July 29, 2012

What if ……?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , , , at 4:57 am by Sue Hine

I have been rabbiting on for ages about the relevance of volunteering and the importance of good management of volunteers in the community and voluntary sector.  I have been on about organisations that just don’t get volunteering, about boards and management that take volunteers for granted, and who fail to recognise that volunteers might be just the true deliverers of organisation vision and values.

Volunteers live the organisation’s mission; they have organisational values at heart; and they put up their hands to work for free without expectation of a pay package or other reward.

What if, I venture to ask, what if we turn running the organisation over to volunteers?

I can hear the objections shouted down the e-waves:

  • The board members / trustees are all volunteers!  Isn’t that enough?
  • Volunteers are part-timers, mere bit-players in service delivery
  • Volunteers are unreliable, take time out, have other commitments and priorities
  • Volunteers do not have the necessary professional knowledge and skills
  • Come on – volunteers are not the answer to everything!
  • Lots of them are merely getting work experience, or fulfilling their employer’s obligations for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
  • Open Sesame to organisational chaos!

To which I respond:

  • The role of Board members / Trustees is governance, overall direction and decision-making responsibility – well-placed to ensure best practice service delivery
  • If you regard volunteers in your organisation as ‘bit-players’ then you do not deserve them
  • Many community services are delivered entirely by volunteers – and highly valued for their standard of service
  • Yes, volunteers are free to come and go: respect that freedom and you get loyalty and long-term commitment
  • When volunteers know and understand why they join your organisation, they are demonstrating the real meaning of being ‘professional’, and all the knowledge and skills that go with that
  • Volunteers are powerful contributors to community development, community integration, and the building of Civil Society
  • And by being exposed to volunteer experience those people engaged for work experience or CSR events are likely to continue volunteering
  • As for the chaos, welcome to tumultuous energy of the world of Management of Volunteers and  the community and voluntary sector

What if, I ask again, what if the manager of volunteers was promoted to Chief Executive?

I can hear the gob-smacked responses from here!  Sure there’s a load of extra responsibility and more things to think about.  But think about it a bit more:

  • The manager of volunteers is well-versed in management and leadership, especially in being responsible for more people than most Chief Executives in the community sector.  [See Susan J Ellis, Non-Profit World 1986, 4/2 – Maximising the Potential of the Director of Volunteers; and 1996 – What Makes the Position of Volunteer Programme Manager (VPM) Unique?  (Adapted from Chapter 4, From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program Success)]
  • The manager of volunteers is creative and flexible; has to be a strategic thinker and really good at time management; has an amazing network of colleagues and game-players to call on, and really good mentor support.
  • The manager of volunteers knows the organisation inside out; works across all service areas; has effective working relationships with senior managers.
  • The manager of volunteers is committed to organisation mission and vision and knows how to engage volunteers to put these into practice.

You might still think I am in fantasy-land.  Not so, if you read Claire Teal’s arguments about the status of management of volunteers:

[S]o many of us seem to simultaneously lament the lack of value given to our role, but also resist any real attempt to do anything about this. In many ways we seem to want to have our cake (a higher value placed on our role) and eat it too (not change anything we’re doing).

This on-going self-deprecation has to be turned around!  If you really object to a volunteer take-over, or to the manager of volunteers becoming your Chief Executive, go read Betty Stalling’s counterfactuals about Volunteer Program Champions.

That is the What If challenge for organisations and their managers of volunteers.  That’s the world of difference a What If question can make.

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