August 18, 2013

By Degrees

Posted in Managers Matter, Professional Development, Professionalism tagged , , , , at 8:05 am by Sue Hine

average-temperature-new-zealand-wellington[1]

In Wellington this year the month of July turned on weather that was 2 degrees warmer than usual midwinter temperatures.  Indeed national results are showing this year was the fourth-warmest July in 100 years of New Zealand records.  No-one is yet claiming this result as evidence for climate change – we just welcome the period without dreary grey skies and three-day southerly storms direct from the Antarctic.  The mild weather continues this month, encouraging an early rise of the dawn chorus, increased frequency for lawn-mowing and an abundance of spring flowering – though a couple of sharp earthquakes has shaken any complacency we might have enjoyed.

I have never seen any graphs that track volunteering like weather patterns or earthquakes, not by numbers, nor by demographics or spread of organisation.  Mostly the information is collated in intermittent reports (most recent is 2008) with little comparative analysis.  The best studies are the publications for the John Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project.

It’s the same for managing volunteers, an occupation we like to call a profession.  I’d like to think a graph blue-business-graph[1] of better management practice would show significant progress over the past forty years, mostly a slow and steady upward slope that gets a little steeper in more recent times.  Factors contributing to momentum are international organisations like IAVE, international conferences, the burst of technology that allows global communication in all sorts of forms: electronic journals, newsletters and webinars, bloggers like me, twitter and face-book discussion groups.  International Volunteer Manager Day (November 5) and National Volunteer Week (June) also attract plenty of attention from both inside the sector and without.  Possibly the biggest impetus for programme managers has come from government contracting out services to non-profit community-based organisations (though this move has produced its own fish-hooks).  At ground level Volunteer Centres are right up there offering support and training sessions for managers of volunteers, and the idea of mentoring as a means for professional development is slowly starting to get some traction.

So I think it is fair to claim the practice of managing volunteers is quite a few degrees warmer than it was twenty years ago.

However, there is still a fair way to go in that other meaning of ‘degree’, referring to tertiary education qualifications.  There is no single qualification for management of volunteers, though a raft of training programmes is available, from day-long workshops to on-line courses of varying duration and intensity.  University programmes are offered for ‘non-profit management’, and while they may include relevant material for management of volunteers the focus is generally on organisation-wide management.

This lack of academic attention is compounded by the different training and experience people bring to management of volunteers, and by the scope of responsibilities in the role.  It is not surprising that a lack of an identified career-path also leads to short-term engagements in managing volunteers for a good proportion of our numbers.

All is not lost!  Volunteering New Zealand published its comprehensive document on competencies for management of volunteers in June this year.  There are tools to help determine learning needs, and a long list of opportunities for study at various levels and topics of generic management.  Or go directly to options for assessment of prior learning (APL) which could lead to a formal qualification.

Unlike the debate on climate change I think the evidence is clear for current and future growth in prospects for managers of volunteers, whether by degrees or otherwise.

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2 Comments »

  1. Hi Sue! This is brilliant. Every time I see a report on volunteering trends, the research focuses on the psyche of the volunteers. Reports never look at how managing volunteers contributes to their experience. Perhaps there should be a comprehensive volunteer survey that studies how management (and indirectly, everything you’ve mentioned) increases or decreases volunteer involvement. Now that would be an eye opener!

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