November 30, 2014
This week there’s that global day to honour volunteers (IYV), and I’ll be joining the crowd in Wellington to hear our praises sung and the inspiring stories about volunteer journeys.
Right now there’s also a raft of KiwiBank medals being awarded throughout New Zealand to Local Heroes, those people doing extraordinary things in their local communities.
We’ve even got our own set of awards for Wellingtonians – the Welly’s – which include an award for Community Service.
And Volunteer Centre websites are carrying regular pages for Featured Volunteers, or Volunteer Testimonials, or Volunteer Profiles.
Fantastic! To shout out about volunteers and volunteering, and rewarding people for their service to a cause, or their creative initiative, or for the difference they have made in their communities – for all these reasons it’s important to ensure we give public recognition where it is due. A newspaper editorial (Dominion Post, November 22, 2014) puts it like this:
New Zealand has a long tradition of modesty. Not for us the big-noting of brasher cultures. Strutting, boasting celebrities who too often are all sizzle and no sausage are unwelcome. Instead, achievements should speak for themselves. Which is all well and good, but sometimes it is important to praise those among us who have succeeded.
Yes indeed. At last the Tall Poppy Syndrome is on the wane. We can get rid of that fateful Kiwi term, the Clobbering Machine. Some time ago I wanted to nominate a volunteer for an award, but the idea was vetoed because you can’t single out one volunteer, you must not imply that one is above the rest. So the whole volunteer programme misses out on being noticed, and neither is the impact of volunteering on community well-being.
Sometimes volunteering awards appear to be given out on the basis of length of service. Working for the same organisation for twenty or thirty years is admirable of course, but I hope it is the particular achievements over time that are being recognised, not just longevity and loyalty.
The citations of awards bring to public attention a great deal of the volunteer activity in our communities, including the whole range of volunteering fields – sport, working with youth or needy families and disabled people, a training course in prisons, emergency services, local communities and environment issues, or the arts. Recipients are also as diverse as the volunteer population: young people gain as many awards as older people; disabled people and an ethnic mix are included. These unsung heroes are our Tall Poppies, demonstrating what can be achieved.
So let us rejoice, and cheer on all volunteers – whether they win awards or not. Their stories need to be told, because here is all the raw data to illustrate the outcomes and impact of volunteering. Get the measuring process right, and we’ll be able to find out just how valuable volunteering can be.
Let’s keep on telling the stories and making sure the poppies grow tall.
November 23, 2014
IVD is a global celebration of volunteerism, honouring people’s participation in making a change at all levels.
This statement is a tag-line on IVD 2014 website. December 5 is the day to ‘applaud hundreds of millions of people who volunteer to make change happen’. The Volunteering New Zealand whakatauki for the day (in the banner above) conveys a similar meaning.
Yes, I know it’s hard on the heels of International Volunteer Managers’ Day, but the two go together, don’t they? It’s a moot point on which is more important: managers of volunteers will not exist without a volunteer programme; and you will never get the best of volunteer contribution and achievement without a switched-on leader and manager of the programme.
Even then we can run into trouble. How can we measure the outcome, the effectiveness and the impact of volunteer work? That’s the question that’s troubling the community and voluntary sector at present. Counting hours of time delivered, perhaps adding in transport and travel costs as donations in kind, tells us simply the amount of free labour an organisation has enjoyed. When the hours are translated into a rough (read basic hourly rate) $$ amount we can shout loudly about how much money volunteers have saved us.
That is not real appreciation for volunteer effort, not what most volunteers set out to do. That is not ‘honouring people’s participation in making a change’.
So what are some better ways to acknowledge the real work of volunteers? When the question is put like this the answers are obvious:
- What is the real work volunteers have been doing? Describe it.
- Add in how this work has contributed to organisation mission.
- How does the work of volunteers enable higher staff performance and overall service provision? (Please don’t say staff could not manage without volunteers.)
- In thinking about why volunteers are engaged in your organisation, what has been impressive in the way volunteers carry out their roles.
- Go to consumers and ask them for stories about volunteers – the school kids who are coached by a volunteer; the homebound older person who relies on meals delivered by volunteers; the guests at the soup kitchen; the person whose cat was rescued from a tall tree by the volunteer fireman.
It’s hard to cover everything volunteers undertake. But the more specific we can be in celebrating volunteering the better we can demonstrate our understanding of volunteering, and how we value it for its non-monetary worth.
When December 5 comes round I do not want to be disappointed by the raft of blanket statements proclaiming volunteers as the organisation’s backbone, or the backbone of society. Volunteers are not skeletons!
November 16, 2014
The difficulties of volunteer recruitment never seem to go away. The plaints of being short of people or not getting the ‘right sort’ of people keep on being raised. I am still seeing notices in community newspapers or on social media and on websites about ‘wanting’ and ‘needing’ volunteers – which do little more to attract people beyond relying on the organisation’s reputation and public profile.
Well if you have not read the small print in the image above take a look at it now.
This notice reportedly delivered 5000 responses to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment of a crew for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914. The original advertisement has never been located so there is doubt about its authenticity. Nevertheless it is a great story, alongside the subsequent adventures and heroism of the men on the expedition.
Yes, the message is based on men wanted (remember this is pre-Women’s Lib days), but it was the era of Antarctic exploration, and maybe the name of Shackleton drew attention (he had already made a name for himself). Maybe all those men were looking for adventure, not knowing there was a different sort of adventurous expedition that would be announced in just a few months time.
For managers of volunteers the point of any recruitment advertising is (1) grabbing attention and (2) understanding the range of motivations that draw people to volunteer. Add to that some basic principles of marketing, along with the organisation’s well-articulated reasons for engaging with volunteers.
What sort of salvo from a voluntary organisation would deliver the impact that Shackleton achieved?
- Unleash your talents!
- Want to apply your under-utilised skills?
- Opportunity knocks!
- Make friends and influence people
- Join our fun-filled team at….
It’s the impact that counts – one that attracts attention. Offer a taste of the kind of work available – which does not have to be accompanied by the kind of conditions Shackleton was describing. Add in other attractions: the rewards of volunteer work, like Shackleton’s ‘honour and recognition’, or the flexible time arrangements, or the benefits of skill development and work experience. Yes, you can make much of the worthiness of your organisation’s cause, because many volunteers will sign up to pursue their passionate interests. But do avoid messages that sound like you are desperate for help. That plea makes me wonder why volunteers are not signing up and to ask if there is something wrong with the volunteer programme.
All of these suggestions tap into standard volunteer motivations. They are also pretty similar to anything found in Sits Vac columns or job-seeking websites. Let’s not forget that volunteering is a job, is real work – and not simply stuffing envelopes and making cups of tea. And we do it for free, for all sorts of different reasons.
Two more recommendations (but note, there is never a last word on recruitment): (1) include a name, a real person to contact beyond the phone number or email address; and (2) ensure a quick response to messages and expressions of interest. That’s the most important start for a conversation that could lead to a long career as a volunteer.
November 9, 2014
I’ve never thought too much about job satisfaction in my working life. I’ve taken the rough with the smooth, got on with it, and found small pleasures where I could. And most of the time the roles I’ve undertaken have offered scope for applying skills and finding creative responses to all the challenges. I don’t think I would be amongst the 40% of New Zealand’s workforce that are reportedly unhappy in their jobs these days.
But I am not surprised by this figure. The nature of work and employment has been changing for decades. Full employment went out the window more than 30 years ago and worker rights keep on being eroded. Technology has changed the level of knowledge and skills required for the greater part of the workforce, and unskilled work gets harder and harder to find.
The bit in the news report that got my attention was this:
[P]art-timers seemed to hold less attachment to their job and were more likely to look for a new role or career in the pursuit of happiness.
For those employing large numbers of part-time staff, it is vital to build a culture of inclusion and make sure employees feel their contribution is valued in order to inspire loyalty and retain good staff.
Of course! Managers of volunteers have known that forever, haven’t we? Our job is all about ‘part-timers’. We work hard to ensure volunteers feel their contribution is valued; inclusion is what you do to help people feel they belong to the organisation. Hence the attention paid to interpersonal communication, and all the newsletters and social media posts aimed at keeping in touch.
Because for a volunteer the counterpoint of being valued and included in an organisation amounts to dissatisfaction and departure – and a risk to the organisation’s reputation in the community.
From where I sit it seems employers of part-time staff could learn a lot from managers of volunteers and their approach to good relations with volunteers. Go ask them: they’ll show you how to enhance part-timer commitment and job satisfaction.
This claim is supported by research that showed paid staff wanted improvements to provision of career development, the work environment (particularly culture and morale), and to their welfare (stress levels, feeling appreciated and engaged). Such negativity resulted in 32% of the research sample intending to leave their jobs in the next three months. The most important traits employees wanted in their managers were openness, honesty, and good communication skills.
Of course there are plenty of executive managers who can demonstrate these qualities (see this post). I’ve also commented a few times on employer practice that offers lessons for managers of volunteers (see here, here and here) – and vice versa.
These principles are even more important for organisations involved in the voluntary and community sector. Good people management is not just for staff and volunteer job satisfaction – these skills are also essential for working with service users and in wider community relations.
So while the manager of volunteers makes every effort to develop volunteer inclusiveness and job satisfaction, I hope the organisation’s executive managers are also working to ensure a happiness culture for everyone.
November 2, 2014
We all know there are a few principles (quite a few!) to follow in leading volunteers. So when you are asked for your best tips, what you have learned from experience, what would you be putting at the top of your list?
A couple of people presented me with acronyms recently. Just a couple of single-syllable words that say pretty much everything we need to note in relationships with volunteers.
CARE: Communicate; Appreciate; Respect; Engage
CLAP: Communication; Listening; Acknowledgement; Participation
Pretty simple, huh? We care about volunteers, right? And we want to clap and cheer them for their work? So what do we need to know about the words that make up the acronyms?
Communication comes at the top of just about everybody’s list. Volunteers want to know and understand what is expected of them. Some volunteers work well being told in person what the specific tasks are, others enjoy working off a list on the whiteboard. Some (oh joy!) like to use their initiative to identify other tasks that might also need to be done – that is when you chalk up real value-added service. A huge part of communication comes from the manager knowing and understanding the volunteer, in listening and really hearing what is being said, in getting to know the person, warts ‘n’ all, not simply as more grist for the organisation mill. Communication is the art of connecting with people, more than regular news updates about organisation matters.
The importance of showing appreciation and acknowledging the work of volunteers can never be underestimated. Saying ‘thank you’ with meaning, in as many ways as possible should never be an add-on chore. A special email sent out after a particular job is completed, a small note left on the board with a smiley face or a surprise plate of biscuits can all remind a volunteer that ‘yes’ the organisation appreciates their contribution.
Treating everyone with respect, regardless of their position or the hours and the effort they put in goes without saying. When the manager leads by example in demonstrating respect, the standard is set for everyone else.
Engaging with your volunteers shows that you are an integrated team, working towards the same goals. That means you don’t shy away from working alongside them, or checking in on how the weekend went or what the family is up to these days.
Because ultimately, volunteers are in and of the community, and participation in a community-based organisation enhances the connection between them. Volunteering is a way to realise our existence in a wider world.
So here’s a big thank you to Tara and Laura for encapsulating a big part of the role of managers of volunteer in well-crafted acronyms. Here is an alliterative last word from Tara:
Clap for the victorious vital volunteers, for their valued vigilant vivaciousness!
And when it comes to November 5 this week, we will be letting off a few fireworks in praise of managers of volunteers in our communities, and doing some clapping for the way they care for volunteers.