March 30, 2014

All About Community

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Celebrations, Civil Society, Language, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , , at 3:02 am by Sue Hine

High%20res%20logo%20no%20date[1] This weekend ‘Neighbours Day’ was celebrated throughout New Zealand Aotearoa. Two days of street parties, suburban fairs and celebrations – and they will continue throughout the coming week. I went to a party hosted on my suburb’s community marae, Nga Hau e Wha o Papararangi. City Council dignitaries and the local MP attended and addressed participants. There was entertainment and games, a hangi, and display stalls from local organisations.

Why would we need a week-long event to get to know our neighbours? Well, it matters, says the blurb on the Neighbours’ Day website, because:

Through fostering better connected neighbourhoods and more everyday ‘neighbourliness’, Kiwi communities can be stronger and more resilient and the wellbeing of individuals, family/whanau and community will be significantly enhanced.

Yes – I understand the importance of resilience and wellbeing: security for our citizenry is a matter of public policy. Yes – I know we are many generations distant from the days of closed communities and in-grained neighbourliness. But I wish we could pay more attention to what we mean by ‘community’.

That word ‘community’ carries a whole lot of baggage, has thousands of applications and is freely used and abused.

As a generalised reference ‘the community’ is so vague and broad the term becomes meaningless. ‘The Community and Voluntary Sector’ is likewise a broad-brush term, but at least we can understand it in relation to the Public and Private Sectors – though we too often forget that people engaged in the latter are also members of ‘the community’.

Community organisations can talk up ‘Community Engagement’, without recognising they are part of that community themselves. Governments also like to engage with communities to consult on new policies, though the outcome of consultation is not always to the community’s liking.

Let us also acknowledge the diversity of the Community and Voluntary Sector. We refer to NGOs and NFPs, to community groups and associations and to charities.* Let us note that the Voluntary sector serves the community – that is, serves a particular community of interest. And it’s this range of interests that we ignore when we refer to them with the blanket term ‘community’.

Trouble is, says a local political commentator, our sense of community has withered because of diversity. He is referring to the decline of ‘people like me’ sense of community in favour of the unequal relations of ‘us and them’. There we have yet another interpretation of ‘community’ where you can be either in, or out.

Social and political histories point to the division of labour, the evolution of the state, the development of mass urban society as significant contributions to the fragmentation of our sense of ‘community’. At the same time the human aspiration of being and belonging has not gone away. The idea of ‘community’ is a contrast to the impersonality of large scale organisation, whether it is political, economic or social: we use ‘community’ as a counterpoint to the alienation of modern life. **

My Neighbours Day gathering brought out nostalgic reminiscences for the old days, the time before urban migration and mobility of the latter half of the 20th century, before the busyness of modern living kicked in, before health and safety regulations proscribed the freedoms we enjoyed in childhood. There is no going back, even though we cling to the old ideas. Neighbours Day activities remind us there are still new ways to interpret new meanings of ‘community’.

…………….

* For classification of New Zealand’s non-profit sector see this publication.

** See Plant, Raymond (1974) Community and Ideology, an Essay in Applied Social Philosophy London: Routledge, Keegan Paul Ltd.

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March 23, 2014

Perceptions of Volunteering

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managing Volunteers, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , at 4:14 am by Sue Hine

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How do we perceive volunteering?  Let me count the ways that people present requests for volunteer help and to offer volunteer time:

  • Can you find a volunteer to clean up after staff meetings?
  • We’d like to place volunteers with you for 15 to 30 hours per week for work experience.
  • This care-giving service agency is being cut back and we’d like your organisation to provide volunteers to do this work.
  • Please can you find volunteers to clean out this house, because commercial cleaners refuse to do it.
  • I’ve got a couple of hours to fill in each week, I don’t mind what I do.  What’s that? (Indignant tone) I don’t need any training or induction, I’ve got experience.  I thought you’d welcome some extra help.
  •  We’ve got a team of volunteers ready to help, anything you need, for tomorrow
  • There’s a fundraising event this weekend – we need several teams of volunteers

These requests and offers can come from internal staff or external agencies and individuals. Each statement offers different assumptions about volunteers and volunteering.  Volunteers are menial hand-maidens, suitable for domestic work; organisations are desperate for volunteer help; and volunteers are readily available at a moment’s notice.  Sometimes it is evident that when contracts are cut back volunteers from another organisation are expected to step up to roles that were formerly undertaken by paid staff.  The eye of many a beholder reflects mistaken perceptions of volunteering.

Of course managers of volunteers are renowned for their flexibility and creative innovation when it comes to engaging and placement of volunteers.  And some of the list above may not be out of tune with regular practice.  More often I am seeing a mismatch between perception and the reality of 21st century volunteering.

Fifty years ago anybody who raised a hand to volunteer would be welcome.  Fifty years ago there were always willing working bees turning out to fix up premises, clear a section, do a paint job or run a fundraising event.  Regular cake stalls did the trick to pay for rented space and supplies.  Fifty years ago there were no interviewing, training or police checks.  Fifty years ago groups of volunteers were available even at short notice.  There was little recognition of a volunteer sector:  organisations were lumped together as ‘voluntary associations’.

This kind of volunteering has not gone away.  Spontaneous volunteers appear in great numbers during disaster emergencies: nobody is asked, they all come to help, to look out for each other in times of need.  People still gather in groups for a cause, an idea, to create a community garden or for a new community development initiative.

It’s the organisations that have changed, and formal volunteering for service provision has become one end of a long continuum covering the donation of freely given time.

Formalised volunteering is accompanied by obligations, regulations, recording, reporting and measuring.  Volunteering has its own international and political associations.  If volunteers are not counted as professional, their managers surely own to professional status.  Volunteering in this context is big business.

There’s a set of rules now, except the rules of engagement can vary, depending on the organisation’s purpose, in-house structure and level of activity.  No wonder there is confusion.  No wonder managers of volunteers are pressed to explain over and over why they cannot meet the requests that fall outside designated programmes and responsibilities.

What to do?

Here’s my list of priorities:

  • A clear statement on why volunteers are involved in the organisation, indicating what roles volunteers undertake
  • A fully-developed policy on the volunteering programme
  • Orientation for all paid staff includes time with the manager of volunteers
  • Full information about the volunteering programme on the organisation’s website
  • Spend time advising details of the volunteer programme to related agencies (Volunteer Centres, funders and corporate sponsors)

There are no guarantees these suggestions will change perceptions of volunteering overnight.  But raising levels of understanding of volunteering under 21st century conditions will mean fewer inappropriate requests for volunteers.

January 18, 2014

Unseasonable Doubt

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Trends in Volunteering tagged , , at 10:43 pm by Sue Hine

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On New Year’s Day 2014 I was far from windy and wet Wellington.  Beachcombing on a wide bay under a hot sun was just the tonic to clear the head.

I had a few things to sort out about developments in volunteering, social services and the community sector.

I have been mightily impressed with the promotion of volunteering during the past year.  The work of Volunteering New Zealand for National Volunteer Week (June) and the International Days in November and December was truly encouraging.  The model of NGO partnership between Volunteering New Zealand, ANGOA and Social Development Partners is one to follow for other organisations, for economies of scale if nothing else.  I would like to think such a partnership will enhance the status and influence of the community sector on political decision-making.  I also noted how managers of volunteers got to find greater confidence in undertaking their roles, and the value of meeting and learning from each other – the VNZ Conference in November was testimony to that.

But the devil in my mind is in a bigger picture, not the detail.

The growth and status of NGOs                After thirty years of neoliberal economic policies and devolution of government I should not be surprised to find organisations tending to act like corporate businesses.  Of course they needed to lift their game, to become more businesslike in governance and financial management and to comply with all the regulations that filtered through government contracts and obligations to philanthropic funding.  Of course time and changing social conditions can alter an organisation’s focus on its mission and vision.  But the trend to seek sponsors and partnership arrangements with private sector business, and the rise and rise of corporate employee volunteering is another dimension that risks turning NGOs into ‘subsidiary businesses’.

Three matters of concern arise from this trend.

Ongoing lack of understanding about volunteering  The commercial and consumerist world has trouble accommodating the idea and practice of time, skill and effort given freely for the benefit of others.  We get platitudes of appreciation, not genuine understanding.  It seems the wealth of volunteer action cannot be counted therefore it must be of little value.  Which explains why so many managers of volunteers remain poorly paid and of low status, while fundraising and marketing personnel are the rising stars.  The resulting outcome is to find pursuit of sustainable funding sources taking priority over connections with the communities organisations purport to serve.

Volunteering is a utilitarian tool  Volunteers have all sorts of reasons to volunteer, and it’s good to be open about wanting work experience, social interaction, practice in speaking English, to be job-seeking or doing court-ordered community service.  Altruism has always involved a reciprocal benefit, even if it was a simple feel-good factor.  But we are close to perceiving volunteering as an asset to be exploited, to be traded like any other commodity.

Two-tiered non-profit sector  All this business development for NGOs has led to overlooking what is happening in the rest of the sector.  We should not need to be reminded there are thousands of not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) keeping communities keeping on mostly without the benefit of government contracts and philanthropists’ largesse.  Outspoken concern from writers, researchers and commentators on poverty and inequality during the past year has highlighted the distance between government rhetoric and social reality in many parts of our communities.  The words ‘democratic disconnect’ resonate, emphasising voter apathy and a populace focussed more on survival needs than on gathering people power.  ‘Democratic deficit’ highlights government opposition to criticism and a lack of real consultation which pressures NGOs into silence for fear of jeopardising their funding arrangements.

So where does all this leave managers of volunteers?  In the spirit of New Year optimism I think there are heaps of indicators for a positive future.  The role of managing volunteers might have emerged in concert with the growth of NGOs and the sector, yet over the last ten years the profession has made huge strides in defining the role and articulating best practice.  Technology and the internet have fostered global and local communication.  There are opportunities for training and development.  There is an established sense of identity and collegial fraternity among practitioners which extends to supporting people new to the role.

The challenge for now will be to protect volunteer programmes from the encroachments of utilitarian managerialism, to maintain that spirit of volunteering we have taken as an article of faith for generations.  Or shall we accept a radical shift in our ideology and go with the flow of larger interests?

April 7, 2013

Underscoring

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Civil Society, Leading Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 4:33 am by Sue Hine

Civil-Society-Tools-To-Fight-Corruption[1]A recently reported research study is titled Fears, constraints and contracts: the democratic reality for New Zealand’s community and voluntary sector.  The results are hard-hitting, lifting a lid on current experience for organisations whose voice has been largely silenced by the political shift over the past forty years, to neo-liberal economics and the out-sourcing of social services to the community sector.

The survey covers both NGO and not-for-profit (NFP) organisations, all fields of social service provision, and both large national organisations and small community groups with no paid staff and no external funding.  The promise of confidentiality and privacy allowed a freedom to respond to questions in an open and direct way.  The results will not be surprising to those of us engaged in the community and voluntary sector, but the tenor and directness of the quoted statements leave us in no doubt of a depth of disappointment and frustration behind the words.  For example (p 57):

NGOs play a unique and crucial role in New Zealand.  Their contribution to political decision-making in NZ is currently undervalued and under-utilised.  They are under-resourced and therefore undermined. (Emphasis added)

Small wonder these words deserved underscoring.

The report deserves to be read in full, to get the picture of how we have come to this pretty pass, and to note the references to earlier studies raising questions and alarm bells.

Those with long memories will recall the shifts we had to make in New Zealand from the early 1980s.  Let me remind you:

A simple ‘begging letter’ to a philanthropic or trust fund changed to formal application requirements and for reports on spending and demonstrable benefits or gains.  Organisations were forced to hire people to spend their days making funding applications, thus increasing overhead costs. And philanthropic funders got into cahoots to determine which social issue of the moment deserved the most attention.

Contracts for health and social services devolved from government responsibility might have brought funding security, but the new environment came with fish-hooks like health and safety regulations; like additional responsibilities and accountability for volunteer governance, not to mention compliance costs.  What was previously a mission-based civil society endeavour changed to dancing to the tune of government direction.

Consultation quickly became a dirty word as proposals were presented with invitation to comment, only to find policy directions had already been decided.  Very little notice was taken of community responses no matter the expressed outrage.  Neither were organisations given time or resources to present community views to government.

These are the bones now cemented into the community and voluntary sector.  Fundraising has become a professional occupation, accompanied by the marketing experts so that organisations compete for the charity dollar and corporate sponsorship.  Contracts with government are confidential and a gagging clause ensures docile compliance.  These days it seems a consultation document is issued one week and turned into a political or regulatory edict just a few weeks later.

The government’s ‘relationship’ with the community and voluntary sector bound in the Kia Tutahi document counts for nothing against the control imposed by the contracting environment.  Adding to this disregard of communities the Charities Commission is disestablished, its responsibilities now determined and regulated by a government department.  The rules change and over a thousand organisations lose their charitable status and their ability to raise funds via the carrot of tax rebates.  Advocacy is out, so longstanding organisations like Greenpeace and National Council of Women (NCW) are no longer deemed charities.  In ‘the good old days’ NCW was a political force to be reckoned with, up there with Federated Farmers and the Federation of Labour.

Here is the sound of the silence of democratic dissent.

And this reality happens, the report’s findings say, regardless of which political party heads the government.  It’s an undemocratic reality when all the power is in the hands of government, when the voice of the sector is not valued, nor respected.

A few people will recognise a parallel universe in the way organisations can undervalue the work of managers of volunteers, and under-appreciate volunteer contributions to oiling social wheels and to maintaining community wellbeing in many different spheres.   I could suggest this is a function of a trickle-down pecking order.  I would sooner we took a stand to exercise our democratic voice, for volunteers and for the organisations that serve our communities.

There was plenty of encouragement to do just this at the recent Australasian Retreat for Advanced Management of Volunteers.  Focus Up! was a key message.  Recognise our roles as Leaders, Educators, Movers and Shakers and do something!  Even if it means getting out of comfort zones, causing a stir, sticking heads over parapets.  We owe it to volunteers and to our communities.

April 1, 2013

Measuring Up

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Impact Measurement, Organisational gains from volunteering, Technology tagged , , , , at 1:40 am by Sue Hine

0_0_456_http___offlinehbpl.hbpl.co.uk_News_NST_40E0865A-FE42-BEE6-D70E8E44B24CF408[1]What do you reckon?  How does your organisation rate for effectiveness in what it does?  What is your performance rating?  Can you ring the bell at the top of the scale?  Bottom line question: what is the return to donors and funders for their investment in the services provided by your organisation?

There’s a global push these days to find answers to these questions, putting pressure on NGOs and NFPs to lift their game.  Do not mistake me, I am all for demonstrating impact and effective social change, but why do I feel like a captured mouse being teased by the cat?  Or like the caged big cats being whipped along by the circus ringmaster?

When you de-code the signals you can see how philanthropic donors and funder contracts are controlling and directing the community and voluntary sector environment.  There’s a sinking lid on what we are allowed to do in the name of ‘charity’, as well as reduced funding.  It’s like there is a takeover in progress, and we are letting it happen, being sucked into the ways and means of the public and private sectors.  Corporate sponsorship and partnerships with business are attractive to get leverage and influence for social change, but how long before we are dancing to the whims of the corporation’s board?  To the tune of the latest marketing programme?  Or to the political good idea that gets turned into a statutory regulation?

The language of inputs / outputs / outcomes, of efficiency and effectiveness has been around in business for decades, and community and voluntary organisations have made efforts to record their work along these measures.  But nothing is clear-cut, and I have yet to see a proven methodology for measuring outcomes and impact that works for the NFP sector.

Years ago I had to persuade a new manager who had come from a canning factory that disabled people were not cans of peas; they did not roll off an assembly line in neatly packaged ways; and really, there were multi-multiple factors to take into account in service planning and delivery, and in what could be counted as measures of ‘success’.

It’s still much the same these days.  Consider Buddy or Befriending programmes for example – they are out there in organisations for the elderly, in mental health programmes, in services for disabled people, for de facto grand-parenting and parent support groups, and for disaffected youth.  Think about the multiple stakeholders who could be involved in these services: funders and donors; the provider organisation; families; volunteers, and hello! the manager of volunteers who is responsible for making the programme work and best possible experience for the volunteer and for service users.

The impact of services like these goes in several directions.  Families and individuals get support / advice / information to keep on keeping on and to take new leaps into the future.  The organisation takes another step in fulfilling its mission, and maybe reporting to funders and donors on real achievements.  Volunteers gain in their personal sense of well-being, and in health benefits.  There are spin-off benefits for other health and welfare organisations, and for government services.  Managers of volunteers can glow with pride when they see what a great team of volunteers they are leading and what they have achieved.  The spread of impact goes way beyond performance indicators and a one-eyed review of measuring what the organisation does, even if we are not talking it up, or making formal assessment of achievements.  That is Civil Society for you, a large amorphous collective that keeps on keeping our communities and societies keeping on.

We should not need to be reminded about the role and function of Civil Society.  We should not need to recall there is a much larger view of the world than profit and loss accounts, of measuring outcomes and impact and social change.  Civil Society is the third leg of the stool that vies for social harmony at local, national and global levels.  As a significant part of Civil Society our community and voluntary sectors offer a countervailing force against the might and main of government and big business.  Do not let us lose traction by succumbing to hard-nosed political dogma, nor in being seduced by the attractions of social enterprise or the lure of venture capital and other funding arrangements.

But do – please – let us work together to find ways to report on achievement, successes, volunteer stories, and what really works to create change.  We – the community and voluntary sector, and the managers of volunteers – need to state our case, and to stake a claim in the politics of impact measurement.

March 23, 2013

Looking Both Ways

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , at 11:48 pm by Sue Hine

looking both ways

No, this post is not a lecture on Road Safety, nor is it about peripheral vision.  I want to talk about how a manager of volunteers needs two lines of sight.

Because it’s all very well to design and develop and run a programme for volunteers in an organisation, and to take to heart the mission of ensuring the best experience for the volunteers – but if you have not looked the other way to see how the volunteer programme integrates with other organisation functions and policies then both volunteers and the organisation can end up being short-changed.

Over the years I’ve listened to the sorrowful song-book presented by managers of volunteers.   Here’s a small sample:

  • Volunteers are regarded as second-rate workers
  • Managers of volunteers don’t rate it as ‘managers’, nor as ‘professionals’
  • They are lowly-paid and inadequately resourced
  • No support for professional development
  • Lip-service recognition of the volunteer programme, and volunteer achievements
  • ‘They’ just don’t get volunteering

It does not have to be like that!  And it isn’t of course, as the champions and leaders of our profession can demonstrate.  There are also Chief Executives who know and understand volunteering and its importance to the organisation, ensuring volunteers get a fair go and respect for their work.

So what can you be doing to get away from the moan-and-groan stuff?

Simple answer: you get strategic.

Help!  I don’t know how.

Yes you do! You have thought through what was needed for the programme, developed policies and processes, set everything in place for the recruitment and training of volunteers, and how volunteering would work in the organisation.  You connected with your communities, and with the local network of managers of volunteers.  Now you can do it all again, in the other direction, developing the connections and the strategies that will show senior management how to embrace volunteering and your management and leadership within the organisational fold.

Where do I start?

Hang on a minute.  Before you get to action you have to do the planning.  And before the planning, you need to figure what it is you are trying to do.  You want the organisation to get volunteering, and the importance of good management and leadership of volunteers, right?  What do you mean by “get volunteering”?  What is it that people need to know about volunteering?  What do you want to tell them and what is the best way to do it?

Now you can start thinking about your strategic plan – the key areas to work on, and the goals you have identified.  You will be taking into account what is working and what doesn’t and what is missing.  For instance, does volunteering get more than a mention in the organisation’s strategic plan and its business plan?  How would you write up volunteering in these plans?

There is more: being strategic includes identifying potential allies, formulating the key points you want to communicate, and considering the channels open to you.  You might, in the first instance, start reporting on volunteers and their activities, telling their stories and successes – and circulating the report to key players in the organisation, and especially the chief executive.  Be bold, and go further by offering to meet and discuss the report.  Even suggest what more could be achieved by volunteers.

Is this enough to go on with, to give you a kick-start?

If you want more info and other perspectives, go see how volunteer programmes can get Messed Up and what to do about it; or the observations of a group UK Managers of Volunteers.  For details on how-to-plan, and what should be included, see this chapter of the Community Resource Kit or get the basics from Sport NZ.

One of the slogans I hear frequently is “managers of volunteers are advocates for volunteers in the organisation”, though I hear little about results of advocacy.  The plaint of getting volunteering gets much more air time.  Quite honestly this is the biggest foot-fault of our profession: wishing others would see our point of view is wishful thinking and accomplishes nothing.  It is time to change our ways, to work on making looking-both-ways a key dynamic in the life of a manager of volunteers.

March 10, 2013

Breaking Bounds

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Motivation, Organisation responsibilities, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 2:57 am by Sue Hine

DSC06810Last weekend I followed my Sunday habit to visit the fruit and vegetable market held at the local primary school.  You have to admire the enterprise of schools these days for hiring out their space and facilities to Churches, Sunday sports for kids, and for the market.  That’s what you have to do to maintain a cash-strapped “free” education.

At the school entry I encountered a woman struggling to open the security gate.  The gate had been a puzzle for me on previous weeks but I had it sorted now.  I opened the gate for the woman and remarked “We never had to master this sort of barrier when we went to school”.  The woman nodded vigorously, acknowledging both the import of my comment and our shared age bracket.

I went on up the path, the back entrance to the school.  There was another security gate to gain access to classroom areas and the market stalls.

The gates were not so big they could not be opened by the average-sized six or seven year old child standing on tip-toes.  They offered more of an impediment than a barrier, and certainly no real obstacle to adult visitors.  But when a couple of four year old boys leave their day-care centre their adventure is called an ‘escape’.  From what, you might ask.

I start thinking, again.  I am really bothered that we have become so dependent on legislation and regulations around hazards and safety precautions that kids these days never get to use their instincts for self-preservation, never learn to evaluate risk and the limits on their own capacity.  It’s all done for them by adults who bend over backwards to ensure nothing bad happens.  No wonder teenagers think they are bullet-proof when they get behind the wheel of a car, or get tanked-up to go on the town.

The community sector is also plagued by regulation, as I described a few months back.  Volunteers are known to become tetchy when restrictions seem unreasonable.  Over the past ten years I have noticed a creep of limitations placed on the roles and tasks of volunteers: can’t have them doing personal cares for people in a clinical setting; huge risks if you let volunteers loose on Facebook; volunteers are not the same as staff; can’t ask them to do extra; but we’ll keep them on to work the phones and do the cleaning.

I exaggerate, just a little.  For all the stories of restrictions there are also accounts of volunteers going beyond the call of duty, and many times we can see how collective volunteer actions have created a community fabric.

You see, that’s the bounty of volunteering.  Volunteers get up and go, they can experiment with new ideas and different ways of doing things.  They see a need or a gap in community services and they are free and flexible enough to devise an immediate and sometimes a long-term response to the presenting problem.   They are risk-takers, big-time.  That’s how our major NGOs and NFPs got started in the first place – read their histories.

So please, do not wrap volunteers in cotton-wool.  Give them credit for intelligence and sensitivity and responsibility, and especially for their humanity.  Give them space to be innovative and creative in the best tradition of community development.  And remember that ‘humanity’ involves trust and respect and dignity – qualities that are never going to be measurable in pursuit of volunteer impact, yet can be diminished by over-regulation.

Perhaps I should have titled this piece ‘Stretching Boundaries’.  I do not wish to make light of school security, nor of the tragedies that have created the armoury of protection for students and stringent screening for visitors.  Nor am I suggesting volunteering should be turned into a laissez-faire free-for-all.  I just want to make sure that too much bureaucracy does not shut down the whole point of volunteering.

March 3, 2013

The Fruits of Our Labours

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Management of Volunteers Project, Professional Development, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 3:15 am by Sue Hine

harvest-and-preserves-23441280255023VyNQMarch is the month for the beginning of autumn in my southern hemisphere, though current sunshine levels have not yet arrived at the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’.  We are getting close however, to harvesting a project begun more than three years ago.  In a couple of months Volunteering New Zealand will publish the Learning and Development Pathway, a guide to professional development for managers of volunteers.  This document will sit alongside the Best Practice Guidelines for volunteer-involving organisations.

The need for skilled and competent managers of volunteers has been a universal catch-cry for decades, alongside attaining due recognition and appreciation for the work entailed in enabling volunteers to play such a huge role in delivering community services.  We are not alone in raising the concerns we have in New Zealand.

The project started from a vision that Managers/Leaders of Volunteers should be valued, well-resourced and competent professionals.  Research and stories of experience was showing managers of volunteers were (and are) struggling for recognition and for resources for professional development.   The flow-on effect was that volunteers may not get the best possible experience from their work, thus impacting on job satisfaction and recruitment, and not least on the services they provide in community organisations.  We were also keen to put paid to the self image of being just a volunteer or just a volunteer manager, phrases which carry the imputation of lesser value than others in the organisation.

What took us so long – in getting to start the project, and then three years of consultation and debate?  The original cry was Enough! following a Volunteering New Zealand conference.  Then we engaged in a collective debate to determine goals and lots of sharing skills and knowledge.  It was an empowering process, encouraging people to respond to the challenges and to think about breaching some of the barriers.  Good things take time, and given the diversity of volunteering and community organisations it was important to discuss plans as widely as possible.

Of course getting a learning pathway to publication stage is not the end of the mission.  Follow-up promotion will be needed, pressing for acceptance and action on recommended practice.  There are plenty of opportunities to meet a range of training needs, but maybe some persuasion will be needed for organisations to see the benefits of supporting professional development – through fee reimbursement or paid study leave, for example.  Managers of volunteers who may be reluctant to take on formal study, can note they could gain credits via Assessment of Prior Learning (APL).

So what will we be seeing in a year’s time?  At the very least, there will be wide-ranging conversations about recognition and training for managers of volunteers.  At the very least, organisations could be acknowledging the relevance and importance of their volunteer programmes, and considering how to enhance them.

Whether by small steps or big strides Volunteering New Zealand has started something that could end up being a whole lot bigger.

February 3, 2013

A Back-Handed Lesson (2)

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professional Development tagged , , , , at 3:22 am by Sue Hine

if-not-now-then-when-1024x764I did not intend to write a follow-up to last week’s entry, but here’s a real-life story just come to notice.  I think it can teach us a thing or two.

Molly has volunteered for 25 years, delivering meals-on-wheels in a small country town.  She took her turn once a week for two months each year.  She’s a farmer living thirty minutes out of town and unable to volunteer more frequently.  Molly enjoyed the work and the folk she came to know.  Always her work was completed on time, no-one missed out and there were no muddle-ups.

Now Molly is 80 years old and would like to give away her volunteering days.  She is all set to advise the volunteer coordinator accordingly.  But the coordinator has not phoned, has not made contact, has not enquired about Molly’s well-being or otherwise.  So Molly has been cast adrift with never a thank you note to acknowledge the years she has been serving in this rural community.

Too often we hear the tales of agony from managers of volunteers faced with scenarios of elderly volunteers who avoid recognising their age-related deficiencies.  But to abandon a volunteer who has not put a foot wrong by simply ignoring them?  Not on, I say.

Of course Molly might have picked up the phone herself to let the coordinator know she would not be coming back.  Well, I’ve been on the end of such conversations with managers of volunteers and felt the pressure to change my mind, to keep on volunteering because the organisation needs me so badly, is so short of volunteers, and I’m so good at what I do, and the clients just love me.  Molly doesn’t need such flattery.  Nor is she feeling aggrieved, and is not about to blab about her experience to friends and neighbours.  That’s a blessing, because in small town rural New Zealand where people and their business is known to all, that would spell damnation for the coordinator and the service.

The irony is, the coordinator is now delivering meals herself because she is unable to recruit more volunteers.  That’s what we should really be concerned about – the colleague who is struggling, who needs support and probably a heap of good advice.  And there is no Volunteer Centre to call on.  What should we do?  Stand back and watch everything go from bad to worse?  Or take time, find some resources to lend a hand, or at least offer support?

I’ve got some ideas, because I know the area and there’s one or two contacts I can call on.  OK, it could be tricky, but it is important to try.

Because one person’s plight is a bell tolling for all of us in this profession.  Managing volunteers is more than running a good programme – it’s also an occupation that needs muscle and political strategising to maintain respect and value for volunteering.  We need to look out for each other as well as the volunteers.

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