September 1, 2013

It’s Not OK!

Posted in Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professional Development, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:33 am by Sue Hine

In yet another week images[6]of hearing tales of managers of volunteers under stress, close to burn-out and writing letters of resignation I have to raise my voice again.  I shall talk a bit louder this time in yet another effort to get the messages through, this time to paid staff and executives.

I should not have to do this.  All that is needed is a copy of Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteering-Involving Organisations.  It offers a very good steer on what is good practice and why good practice is important for the whole organisation.

Volunteering doesn’t happen in a vacuum; volunteers and managers of volunteers are part of the wider unit that is the organisation.  Contributions of volunteers, and from those responsible for volunteers, enable the organisation to achieve its goals.

Here’s the best practice rubric:

The whole organisation works to involve and recognise volunteers.

And here is why it is important:

  • Because it is not OK when staff treat volunteers as unskilled amateurs and fail to engage with them in their work.
  • Because it is not OK when staff fail to understand why volunteers are involved and how the organisation benefits.
  • Because it’s not OK when staff ignore the knowledge and experience of the manager of volunteers and the extent of the role.
  • Because it’s not OK when the manager of volunteers is not treated as a professional equal.
  • Because it’s not OK when the funds allocated for volunteers are not sufficient to cover programme costs.
  • Because it’s not OK when the manager of volunteers is not encouraged and supported to seek professional development.
  • Because it’s not OK to employ a person to fulfil a job description that can’t possibly be accomplished by one person in the allotted paid hours.
  • Because it is not OK, ever, to fail in ethical responsibilities for a ‘duty of care’ towards an employee and their well-being in the workplace.

This litany is strongly-worded, yet each clause indicates where change and improvements can be made.  And it’s these conditions that the Guidelines have been designed to change.  I acknowledge the 12 – 18 month turnover of volunteer management positions is not universal.  But when it is happening then it is hugely damaging to (1) the volunteer programme, in loss of leadership and direct oversight and support for volunteers; (2) the organisation, in recruitment costs and operational interruptions; and (3) the organisation’s reputation in the community, possibly jeopardising funding sources.  There will be an impact on volunteers too – resignations and retirements, and recruiting replacement volunteers adds another burden to a new manager of volunteers.

So please, turn some attention to what is happening to volunteers and their management in your organisation.  Make sure the manager of volunteers feels competent and supported in the role.  Begin to know and understand the nature of volunteering and to truly value what volunteers bring to and do for your organisation.  Without that appreciation you do not deserve them.

There is a flip-side of course.  Why can’t managers of volunteers speak out for themselves?  Why can’t they take action on their grievances before it gets to the stage of walking away from the problems?  Answering these questions is a story for another time.

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