November 25, 2012
Scenario: you are interviewing a candidate for a position to manage volunteers, and you want to check out the level of passion they would bring to the role. How would you frame the questions?
I am not looking for answers right now. I’m going off on a tangent to investigate the meanings of ‘passion’ and ‘passionate’. I want to question why these words should feature so frequently in the context of volunteering.
They turn up in promotional material, in organisation newsletters and in recruitment adverts. ‘Thank you’ speeches at Volunteer recognition functions are peppered with references to appreciation for volunteers’ ‘passion’. Volunteer Centres and national umbrella organisations and even international leaders in our field find ways to insert ‘passion’ and ‘passionate’ into their writing. Even government publications don’t shy away from such emotive language where volunteers are involved.
Here are a few examples of slogans you can find without looking very far:
Show us your passion
Your passion, our nation, volunteer now!
Volunteer leadership is “passion management.”
They are examples of language used to attract and encourage volunteering, and to proclaim the good intentions and aspirations of managers of volunteers.
‘Passion’ means an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. It comes from the Latin word pati meaning ‘to suffer’. OK, I know how ‘intense desire’ can be experienced as suffering, though this interpretation is better applied outside the province of volunteering and management of volunteers, despite frustrations experienced too often by the latter. The passion of volunteering and the management of volunteer services is more about ‘intense enthusiasm’.
There is nothing the matter with being passionate, and to be fair, the word is also prominent in the for-profit sector. But we do need to be clear what we mean, otherwise the word becomes a cliché and its currency devalued. ‘Passion’ risks turning into a platitude, like ‘commitment’ and ‘making a difference’. ‘Passion’ is a word too big and too important to turn into a shorthand slogan.
When we use ‘passion’ and ‘volunteering’ in the same breath we are referring to values held about people and communities and belonging and relationships, about service and mutual support, and about meeting needs. Values are those beliefs and principles that are prized and cherished, and they are demonstrated every day in our behaviour. We don’t have to declare we are passionate about volunteering: we can show you, all the time.
Being passionate about volunteering is relative to the cause of the organisation and its mission. That’s how many a community organisation started in the first place. Of course these days people can be more pragmatic about why they volunteer, yet there’s many a story about less-than-enthusiastic volunteers finding their ‘passion’ and becoming ardent supporters of an organisation.
Why should ‘passion’ be an important attribute for managers of volunteers? For starters you have to be pretty keen (if not ‘intensely enthusiastic’) about volunteering to make the most of the position. Passion contributes to raised performance standards, job satisfaction, and effective leadership of volunteers – which may include harnessing their passion when it becomes indiscriminate. Sometimes passion is needed in gaining a recognised stake in the organisation.
But what if you overplay your hand? There’s a fine line between being enthusiastic and becoming a fanatic. It’s a line between getting people to listen to well-reasoned arguments and in the way the emotional speech can turn into an eye-rolling, here-she-goes-again response. Too much overt passion can end up like Oscar Wilde’s aphorism: Each man kills the thing he loves.
So when it comes to interviewing prospective managers of volunteers I would be steering away from emotional rhetoric and asking about practical applications. Examples of practice will demonstrate just how ‘committed’ to ‘making a difference’ and the degree of ‘passion’ is held by the candidate.
November 18, 2012
A couple of weeks ago I was asked for information on the salary band for a manager responsible for 600 volunteers. I’m not really the best person to ask, but the question set me thinking, again.
The first thing I note is that the topic of pay packages for managers of volunteers is like a squeaky wheel that never gets oiled. There are regular queries and laments, but resolution always remains in the too-hard-basket. Some themes of the debate can be found in articles listed in Energize archives.
International data from the Global Volunteer Management Survey (2008) revealed the extraordinary range of full-time annual salaries: $US9,600 – $US90,000. The average yearly income was $US45,296: New Zealand managers of volunteers earned 10 – 15% less than this average. For 63% of respondents the handicap to growing volunteer management is that “volunteer managers would never be paid the equivalent of other professions who manage people”.
Management Matters, New Zealand-based research (2009), found the median annual salary of full-time managers is in the range of $NZ40,000 – $NZ59,000 ($US32.792 – $US49.183). At this time the mean income in New Zealand was $NZ43,836 ($US35,919).
In 2011 a professional survey attempted to establish real market value for managers of volunteers in New Zealand but results were inconclusive.
Aside from research, there’s a rule of thumb that reckons NFP salaries are 10% lower than for-profit businesses, and you can take off another 10% to get the going rate for a manager of volunteers. The devil is in the detail, the complex nature of the sector, the range of responsibilities, job titles and hours of work.
Managers of volunteers may be employed full-time, part-time or be an unpaid ‘volunteer manager’ or coordinator (full- or part-time). A full-time employee may be assigned part-time responsibilities for managing volunteers. They can be known variously as manager, director, administrator, or coordinator. The scope of the role is relative to the nature of the organisation’s mission and scale of operation, and operating budget. Being a manager of volunteers can be part human resource management, part line management, part strategic development. It may include skills in community organisation and project management, and certainly communication and relationship skills. And it will be nothing without leadership ability.
All these factors influence pay rates. The Managers Matter survey also found salary differences relative to job title: ‘Managers of Volunteers’ attracted higher rates than ‘Volunteer Coordinators’, regardless of paid/unpaid, full- or part-time status.
As for the numbers game, I cannot find a correlation between numbers of volunteers and manager salaries. The Managers Matter study showed that even with 200+ volunteers there were still 23% of managers unpaid. We need added information on how the volunteers are engaged: for weekly assignments or for annual events, a fixed term or ongoing involvement. We also need to take into account those people who squeeze volunteer responsibilities alongside other areas of work.
The concerns for low pay levels and unrealistic expectations remain.
So I was pleased to see included in the Volunteering New Zealand Best Practice Guidelines the following clause: Paying people with responsibility for volunteers a salary comparable to other managers with similar responsibilities within the organisation.
Which just begs the question: who, in the organisation, has similar responsibilities? Who else undertakes the range of tasks, covers the territory, and handles various roles like the manager of volunteers does – whether paid or unpaid? Is there anywhere an equivalent job?
Looks like the problem goes back to the too-hard-basket again.
But there is more to think about. It’s not just the complexity and the variations in organisation size and function, and the job title and employment status of the manager. There’s a perception that NFPs relying on the charity dollar should not be profligate in spending on salaries. Some organisations lack understanding and appreciation of volunteers, which is too easily carried over to the pay and respect accorded to their manager.
It is going to take more than the efforts of managers of volunteers to make a difference. It’s going to take the whole organisation. Discovering the true worth of managers of volunteers will also tell us more about how volunteering is valued.
November 11, 2012
We know all about the benefits of volunteering, for organisations and communities. We can count up the numbers – of volunteers and hours worked – which show simple aggregates of inputs and outputs, and we are finding ways to offer evidence of ‘making a difference’.
We know how a well-run programme can attract new volunteers and donors and gains in street-cred for the organisation. (And how quickly the reverse can happen if quality standards slip).
These days we know volunteer motivation can be less grounded in altruism than in seeking ROI – skill development, work experience and social contact. That’s the individual and personal gain.
There are other spin-offs. At volunteer gatherings where a mix of teams get together I have known excited reunions of people who went to school together or who lived in the same street a long time ago.
When volunteers are really engaged in the organisation you can bet they are developing relationships and forging new friendships. There’s many a tale of clusters of volunteers who meet regularly out of the workplace, organise a reunion, start their own Facebook page. Rugby World Cup volunteers got together again recently, to reminisce and to celebrate their achievements.
But did you know that Volunteering is also Good for Your Heart?
So says a report on research on individual health benefits of volunteering (published 2007).
Volunteer activities can strengthen the social ties that protect individuals from isolation during difficult times, while the experience of helping others leads to a sense of greater self-worth and trust.
Those who engage in volunteer activities are less likely to suffer from ill health later in life and may be introduced into a positive reinforcing cycle of good health and future volunteering.
Even when controlling for other factors such as age, health, and gender, research has found that when individuals volunteer, they are more likely to live longer.
These claims are substantiated in more than 30 studies reviewing the relationship between health and volunteering. It is suggested by one commentator that Civic Engagement and Volunteering is the new hybrid health club for the 21st century – and it’s free to join.
Which is all very encouraging for volunteerism and community organisations and community well-being. But is the correlation of volunteering with good health dependent on practice standards in organisations, and quality management of volunteers? Feeling good about volunteering is certainly related to job satisfaction, a supportive work environment, and being respected and appreciated – all charged out as organisation responsibilities.
So the launch this week of Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Organisations is to be welcomed, by administrators, managers of volunteers, and surely – by volunteers themselves.
November 4, 2012
This is the week to bring out the banners and balloons, put on the party gear and to show off yourself and what you do in managing volunteers. Self-promotion if you like, and I like self-promotion – because if you cannot value yourself and your achievements then it is sometimes hard for other people to see the value of your work.
So going crazy now and again is a way to take pride in being a manager of volunteers. You know – leading teams, juggling 100 people, 100 motivations, 100 job descriptions, with a zero budget for a priceless resource. As the You-tube clips have been saying, Who else could do that!
[Mumble mumble, and a bit of rhubarb] What’s that? You are uncomfortable with displays of self-praise? It’s not right to put yourself ahead of volunteers?
Don’t you see? Everything you do as a leader of volunteers is promoting their interests. Standing up for them, pushing their barrow every which way you can is demonstrating the importance of your work. You know the power of volunteering and just how much volunteers contribute to the organisation’s mission. So take some credit for getting the programme going and for maintaining the standards.
And notice, every now and again, how volunteers appreciate your leadership. They might be small efforts, like encouraging them in their work, giving praise and thanks for a job well done, and spending time to listen to their stories – but you bet they will be noticed. Make up a poster board to record all the compliments that come your way, even the little things like thanks – for returning my call / your prompt reply / your welcoming smile.
And take time, at least on one day a year, to say Yes, I did well, and I am well pleased. Because you’re worth it.