July 8, 2012

The Care-Taking Industry

Posted in Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professional Development, Professionalism tagged , , , , at 5:08 am by Sue Hine

I wonder how many readers noticed the tenor of last week’s post.  How the Top Tips are all about relationships, about respect and communication and support for volunteers.  How being a manager and leader of volunteers is about nurturing and caring for a valuable resource.  The tasks of organising and advocating and programme administration can take second place in the scheme of things.

Well – that might be a debatable premise, though we all know (don’t we?) that the best designed and administered volunteer programme is not going to get off the ground if we cannot demonstrate the attributes needed to lead a worthy team of volunteers.

That’s where the people-skills kick in. Volunteers are not ciphers on the annual accounts, nor cans of peas in the production line of a community service.  Volunteering is a human service, and needs to be treated accordingly.  Yet all too often organisations can overlook that managers of volunteers are human too.

I have been nudged by another blogger, when I read her take on the unintentional selflessness of managers of volunteers.

We have to be concerned with the wants and needs of clients, other staff, administration and all of our volunteers. We juggle these wants and needs continually, listening closely to volunteer stories, soothing hurt feelings, and probing for motivations. We are on heightened alert at all times.

And the ultimate message is: “Volunteer managers can run the risk of losing themselves in the job.”

Many years ago I was occupied as a ‘counsellor’.  It was a volunteer position in a provincial town, for an organisation that operated nationally.  In the course of this work I encountered women struggling to do their best for their families, struggling with relationships and parenting and many with poverty as well.

I could offer empathy and challenge assumptions and suggest strategies for change, and there was always a startled look of recognition when I proposed: “If you do not look after yourself then you will not be able to look after others”.

Taking care of yourself remains a concern.  How can you keep in good shape to manage the volunteer programme, and to lead volunteers?  Working-out at the gym might do wonders for your physical fitness and percolate the endorphins for a feel-good high.  But what about the work-related niggles that keep you awake at night, the on-going tensions and responsibilities that never go away?  And never mind the push-me/pull-you stresses of time management.

Back in my counselling days there was always a ‘supervisor’ to support, encourage and monitor my professional practice.  I graduated to being a supervisor too, and have continued to offer a supervisory and mentoring role to people working in NFP organisations.

Years later I am still hearing the agonised stories of managers of volunteers under stress, and I am still asking the question: If you do not look after yourself then how can you look after others?

I have been plugging away at professional development and professionalism for managers of volunteers for a while now.

To avoid “losing yourself in the job” go look for formal supervision or mentoring, or get together with colleagues, either 1:1 or as a group.  Or join a webinar discussion.  Time spent thus can be time saved in problem-solving, in new learning, and in being forced to take time-out.  The pay-off, remember, is the flow-on benefits for volunteers and for the organisation.

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