August 26, 2012

Enlightenment (Take 2)

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Managers Matter, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:12 am by Sue Hine

I’m doing a double-take on the word Enterprise. In recent years the word has been thrown around like it is newly-minted. Yet the business of enterprise has been around for centuries, since history began. Business entrepreneurs have driven industry and economic growth for generations. They invented consumerism, though I daresay the global market of people avid for the new and different accelerated the process, and the profits. Entrepreneurs and enterprise have created corporate and multi-national organisations, and, let us acknowledge, contributed to the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) in less-than-honourable dealings.

I am sobering-up from last week’s high at the conference on Social Enterprise. Yes, creating a business that turns a profit for social interests is a sea change from creating wealth for private shareholders. And yes, there are a heap of good intentions and good results in ‘doing good’ and collaborating for sustainable outcomes.

Here’s the Big But:

• I did not hear acknowledgement or recognition of NFP organisations, though their representatives dominated the ranks of those attending the conference

• Volunteering and management of volunteers did not get a mention

• And everybody ignored history

Here are my Reminders:

• Social Movements have stimulated more social change than any corporate enterprise. (OK, that claim could be debated…) I am thinking of organisations and programmes established on the back of global activism in Civil Rights, Feminism, Disability, the Environment and hundreds of others at local community level. Or cast your mind back to early crusaders on slavery and poverty, and to pioneers like Florence Nightingale and Henri Dunant.

• It was Community-based Social Enterprise that created local support services and long-standing organisations and community change – achieved by Volunteers, and funded in the past simply by cake stalls and raffles.

• NFP organisations have been operating Social Profit enterprises since Oxfam opened its first High Street op-shop – though it seems most NFPs continue to rely on philanthropic largesse or the caprice of a government contract.

Operating a charity is not the same as running a for-profit business. Yet financial stability is of primary importance for both sectors. Just think what a community organisation could achieve if it could rely on a sustainable funding stream. That’s where social enterprise could really be Doing Real Good.

And here’s another thing: I read that “strong leadership is crucial for social enterprises”, including a list of recommended attributes:

• Have passion and purpose
• Trust and be trustworthy
• Be pragmatic and prudent
• Share the lead
• Never miss the opportunity to praise and say thank you

Which sounds to me just like the qualities of many a worthy manager of volunteers. When I think about the enterprise involved in running a volunteer programme I would call the managers Social Entrepreneurs. And even if volunteers do not come for free they can reap huge profits in terms of goodwill and service delivery, and in fund-raising.

August 19, 2012


Posted in A Bigger Picture, Conference communication, Language tagged , , , , at 4:47 am by Sue Hine

There were two days this week of intensive concentration. Two days of learning new ways of expressing old ideas, two days of interpreting new inspirations for a new age.

There were two events: one was a national conference, and the other a brief breakfast session at Parliament hosted by Jacinda Adern MP, on behalf of ComVoices. Both covered common elements: community engagement and citizenship; the business of funding community projects and enterprise; and different models of operation.

Nothing is forever. We live in a world of constant change. There’s something new every day. Yes, I know all the clichés. But there is something more going on here.

The meanings of ordinary words are revitalised:
Citizenship is you and me and the responsibilities we have to our community and to each other;
Participation is being engaged in our communities and networks, and engaged in the process of change;
Sustainability is creating something that is not just a one-off attempt, and it is also the big word in better management of our environment;
Collaboration and Partnership will drive the operations of community groups in times of austerity; and are the key facilitators in developing a social enterprise.

Hackneyed terms and phrases are revisited and rephrased:
• The old catch-cry of Making a Difference morphs into Doing Real Good, implying there are tangible results in what you do. (And begging the question of defining what we mean by ‘Real Good’.) Well, we are learning fast about outcomes and results-based funding conditions.
Community gets to be described and understood as a philosophy, a collective value, and not just a blanket neutral term for everyone out there, or the generalisation for why our organisation exists. There are many different forms of ‘community’.

When we turn these words and ideas into action there is a whole new vocabulary to learn, and new ways of doing business. The new vocabulary begins with Social Enterprise, and the new business model is based on collaboration and partnership between business, philanthropy, government agencies and communities and community organisations.

That’s the beauty of the new ways of thinking: we can escape from our silos of Public, Private and Third or Non-Profit Sectors (and eliminate perceptions of community as third-rate, or non-anything) to find the new view and new solutions. It’s happening now, somewhere close to you. Go find out more, and be a part of the change. Or read about the international trend for NGOs to embrace profit-making social enterprises.

Going on three hundred and fifty years ago there was an earlier Enlightenment, a period of awakening in Europe, of the beginnings of formal science, philosophy, economics and the rise of capitalism and industrialisation. It was also called the Age of Reason, because it was argued that rational thinking provided more answers to the mysteries of life than religious beliefs. One of the facilitators of this new age was the invention of the Coffee House, where you could enjoy the new stimulant brought by the merchant traders from Africa and South America. Here was the place where intellectuals met to discuss the issues of the day, to form political policies and to plot the French Revolution.

Next time you go to a business meeting at your favourite café give some thought to how your discussion might influence the new Enlightenment.

August 12, 2012

Possession …

Posted in Best Practice, Language, Leading Volunteers tagged at 4:39 am by Sue Hine

… 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

Counting down to IMV Day – November 5, 2012

Posted in Celebrations, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter tagged , , , at 3:20 am by Sue Hine

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.”