November 24, 2013
Dear Volunteering New Zealand –
Now that the conference is over and a welcome summer break is on the horizon I hope you are reflecting with pride on what a remarkable year 2013 has been for the community and voluntary sector, and particularly for VNZ. Indeed, over the past three years progress in promoting understanding and practice in volunteering and management of volunteers has been amazing.
The Management of Volunteers Programme may have been an initial spur through engaging with individuals and organisations across the sector. It was like we had been waiting for someone to take the lead and provide the forum to plan and implement what we were looking for. Thank you for rising to the challenge, and for the resulting publications.
VNZ’s enhanced promotion and publicity throughout this year has boosted the core business of promoting and valuing volunteering. Communication technology has been exploited to showcase issues and achievements, and to publish local and global news. Attracting volunteers and interns for projects and research demonstrates to the wider community your confidence in volunteer skills and attributes to support your work programmes.
You are illustrating the practice of collaboration and partnership most visibly in sharing office space and in the partnership agreement with ANGOA, Social Development Partners and Community Research. The Collaborative Kōrero* conference this week was another step in show-casing how working together can produce outstanding outcomes.
It was a bold move to call for questions, inviting participants to shape the content, rather than people like me submitting abstracts on their pet topics. The Conference Committee did well to distil a programme that covered standard concerns (recruitment, technology, HR vs MV, and measuring impact) yet giving space and a novel approach to listen and discuss these topics in different ways. I look forward to revisiting plenary sessions on YouTube. The Kōrero continued outside the workshops, swapping stories and learning from each other. I wonder if anyone has noticed the conversations were not so much about volunteering, or civil society or fundraising and marketing – the focus was squarely on responsibilities of managing volunteers and leading volunteer programmes. As the by-line says, “great volunteer programmes do not fall out of the sky”.
I think you would be the first to admit that none of these successes have happened in isolation. They drew impetus from improved use and scope of technology, on the surge of corporate social responsibility and business volunteering, on developing working relations with government ministries, on (sadly) events like Christchurch earthquakes and the Rena oil spill, and on international connections through attending conferences and on-line networks.
At your AGM earlier this week I was surprised there were no supporting comments from the floor for the work you have done and the achievements that were noted in reports. So I have taken time and a few more words to express my appreciation. Of course there is still much to do, and I wish you well for the good ideas that will turn into projects and further successes.
Your Independent Advocate
November 17, 2013
Sometimes we can hang on to old mantras and take them for granted. ‘Thou shalt not replace paid workers with volunteers’: of course, I’ve known that for years! Put volunteers into former paid positions and you are exploiting unpaid labour, not to mention engaging the ire (or worse) of unions and other paid staff. So it’s a no-no, no question.
And then I encounter a situation that causes a rethink, a consideration of how hard and fast those principles really need to be. I have been asked if a volunteer is available to cover for an administration employee on sick leave. I ask questions about what happens when other staff go on leave, and isn’t there a pool of casual staff to call on, and why now, and don’t you know volunteers do not replace paid staff, period. I feel uncomfortable, because it’s a short term assignment, it’s helping the organisation over a difficulty, and there are volunteers well able and available to undertake the tasks.
That’s when I start searching for confirmation on this business of not replacing paid staff with volunteers. There is nothing in Codes of Ethics on management of volunteers, nor in Codes of Practice. Nowhere do I find a clause referring to job substitution. So is the ban on replacing paid staff with volunteers merely a convention?
At last I find a reference in the Government Policy on Volunteering (2002), in which the Government recognises that “volunteers should not replace paid workers”. Note the government merely recognises, and should does not signify a legal requirement. There is more in Guidelines for Appropriate Volunteer Positions, describing ‘factors which tend to make involvement of volunteers appropriate / inappropriate’. As a steer on volunteer encroachment into paid employment territory the clauses are pretty much common sense, and again not cast-iron regulation.
So I cast my search net beyond a New Zealand context and land some pretty good fish.
Susan J Ellis asks pertinent questions like “Who is making rules about what is and isn’t legitimate volunteer work—and on what grounds?” And what about the obverse to staff displacement: “When and how is it legitimate to place employees into roles traditionally held by volunteers?” We don’t think about that too often.
There’s a bunch of myths around job substitution by volunteers, says this UK article. We all know the involvement of volunteers should complement the work of paid staff, and should not be used to displace paid staff or undercut their pay and conditions of service. But when times are tough and loss of funding causes staff cuts, engaging volunteers to fill the gaps is replacing staff, not displacement.
If you still have doubts there’s a guide to avoiding job substitution, describing a process to be followed. Or take in this UK report on the health and social care sector: the authors conclude that rather than thinking of volunteering as a means for cutting costs, providers of all kinds should focus on volunteering as a means of improving quality by resourcing volunteer management appropriately. Now there’s a good steer for action!
It looks like my concerns about a volunteer covering for staff are better answered through a strategic vision and policy on volunteering. When we have constructive relations between paid staff and volunteers (and the manager of volunteers), when the volunteer programme is integrated with wider services of the organisation, and when volunteer contributions are understood and appreciated for the added value they bring – then we will have no need to follow advice that begins “Thou shalt not….”.
That’s what I call a shift in focus, turning negativity into positive direction.
November 10, 2013
The party is over. We’ve done with celebratory teas and garden parties and early morning speed-meets and day-long twittering. We’ve seen the creative videos and the loads of goodwill messages via Facebook and emails. For a few hours we connected with colleagues in relaxed and informal ways. What happens next?
Please don’t tell me you’ve hurried back to your desk and you are now in catch-up mode. Please make time to reflect on IVM Day, time to figure about the connections you made, and what you found inspiring.
Here’s my take on the Volunteer Wellington function I attended:
- The crowd was bigger than last year.
- There was a wider representation of organisations and agencies, including Board members and executives.
- The meet-and-greet phase saw people circulating, not hanging back, connecting with people they had not met previously.
- Absolutely no hesitation in the participatory exercise where the question of what inspires you about volunteers and volunteering was the topic for a four minute discussion.
- And again people connected, learning about organisations not part of their regular network, finding shared inspiration in the experience of working with volunteers.
- At the end people lingered instead of rushing to catch the next appointment.
- They continued conversations and queued to pick up Volunteering New Zealand publications, and information about Volunteer Wellington’s new Mentoring Programme.
Now is that keen participation not inspiring? This year I am seeing greater confidence among managers of volunteers. They appear to be more comfortable in their leadership role, they have gained understanding and better competence in their practice. They are starting to reach out to others in their profession, networking and finding allies for mutual support if not formal mentoring.
And that, please note, is the first condition for engendering community development. That’s what I find inspiring about this year’s events. There’s an awareness of a community of managers of volunteers, a readiness to shout about it and to take this strength to new levels.
Because there are still miles to go. The gains I have observed are not universal. There are always new managers who need guiding and encouragement. Inside many organisations there is still a black hole when it comes to acknowledging the work of managers of volunteers and recognising the true value and contribution of a well run volunteer programme. Widespread public applause on IVM Day is not yet happening: in New Zealand the sole media statement came from the Minister for the Community Public Sector. She is “thankful that communities can benefit from the work of the skilled, dedicated, professional people who manage volunteers”, and gives an appreciative nod to the work of Volunteering New Zealand for providing support and professional development and training.
So what happens next is an open question. Let’s keep the conversations going. Let’s take the opportunity to talk up ideas and plans for more progress in the management of volunteers.
November 3, 2013
Taking a leap, despite a safety harness and all the instruction is always a risk. But look how much fun it could be, what a different perspective to be gained, and how one achievement could lead to new adventures.
Taking tips from the business world could be another version of bungy-jumping for managers of volunteers – a leap of faith beyond experience. I’m taking tips from a former corporate chief executive this week, ideas that can apply equally well to community organisations and the practice of managing volunteers. Here are some quotes from a recent newspaper interview.
“I suspect many smaller companies hit a barrier, where they can’t unlock that next phase of potential growth. They can’t get past that ‘Kiwi-ness’ and they can’t get past the founder who wants to be part of everything and can’t let go.”
Well maybe we are not all into business growth and export markets, but keeping our organisation alive and flourishing is important. So configuring a strategic plan that strengthens what we do well is important. Take a visionary look into future development for the volunteering programme, cultivate the art of the possible. That means responding to trends in volunteering, population change and social change, and being alert to shifts in political winds. We cannot rely on the same-old ways forever.
“I like to be accessible.”
This ex-CE was head of around 11,000 staff. There are no reports on how many employees got to meet him, but he built a reputation for being communicative and approachable. That’s how managers of volunteers like to see themselves. So best practice will include an open-door policy, regular communication through a variety of media, and being responsive to emails and telephone messages. Those leadership and people skills really do matter.
What is needed is a leadership mentality based on risk-taking, innovation and “disruptive change”. Too often management gives employees “permission to fail”. Too many New Zealand organisations have a fear of failure in innovation. It’s human. I always said: ‘It’s much better to get out and try new ways of serving customers and to stuff up, than to do everything right’.
There’s a challenge for organisations and managers of volunteers! Sometimes it feels like we have become so risk-averse we dare not step outside a safety zone. We hesitate at pushing boundaries, seizing opportunities and creating innovative services. We have lost the crusading zeal that established many a community organisation and community services. Do we really fear failure and stuff-ups, or is it the fear of losing funding and service delivery contracts that matters most?
‘Push for change. We need to make more mistakes, because from them we learn so much about what particular customers value’.
Of course! Making mistakes is the best teacher in managing volunteers, as in life. So be honest, acknowledge the error, apologise, and rectify. And move on.
And if you are thinking this is all too much, take courage from recent UK postings. Be an adventurous manager of volunteers. Go bungy-jumping.
And don’t forget to make November 5 Your Day!