May 11, 2014

Playing the Game

Posted in Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Professional Development, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 4:01 am by Sue Hine



A rugby league star switched to rugby union last year, but has failed to make the grade in this different code.  He has now returned to rugby league.


Some commentators reckon he was not given enough game time and opportunities to make his mark in rugby.

As an employee he was entitled to receive adequate training to meet team management’s expectations.  Employers have a duty of care to ensure staff can perform their roles at high levels, whether in the office or on the sports field.  I grabbed at this statement from an employment law specialist in my weekend newspaper.

Because in attending conferences and specialist training programmes I have been surprised at how many managers of volunteers are paying their own way to participate in their own professional development.  Three cheers for their personal commitment to on-going learning, even though they were not supported or encouraged by their employing organisations.  (On the other hand, equal opportunity becomes a mirage if I cannot afford the cost of the conference or training course.)

Surely it is in the employer’s best interests to enable best possible performance from all staff.  Skill maintenance and up-skilling has to be a good investment – for business productivity and for staff retention and job satisfaction.  In the absence of organisation support the high turnover rates for management of volunteer positions is not surprising.  Like that rugby player who is leaving the game, there is disappointment and disillusionment.

When professional development is not offered to managers of volunteers I have to wonder if the volunteer programme is perceived as merely a nice-to-have optional extra for the organisation’s operations; that managing volunteers is a job anyone can do; and one that does not need specialist training.  It means that volunteers are not really appreciated for their contributions, and by extension neither is their manager.

On the other hand, finding a training programme that meets particular or even general needs for managing volunteers can entail a lot of searching.  You have to go looking across local and global interconnections, and do the ‘stumble-upon’.  You have to know where to look, unless you already know about Volunteering New Zealand’s Competencies for Managers of Volunteers, or their on-line training programme.  That’s a good starting point.

There is good value too in connecting with the local Volunteer Centre, usually offering everything from a lunchtime forum to day-long seminars and workshops, extending to opportunities for mentoring.

Yes, say employers, there is a monetary cost to training.  But the relatively small investment in conference fees or a short course can reap significant benefits in management confidence and competence, and in developing effective volunteer programmes.  Don’t let the manager get choked off like the rugby player, before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves.


  1. Roger Tweedy said,

    Glad its not only me that gets worked up about this Sue. Been a discussion on of all places the HRINZ linked in page re motivating and getting commitment from volunteers. Lots of advice but when suggested some PD/training the age old “we are a very small NGO and board are very tight with $$”. Even from HR people no suggestion of investment !!!


  2. Vanisa Dhiru said,

    Excellent piece Sue, thanks again for shedding light on the training need for managers of volunteers – training is available and should be budgeted (time and money) for by organisations.

    Vanisa Dhiru
    Chief Executive
    Volunteering New Zealand


  3. Sue Hine said,

    Let’s also remember the many organisations that operate entirely on a volunteer basis – the ‘informal sector’ – without any need for ‘management’. But shame on volunteer board members who expect volunteers to know and be all for the organisation without due management. Of course not so long ago it was paid staff who were expected to volunteer their off-work time for fund-raising and events and so on.
    Where managers of volunteers cannot get support for professional development from their organisation ‘crowd-funding’ could be an option, or better, a specific sustainable scholarship fund.


  4. Great post Sue! I think that deep down, administrations think volunteer management is just not that hard. (hence volunteer coordinator titles). Therefore, why invest in career development when there is no perceived career? It’s up to all of us to educate the NPO world regarding the challenges and nuances of volunteer management and the complex skill sets needed to work with volunteers.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Good points Meridian. No perceived career path? But other benefits from prof dev, like better retention, improved quality of the programme…. And yes we need to do the shouting out, and the demonstrating.


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