leadership one step further to Emotional Intelligence (or EQ, as it is often referred to), and this is what the characteristics of an EQ Transformational Leader might look like:

  • Self  Awareness – understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, and your values
  • Social Skills – building rapport and relationships
  • Empathy – ability to understand another persons point of view
  • Motivation – a drive to succeed, to develop the best ever volunteer programme.

Yes!  That’s what we do every day isn’t it?  Or where you would like to be?  And where peer  support groups or a leadership training programme could support you into being the best leader you want to be, understanding and using the language of leadership and a whole lot more.


I have done a lot of study in my time.  It included only a brief introduction to formal business management and social service administration, and that was a long time ago. Leadership never entered the frame back then.  But I did learn about, and to practice, a philosophy of ‘helping people to help themselves’.  It was, I thought, “leading from behind”.  If you think that sounds like pushing, as I was firmly told by a colleague, think about what you have to do every day to stir and encourage volunteers, to get paid staff to give a bit of appreciation for volunteer contributions.  Your praise reinforces and shapes behaviour that leads to great things for your organisation and for volunteers.

Here is the platitude you could pin on your wall:

The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his 0wn.     (Benjamin Disraeli)

May 6, 2012

Whose Side are You On?

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Organisational gains from volunteering, Role definition, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 1:19 am by Sue Hine

We can talk about management of volunteers forever.  We can have endless conversations that wander through the ins and outs of competence and tasks.  We can venture into the thickets of community issues and political pressures and questions about sustainable funding.  We can do a moan about the lack of recognition for our work (and volunteers).  But it’s not very often that we stop to figure out the fundamentals of the role of a manager of volunteers.

What is the purpose of the role?

Last year I wrote a clear statement:

The purpose of being a Manager of Volunteers is to contribute to the organisation’s mission, to facilitate delivery of services. So my role function is to attract, train and support (etc) volunteers to carry out tasks that will do just that.

Now I want to take the opposite position:

The purpose of the role of Manager of Volunteers is to develop the very best team of volunteers and to ensure they have the very best experience of volunteering.

A good volunteer experience takes precedence over the organisation’s mission and delivery of services?  Yes, absolutely.

So the volunteer benefits at the expense of the organisation?  I knew you would jump to that conclusion!  Let me persuade you otherwise.

Think about developing a team of volunteers.  There they are, knocking at your door, keen to ‘help’ the organisation.  They are a mixed bunch, with a dozen or more different motivations, and another dozen or so skills and aptitudes.  That’s your raw material, and you are not into conveyer-belt production.  Your job is to meet their expectations, as best you can.

So the training programme is designed to sustain volunteer enthusiasm as well as to introduce them to boundaries set by organisational policy and the roles they will be undertaking.  That is, there is a framework to follow, and enough flexible space within it for volunteers to flourish in their work.

The devil for ensuring a good volunteer experience is always in the detail.

Communication is the big No 1.  Follow-up, check in with volunteers, ask them how they’re doing.  Communicate regularly via various media to keep volunteers informed, to help them feel part of the organisation.  At the same time, be visible and proactive in advocating for volunteers with paid staff, including supporting staff who work directly with volunteers.

Continuous improvement for volunteers also needs to be on the agenda.  Volunteers may want to move their skills to another level or to try something different as much as paid staff.  The volunteer who does not ‘fit’ need not be turned away if you hang on to your sense of innovation.  That’s where management of volunteers becomes an art, way beyond the confines of human resource management.  Volunteers are a source for inspiration, not just a resource or an asset for exploitation.

Feedback on performance is as important for volunteers as it is for paid staff.  Get beyond the regular (and sincere) “Thank you” to add positive reinforcement of a job well done:

I was impressed by the way you….

Or try extending skill experience by adding:

Next time you could think about having a go at …. 

This is not just buttering up a volunteer ego, it is demonstrating your confidence in volunteer competence and ongoing capacity for development.

An annual review for each volunteer is another string to maintaining volunteer satisfaction.  Not so much a review of performance as a self-assessment of present involvement and future aspirations – and always including reflection on how to improve the volunteer programme, management of volunteers included.

Don’t forget the exit interview.  That can be another strand for comment on possible improvement and change.  Keeping a record of ‘reasons for leaving’ will draw a useful picture on turnover and levels of volunteer satisfaction, which could be incredibly useful in indicating to senior management and boards on the state of the organisation.

So what is the pay-off?  Why is a good volunteer experience important?  You will get any or all of the following:

Support for organisation mission     ADDING VALUE TO SERVICES            Retention          Loyalty       Commitment                Public Relations

Ambassadors in the Community               CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Volunteers pilot new ways of delivering services          INNOVATION

Volunteers build Civil Society         Community Development

SOCIAL INCLUSION        Service enhancement

Get the best team of volunteers and enable their very best volunteer experience and you will find volunteers contribute OTT to organisation mission and service delivery.  All round there is a Win-Win outcome.