September 30, 2012

Counting Down to IMV Day – November 5, 2012 (2)

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Professional Development tagged , , , at 3:35 am by Sue Hine

In just five weeks’ time the International Day for Managers of Volunteers will be upon us.  Planning has started already for the day’s performances.

You can find out more on the website, including resources and articles and a great list of ideas for promoting managers of volunteers.  Or track the international buzz on the facebook page – there’s a couple of jazzy you-tube clips to view as well.

In New Zealand the day will begin as usual with a breakfast session hosted by Volunteer Wellington.  A lot of focus will then turn to the start of Volunteering Auckland’s two-day conference, Let’s Get ConnectedA highlight on the first day is the launch of Volunteering  New Zealand’s Best-practice guidelines for volunteer-involving organisations, to be broadcast per webinar.

I talked about this year’s slogan a couple of months ago: Leaders of Volunteers: Who Else Could Do That?  Now take a look at the poster and see just what an awesome person the manager of volunteers can be.

How many of these role identities will you pin to your personal mast?  Perhaps some of them need to be described in a bit more detail.

For example, the Community Organiser (known some decades ago as Professional Dissenter) and the Social Entrepreneur might be unfamiliar labels – but that’s what you do when getting people to work together in a team, or for your cause.  Right?

You may have doubts about being a visionary, but by heck you are always looking ahead and figuring the next steps in a programme, or how to engage the super-skills a volunteer is offering.  Come on – you know you are a Seer.

And when you add up all the labels on this list, there’s only one summary: Miracle Worker.

You are a Miracle Worker because

  • you create something out of nothing more than the offer of goodwill;
  • you can bind together diverse interests, personalities and cultures to work in a common cause;
  • you own a know how / can do belief in the organisation’s vision and mission; and
  • you are an achiever, despite many people lacking full understanding of volunteering and what your role entails.

Now all of this is fine and good, and we can roll over for another year.  Except don’t you just wish we could see a few more steps towards regular recognition and support for professional development?  In New Zealand the Best Practice Guidelines are a start, and watch out for the Learning and Development Pathway to come early next year.  But these are practice issues, and I am thinking more about the professional association that could speak as one voice on our behalf.

In our region that association is AAMOVthe Australasian Association for Managers of Volunteers

Professional associations for managers of volunteers have not had a good track record over past years, but do not let that put you off.  You want to get recognition, acknowledgement of your training and qualifications?  You want your expertise recognised in a halfway decent salary?  You want somebody to be able to speak out on your behalf, to be a champion of your occupation?  Support AAMOV so they can support and promote your interests.  

Because it is through collective strength that we can make achievements in

  • promoting best practice for Managers of Volunteers
  • providing pathways for professional development
  • providing opportunities for peer support
  • developing strategic relations with government, non-government organisations and the business sector.

The annual AAMOV Manager of Excellence Award offers an example of best practice, and one small step towards public recognition of the importance of good management of volunteers.

Let’s celebrate on November 5, as the poster says, the work of those “who inspire, empower and manage the spirit of volunteerism around the world”.

September 23, 2012

Why Else Would You Volunteer?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Language, Motivation, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 4:46 am by Sue Hine

At the beginning of this month I was extolling the nature and philosophy of volunteering, quoting words like Citizenship, Engagement, Generosity, and a Felt Sense of Community.  No question, these words represent the best concepts of volunteering.

Except….  Unless….  Until….  I start thinking about the other reasons why, in this day and age, people give their time and skills and energies, for free, for community benefit.

I have banged on a lot about the Gift Relationship, spoken in hushed words about the virtues of Altruism and the Spirit of Community.  You see, all these words (they deserve no less than Capital Letters) are the true representations of volunteering.  Except….  Unless….  Until….

Now it is time to get real, time to see just how inclusive volunteering and volunteer programmes can be, outside the Goodwill and Community Solidarity philosophy.

At the local Op-Shop the customer service volunteers are pretty much all older people.  They tell me their time here is the social highlight of their week.  Yes, they are unpaid, and all there by free will, though their ulterior motive is socialisation, to meet and greet people, have a conversation and a bit of a laugh.  And maybe a chance to pick up a bargain as well.

Also on the staff at this Shop are the sorters and cleaners, a right mix of volunteers.   There are young people looking for work experience to put on their CVs.  There are migrants and refugees practising English language skills.  There are the people working off community sentences.   Others are there as evidence of job-seeking in order to retain their welfare payments.

In the administration office of another organisation I meet the ‘interns’, mostly students on placement for their applied degree qualification, and a fair smattering of new migrants.  Unpaid internships are welcomed as work experience to improve job prospects, especially for these groups.

And then I come across the team of Corporate Volunteers who are out on their ‘day-release’ programme, that annual event that demonstrates ‘corporate social responsibility’.  They have engaged with the Department of Conservation to check out bait traps in a protected reserve.  Whoa, I think.  The exercise is likely to be a whole bit of hiking, and possibly encounters with some health and safety hazards in the not-so-nice parts of the day when dealing with captives in the traps.  It is quite a bit different from their day job.  Next time they might prefer to offer pro bono services of their professional skills in governance, or in organisational management and administration.

Volunteering is not what it used to be.  The ideas of ‘free will’ and ‘compulsion’ have been mixed and stirred in a blender.  (I can even confess to volunteering as an escape from tele-marketing calls.) Take a look at Volunteering Tasmania and how they are describing volunteering for our new age:

  • It has a direct benefit to the community and the volunteer (whether the benefit is tangible or intangible);
  • It is undertaken by choice; and
  • It is unpaid. (However, the volunteer may receive reasonable or appropriate reimbursement for expenses incurred that are associated with the role, and/or may receive a monetary or other incentive/reward.)

That’s the commonsense reality of volunteering in the 21st century for you.  Volunteering is always a two-way stretch of reciprocal benefits.

Because, whatever the reason for volunteering, the experience of working for nothing is also an exposure to community services, to the values and commitment supporting development in our communities.  Many a volunteer has extended self-interest to an employment career in the community and voluntary sector.  Or a corporate volunteer programme has introduced people to organisations and opportunities for on-going volunteering.

Understanding these details gives you a head start in recruiting volunteers, and in knowing how to reinforce the rewards, and how to retain volunteer support.

September 16, 2012

Time to Stand and Stare

Posted in Best Practice, Professional Development, Professionalism tagged , , , at 4:48 am by Sue Hine

There may not be too many people who recognise the heading for this post as a quote from an early 20th century Welsh poet.  It is from a poem I learned early in my schooldays, lines that jaunted along in sing-song rhythm, though the theme pretty-much passed over the heads of nine and ten year-olds.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

These words are all too relevant in a Time-Poor 21st century.  We are too busy doing, so focused on tasks that we overlook that other pressure to take stock, to think about the way work and what we might do better.

Don’t just do something, stand there!

 I found this line a few years ago when reading about a ‘learning organisation’.  Managers of volunteers, (and many other professional occupations) are also ‘learning organisms’.  That is, our professional development is bound up in critical thinking, experiential learning and self-awareness – a cycle of action and reflection.

Well – Volunteering New Zealand’s on-line training programme for Managing Volunteers is a good place to start reflecting on experience.   Last week a spirited bunch of people completed another 6-week course.  They took on weekly assignments designed ‘to make you think’.  They shared their replies on-line, including a lot about themselves and how they went about managing volunteers in their organisation.  They learned from each other, and about their own skill-sets, drawing on life experience and previous employment positions.   Their feedback showed they were encouraged and heartened by their participation in the course.

That’s the value of Professional Development for you, something I keep on promoting.  (You can read more in my blogs on Professionalism.)   You see, being professional does not always mean pinning the credentials of academic qualifications on your wall.  Certificates of competency are not always the best measure of the quality of your work.  But when you take the time to think, to reflect on what you are doing and what could be tweaked to improve volunteer experience or the volunteer programme and what you might need to accomplish any change – that is the mark of a true professional who understands the importance of ongoing development.

So don’t wait till it’s time for your next performance review.  Make time now!

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

(The poem is Leisure, by W H Davies)

September 9, 2012

Volunteer – At Your Own Risk

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism, volunteer experience tagged , at 4:17 am by Sue Hine

My present work focus is updating a basic guide for managers of volunteers which can serve as an introduction for new people and also a reminder and refresher for the old hands.  It’s amazing how much has changed, or shifted over the past five years.  This new edition will go on line, keeping up with technological advances and it will certainly be more user-friendly.

The hardest part of this update is ensuring accurate information on legislation relevant to volunteering – all the Health & Safety stuff, the Privacy and Human Rights provisions, and Employment law, and a few other things besides.  I am getting a headache from trying to assimilate all the information.  That’s when I think about the bundle that managers of volunteers have to absorb into training programmes and in their daily practice.

It is also a huge responsibility for organisations who engage volunteers (and paid staff), and exposes a number of risks.  Ideally, all organisation policies would cover the work of volunteers as well as paid staff.

Trouble is, the law vacillates a bit when it comes to volunteers.   Yes, they are included (with some exceptions) in the organisation’s ‘duty of care’ – the obligation ‘to take reasonable care not to cause injury or damage to a person or property’.  There’s some very clear guidance about this duty to volunteers under Health & Safety regulations.

On the other hand Employment law specifically excludes volunteers.  There is no recourse to employee rights, no option to be heard at a Tribunal or Employment Court.  But hello, the provision to be a ‘good employer’ extends to volunteers!  Except there is no one recipe or template for being a good employer.   At best we can follow a guide that includes examples and initiatives.  All of these are pretty much common sense – though sometimes we need to be reminded of common sense practice.

So a risk management strategy is an important ingredient in best practice for managers of volunteers.  Yes we have some guidance from existing law.  Yes, we are blessed in New Zealand with Accident Compensation, providing comprehensive, no-fault personal injury cover – though this will not excuse us from ensuring volunteers are informed about all the health and safety information relevant to our organisation.  Yes, the legislation on Human Rights and Privacy give us a good steer on how to be inclusive in recruitment, and how to protect volunteer privacy.

What worries me is the short cuts that can be taken when recruiting volunteers, in implementing a programme that has not developed all the necessary policies, in short-circuiting volunteer training, and failing to monitor volunteer practice and experience.  If you want to know more about the risks of legal liabilities read Sport NZ’s account.  Better to skip the worst case scenarios and go for the straightforward information and advice from Keeping it Legal or CommunityNet Aotearoa (see p 13).

We can cover risks and protect volunteers through a signed agreement relating to the job description.  We can hold to a Code of Practice, outlining commitments by the volunteer, and by the organisation.  Or ensure everyone knows their Rights and Responsibilities in a document that spells out the entitlements and obligations of both volunteers and the organisation.  Undertaking Police Checks of volunteer applicants is another safeguard for those working with vulnerable people.

There is no way I am suggesting we become fearful risk-aversive managers of volunteers.  Nor are volunteers saying they want to be wrapped in cotton-wool – indeed some people object to learning about all the regulations and policies.  Volunteering to make cups of tea is not as simple as it used to be, they say.

The bottom line of risk management has to be ‘beneficence’, the practice (in medical ethics) of ‘doing no harm’.  Or, to use the word in its conventional sense, the business of community organisations and the work of volunteers are about ‘doing good’.  Let’s not lose sight of that!

September 2, 2012

What every volunteer needs to understand

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:32 am by Sue Hine

You are never too old to learn, or to be reminded of the meaning of volunteering. No, not the definitions: I am talking about being re-awakened to the nature and philosophy of volunteering.

A few weeks ago my inbox received the text of a presentation at a VolunteerFest in Victoria (Australia). It was not more worthy praise for volunteers, nor about the psycho-social motivations for volunteering, and certainly not a piece of puffery about volunteers being the glue of society, the salt of the earth and all those other high-flown phrases. And yet it was all of those things.

The author / presenter is vivian Hutchinson who has been a mover-and-shaker around community development and social enterprises in New Zealand for a very long time. He is also a thinker, and his writing has made me sit up and recognise a few more truths about volunteering. Here’s my take on what vivian is saying, about the key triggers to understanding the nature of volunteering.

Citizenship: The reductionist pressures of political and economic exigencies turn us into ciphers, as voters or consumers. It erodes (along with a number of other factors) our sense of community. Hutchinson says:

This is a reduction of our humanity, and it is a cultural loss … because this strips away our ability to speak authentically to each other about the craft of working together  for the common good.

When our sense of citizenship wanes the strands of Civil Society are weakened. It means we take less interest in government and local body elections. It gets so much harder to protect and preserve our communities for future generations.

Engagement: In managing volunteers we like to talk about ‘engaging’ volunteers, rather than ‘recruiting’ them. Hutchinson’s criteria for engaging volunteers are Choice, Without Constraint, and Without Expectation of Reward. Of course! No question. Until you pick up on his take on Generosity.


The key economic resource being provided by the volunteer is not your spare time, and it is not your free labour. Nor is it any personal desperation for connection or participation.  The key resource here is your generosity. And the irony is that — while being generous — it is important that you do not to give away your awareness of its value. [emphasis added]

I wonder how many volunteers ever think of ‘value’ when they give so freely their time, skills and energies. There is much evidence of selflessness in volunteering: I just want to give, without understanding what is given, and what yet might be received. Right now there is a counterpoint emerging in the efforts to measure a return on investment in delivery of community social services. Yes, evidence of effectiveness and outcomes and results is important, but monetising volunteer contribution is a sure way to diminish and degrade everything that volunteering and citizenship represents. Which leads to Hutchinson’s last point:

A felt sense of Community:

The generosity of volunteers builds links of connection and resilience, and a felt sense of community — all of which are critical assets for hard times. The challenge here is to really value these assets, and to see our generosity as something that is not just nice, but it is indeed critical.

Now you can see how the elements of Community, Generosity, Engagement and Citizenship are all interwoven. We need the whole package, and must not allow bits to be siphoned off for other interests. As encouragement I am noticing increased promotion of ‘neighbourliness’ and ‘community resilience’, not altogether prompted by natural disasters and the incidence of crime and violence.

One more quote is directed to the leaders and managers of volunteers in community organisations:

The leadership act here is to remember that generosity is generated through invitation, not dictate. You are gardeners in a voluntary landscape. Your job is to grow the active citizenship that makes up this landscape, and to foster the community assets that emerge from this deeper engagement.

Go the gardeners! Go dig for the riches in our communities, nourish the soil for volunteers, and reap the harvest of active citizens and community-builders participating in the process of change.