August 21, 2016

The Next Big Challenge

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Managing Change, Managing Volunteers, Organisation Development, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , at 2:42 am by Sue Hine




There is something going on in the business world that looks awfully like the principles of volunteer management.


I’ve been reading stuff on improving paid staff engagement, on increasing employee diversity (instead of hiring a bunch of clones), on how more people are placing importance on values and company purpose in their job-seeking than on the size of salary or climbing a career ladder. And when employees quit research is showing it’s mostly because organisation goals and action plans have got out of kilter with its vision and mission. Employees also want recognition and appreciation that isn’t just a monetary bonus for reaching pre-determined goals.

How come business is usurping all the best practices the volunteer industry has been developing for decades? And how dare they, without acknowledging this important intellectual property!

I congratulate those businesses that recognise employees are people before economic inputs, and that ‘work’ is not simply labour in exchange for pay. And this is where I see opportunity to get recognition for volunteers up where it belongs.

For years we have struggled to get organisations and stakeholders to ‘get’ volunteering. In recent times we have encouraged strategic development of volunteer programmes and management as a way to achieve full recognition of volunteer contributions. Now I think business interest in people development over labour units provides an opportunity for a real alignment between volunteering and organisation structure, policies, practice and culture.

This move may involve a bit of a seismic shift, because the role of manager of volunteers will either change dramatically, or be disestablished. Please read on before you rain down hellfire and damnation for such heresy.

At least two large volunteer-involving organisations in my city have changed their ways. Both have diverse spheres of work, with paid staff engaged in different operations. Both no longer have a position for a manager of volunteers directly responsible for the volunteers, and volunteers are directly assigned to different operational teams.  So the team leader is expected to engage, train and oversee the volunteer in his/her charge. Here is where integration and a unified approach to the work of the organisation can begin.  Here is where to find the embedding of volunteers into a people-centred culture. And the bricks-and-mortar strength of this culture goes a long way towards achieving organisation mission and vision.

When volunteers are an add-on, a nice-to-have extra assistance for the organisation’s services there’s a distance between volunteer work and the real stuff undertaken by paid staff. Yes, volunteers can be essential for successful fundraising and promotion events, but these aren’t really the main events for the organisation. It’s like the volunteer programme is a parallel universe to the real life of the organisation.

Yes, I know all the arguments about volunteer management being different from human resource management. Yet increasing regulation in recent years says volunteers are tied to more rules than they faced in the past – think police vetting, health and safety legislation, and even codes of conduct and signed agreements.

Change of the magnitude I am suggesting brings resistance and anxiety for paid staff, not to mention grizzles about additional responsibilities. Organisation change is unsettling at any time.  In this case it is more about staff inexperience in leading volunteers, and volunteers may lament the loss of their friendly go-to manager who could move mountains and do anything. Everyone is obliged to develop new relationships.

But think of the opportunities! For team development, for collaboration and integration of different ways of working; for volunteers to step up to leadership roles in support of paid staff. Think of the potential for relationship-building, improved people-management, and the intrinsic rewards for both paid staff and volunteers.

I reckon this future is like investing in Lego – you know, those colourful interlocking bricks that are endlessly creative and that hold together, no matter how many add-ons. When volunteering is embedded into a well-structured and solid organisation there’s a better chance that both volunteers and paid staff will flourish.


  1. Roger Tweedy said,

    Couldn’t agree more Sue. The two ‘workforces’ have been becoming more closely aligned over the past two decades and I have been beating this drum for all of this time. Agree also with the model of intergrating volunteers through out organisations rather than the traditional ‘queen bee’ model as I call it. Understand Wellington Zoo has recently moved in this way.
    This all leads to the ‘volunteering experience’ being at the forefront of Future of Work initiatives ( Are you going to Fridays FoW Forum?)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bravo Sue for highlighting the changes in business models-think more corporate volunteering, more focus on humanitarian methods, more emphasis on employee satisfaction which pulls the corporate world closer to the non-profit. Meanwhile volunteer organizations are adapting business practices to meet risk management challenges. Volunteer managers are positioned right in the middle of these changes and hopefully will be recognized for their expertise in managing for the 21st century.


    • Sue Hine said,

      So maybe Meridian there will be a leading position as ‘manager of workplace relations’, or dare I say HR??


  3. Ok, now I’m getting shivers up my spine! Could it be?


  4. Logan C said,

    Excellent post. I spoke about a similar idea in a presentation titles “Creating and Maintaining All-Star Volunteers” at the Northwest Archivists Conference earlier this year. I like to call the strategy, co-managing volunteers. From my experience, when staff members play a more active role in training, managing, and recognizing volunteers it creates more “buy-in” from volunteers. They feel more “integrated” (to use your word) into the organization which in turn increases the rate of retention.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Thanks for supporting my arguments, Logan. Yesterday I attended a seminar on the future of work which promoted ideas for workers to be more closely involved in organisational planning and development, and to be recognised for their efforts. Just got to get wider acknowledgement that volunteers are ‘workers’ too.


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