August 12, 2012
… Is a grand novel by A S Byatt, which turned into a pretty good movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow
… Is the title of several other movies, and songs
… Is a word of many different connotations, like:
Possession is nine-tenths of the law. (That is, the question of ownership is more likely to be settled in a legal context by ‘possession’.)
We have pronouns, my / mine, your / yours, our/ ours and theirs, to indicate ‘possession’ or ‘ownership’ of everything between material property and ‘things’, to inspirited passion and hearts’ desires, to great ideas and intellectual property.
The question is: who owns volunteers?
I am asking because twice in one week I have been at workshops where I was hearing about my volunteers, my board of trustees, my volunteer programme. That possessive pronoun was working overtime.
Here are my arguments on why we should avoid talking about my volunteers:
- “Owning” people went out with the demise of feudalism. Slavery is outlawed too, though we still have to be vigilant re People Trafficking.
- Volunteers are their own persons; they are exercising their free will to engage with the organisation.
- They engage with the organisation, not exclusively with the manager of volunteers.
- Volunteers undertake a range of roles, tasks and responsibilities across the organisation, generally accountable to different section or team managers, not directly to the manager of volunteers.
- Even where the manager of volunteers is leading a team, this happens on behalf of the organisation. So better to refer to ‘our’ volunteers, or the more neutral ‘the’ volunteer programme / service.
- ‘Our volunteers’ still hints of possessiveness, yet embraces volunteering as an integral part of the organisation. And if you say ‘our volunteers’ with pride in your voice you are saying heaps about your sincere appreciation of their work.
- Relationships and Communication are key elements of leading volunteers. Yes, managers of volunteers need to establish personal connections with volunteers, but we also need to set the boundaries of these relationships. Becoming ‘over-involved’ is a sure route to trouble, and a big no-no for professional reputations and credibility.
So this is my litany. I am quibbling with a simple linguistic usage. Yet if we can change a few simple words in our language we can change a whole lot of perceptions and make a world of difference. Read Alison’s story to see what can happen when you drop my from your references to volunteers.
August 5, 2012
The clock has started ticking. Three months from today we will be rejoicing and celebrating International Volunteer Managers’ Day, or as we say in New Zealand, IMV Day. ‘Managers of Volunteers’ speaks to us in New Zealand more loudly than being a Volunteer Manager, specially when we read the slogan for this year, and the taglines.
Leaders of Volunteers: Who Else Could Do That?
- Leading teams of both paid and unpaid staff? Who else could do that?
- 100 people, 100 motivations, 100 job descriptions… Who else could do that?
- $0 budget for a priceless resource? Who else could do that?
I confess I asked myself Who Else would Want to Do That?
But the introduction and promotion of Leadership is timely. We are not ‘just’ managers – the pen pushers and the strategists and organisers for running a volunteer programme – we are leaders of prime importance in delivering services over a whole range of interests. We are leaders in our communities, creating opportunities for volunteers, ensuring they have a good experience – not to mention the training and the support, the supervision and the celebrations and appreciation events that volunteers can enjoy. Who else could do all that, indeed!
So while people might be ground down in multi-tasking, coping with the numbers, whole-of-organisation coverage, and performing to super-hero(ine) status, November 5 every year is the time to draw breath, to accept the accolades, and to recognise that leadership of volunteers is a unique occupation. Long may you reign!
The IVMA website tells me we celebrate the profession of volunteer leadership because:
1. Volunteer Managers have the skills and knowledge to help people be part of the solution in meeting community needs. Even in cynical times, they practice the art of the possible.
2. Volunteer Managers change lives — both the lives of volunteers themselves and of those served by well-led volunteers. It is a life-changing profession. Volunteer managers provide the leadership and direction that allows people to build a good and just society and to mend the social fabric. Without professional leadership, people’s time, talents and efforts could be wasted.
3. A well-run volunteer program shows the community, including potential donors, that the organization is not afraid of public scrutiny and involvement and endeavours to make the most efficient use of monetary assets.
4. Well-led volunteers become an advocacy and public relations force for an agency or program — a force no amount of money could buy.
Amen to all that I say.
The thing is – and I have bleated about this before – managers of volunteers should not have to wait for an annual event. Respect and recognition for what they achieve should happen every day – because as former Prime Minister Helen Clark acknowledged in 2008: Without volunteers New Zealand stops!
When we no longer promote a special day for managers of volunteers I will know their time has come. And I will no longer have to join ARD Fairburn’s lament for the
“weary dolphins trapped in honey-coloured cobwebs / murmuring to the revolution Will you be long.”