January 26, 2016

Re-Discovering Life’s Natural Resource: Volunteering

Posted in Annual Review, Community Development, Recognition of Volunteering, Trends in Volunteering, volunteer experience at 2:47 am by Sue Hine

definitionThe New Year has not rolled over with great optimism.  There are more columns devoted to dealing with back-to-work blues than with 2016 opportunities.  In the NFP sector organisations face another year of funding constraints, government expectations (and directives), and rising competition for securing contracts.  Not to mention public concern for inequality, child poverty, housing shortages, the environment, and the implications of TPPA.

It looks like we are repeating Rousseau’s adage: Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.  The ethic of Fairness that has been a hallmark of New Zealand’s history is rapidly eroding, so it is no surprise to find a call to renew our social contract with government, specially in the light of the electorate’s disenchantment when it comes to exercising democratic voting rights.

Yet there is something else going on, almost under the radar.  While the formal NFP sector wrings its hands, numbers of informal clusters of community groups and enterprises are increasing in response to social needs, community development initiatives continue to achieve their goals, and the ‘hand-up’ helping scene is thriving.  As Colin Rochester has advocated, I am hearing the beat of a different drum.*

Statistics NZ has published results of its 2014 survey of social networks and support.  In terms of how Kiwis connect 93% live in supportive neighbourhoods; 78% have friends living close by or in the same neighbourhood; around 64% belong to a club, group or organisation (we have long been known as ‘joiners’); and nearly all of us (97%) have at least one supportive family member.  That looks like a pretty good level of social connectedness, despite poverty and poor living conditions for one in seven households in New Zealand.  As active examples Neighbourly Facebook pages might be a digital means of communication, but it sure is an effective way to keep in touch with what is going on around your area, and about local resources.   Inspiring Communities continue to facilitate community-led development, and to promote Neighbours’ Day.  Time Banks are flourishing.

This ethic of reciprocity and a relationship economy is alive and well, and new and energetic small scale groups are proving their worth in social action.  Some may not call such activity volunteering, yet it still involves unpaid time, energy and skills.

When it comes to donating money the World Giving Index 2015 rates New Zealand third, just behind Myanmar and the US.  We are up two places from 2014, and the fourth most active nation for volunteering.   Numbers donating money to charity rose by a significant 11%.

Has the press of poverty enhanced the giving spirit of Kiwis?  Or is it due to the influence of Pay It Forward philosophy, the promotion of Giving Tuesday, Good Deeds Day and GiveALittle crowd-funding website?  Well, we know about the health benefits of volunteering, and it seems giving money, like kindness, also has its own rewards.  And more often than not volunteers are both time and money donors.

Yet word is that volunteer numbers have fallen in US by 3.5% in the last ten years, and by 5% in Australia over five years.  (No recent information is available for New Zealand.)

It is time to pay more attention to the informal NFP sector, where effective volunteering doesn’t just happen: it’s based on the fundamentals of good relationships, a sense of community interdependence and a commitment to social action.  There could be some valuable learning in a different approach to volunteering.

­________

Rochester, Colin (2013) Rediscovering Voluntary Action: The Beat of a Different Drum.  UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

January 20, 2013

Prospecting for a New Year

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Annual Review, Best Practice, Managers Matter tagged , , , , , , , at 3:43 am by Sue Hine

Happy-2013[1]  It’s that time of year for reflection, to look into the pool of 2012 and to assess the prospects for volunteers and their managers in 2013.

Looking good from last year was the continuing increase in numbers of volunteers, especially from youth cohorts. There was a lot more corporate volunteering too.  I was heartened by the increased support and recognition for International Volunteer Managers’ Day (November 5) and for International Volunteer’s Day (December 5).  And it seemed there was greater and more effective use of the e-waves than previously – for recruiting volunteers, for creative news reporting on volunteering, and for producing better and brighter organisation websites.

Volunteering New Zealand stepped up with the publication of Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations, outlining a steer on supporting managers of volunteers, getting the best from a volunteer programme and enhancing organisational attraction for volunteers and paid staff.  I am looking forward to the next publication, the Learning and Development Pathway for managers of volunteers.

But there is no time to rest on our laurels.  At the top of the search list for my blog, again, is Bad Volunteer Experience.   Again, it shows how many people miss out on good practice in management of volunteers.  More disheartening are the continuing accounts of raw deals for managers of volunteers, overburdened and under-appreciated, by organisations that should know better.  So work on promoting and educating on the basics – the essentials – of managing volunteers will continue to be a priority in the coming months.  Business as usual, you might say.

I picked up some signals last year that are going to be my worry-beads for 2013. I am not alone in my concerns:

Volunteering is becoming more transient, more promiscuous, more blurred

Convergence between NFPs and the business sector is not the panacea for all ills

Volunteering is an unloved child generally but was particularly so in 2012

Volunteers are demanding to be led – not managed 

Resources are being drawn away from volunteering for investment in fundraising

These quotes come from different sources and could all be placed under the rubric of The Great Unsettlement.  Here are the features I reckon are the ‘big-picture’ issues:

  • Corporate social responsibility has spawned corporate volunteering, and also sponsorship and partnerships with NFP organisations.  Good stuff, and sensible in cash-strapped times.  Except there is potential risk to maintaining organisation branding and identity if relations with a corporate business are not well-managed.  Worse is the way volunteering and the management of an ongoing volunteer programme seem to be sidelined in preference to scoring big business patronage.  This is particularly evident in marketing and managing fundraising events.
  • ‘Social enterprise’ has risen in popularity stakes as a business model for social outcomes.   Yes, good for the national economy, and more sexy than ordinary everyday volunteering – which (if you need reminding) has promoted social outcomes for generations.  I sigh, because the definition of volunteering is up for debate, again.
  • Government out-sourcing of social services has turned many NFPs into NGOs over the past 30 years, introducing an active if unequal interface between government and community.   Proposals for new models of funding such as social bonds will put a whole new agenda in front of many organisations, again challenging the place and the contribution of a volunteer programme.
  • Accountability, the business of measuring performance, not just inputs and outputs in dollar terms, has been around for a while now.  The current attention to Social Return on Investment (SROI) is more serious, more intense and we’d better get to know about it.  Except the impact of human service delivery is difficult to formulate, expensive to administer, and risks turning volunteering into a commodity.

The political and economic environment rules – OK?  So it seems, and in the process that part of social structure that is called Civil Society, or the Third Sector, or simply ‘the community’ becomes marginalised.  What’s a manager of volunteers to do?

Top of my wish-list for this year is to get beyond the hand-wringing and to turn questions of ‘what can we do?’ into ‘how do we get there?’  Notice how ‘we’ reminds us of the collective and the collaborative approach to action.  There is the stimulus, to seek out allies in local networks and to enlist support from the progressive organisations that were pilots for the Best Practice Guidelines.  Take some leafs from marketing and fundraising strategies: cultivate news media contacts, and never let up on social media plugs.  Become social entrepreneurs in the sense of community-building for social innovation, for volunteering and volunteer organisations.

There are already pockets of volunteering enterprise in various communities.  Just think what volunteering could become if we stitched those pockets into overalls.  There is our challenge for 2013: to gain a stake in the future we need to stake a claim, on our terms, for the territory of community and for volunteering.

January 22, 2012

Good Governance, or Good Grief!

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Annual Review, Best Practice, Managers Matter, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , , , at 4:11 am by Sue Hine

In the mode of New Year wishes there is just one best thing I want to happen in 2012: the application of good governance – and good executive management – in organisations that don’t.  At the end of this year I want to find committees, boards and executives have lifted their game and can demonstrate a better understanding of volunteering and of managing volunteers.

Is this too much to expect?

What I do not want to hear at the end of this year are more sorry stories of people hired to ‘manage volunteers’, only to be pulled and pushed into a whole lot of different roles and tasks that end up making the job untenable.

Not good to be all steamed up so early in the year.  Not good to be hearing another sad-sack story of a manager of volunteers who resigned from a situation that amounted to workplace bullying and abuse, and ultimately a constructive dismissal.

Not good to find my most viewed post of 2011 is once again about a bad volunteer experience. It is almost worse to be writing now about organisations which lack basic understanding of employment law, let alone understanding how to apply best practice in HR management.

OK – the community and voluntary sector is a large amorphous collective. There are organisations that could be called corporations for their size and their budgets and their scale of operations.  There are local, regional and national organisations delivering services under contract to government.  There are many more organisations existing as small entities serving local community interests and particular social, political or cultural goals.

It is important to remember that more than 90% of 97,000+ NFP organisations in NZ do not employ staff. On one hand this statistic illustrates the miracle of volunteering, the power of the collective, and the strength of Civil Society. On the other hand there is the potential misery of good intentions going awry, perhaps from ignorance of the resources that are available to set an organisation on the best practice track.

There are opportunities out there for training in Governance.  There are guidelines and information and training programmes available online, much of it for free. You can get the basics from OCVS, and a bit more detail at CommunityNet Aotearoa.  For a really comprehensive (and lengthy) document on the Nine Steps to Effective Governance go to SPARC.  Occasionally Volunteer Centres can offer a workshop on governance in association with Unitec’s Graduate Diploma in Not-for-Profit Management.

The best immediate advice comes from American educator Betty Stallings.  Her recommendations for 12 Key Actions of Volunteer Programme Champions are based on research undertaken with Chief Executives, and there are some powerful messages in this short document.

On the flip side what I do want to hear about is employees finding courage to stand up for their rights, to show organisations there are other ways of managing work conditions and programmes, and to doing better in meeting the organisation’s mission and values.  Even if they have to take their case to the Employment Court – an option, please note, not available to discouraged volunteers.

So to all people out there engaged with volunteers and in organisations providing community sector services through volunteers, take heed of the message expressed in this proverb:

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!

January 15, 2012

A Year in Review

Posted in Annual Review, Managers Matter, Professional Development, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , at 4:58 am by Sue Hine

A year ago I did my usual New Year reflection on the past and looked forward with new aspirations.  A year ago I was hoping a few more managers of volunteers could make a better deal for volunteers and their organisations, and specially for themselves. And I wished those who had a good deal going for them would reach out to help others learn what they need to know.

Now it is time to issue the report card.

  • Access as of employment right to Professional Development –  I have not taken a measure on this wish, whether organisations have come to recognise the value of on-going training for their managers of volunteers; nor whether there has been an increase in taking up formal training, mentoring or supervision .  But I do know the Volunteering NZ’s Management of Volunteers Programme (MVP) is working on a Learning and Development Pathway, a range of options appropriate for small and large organisations, for entry-level up to advanced standard.
  • Fewer managers floundering in their role, struggling to find help.  The ‘too busy, no time’ syndrome continues to prevail, despite the interest expressed by workshop participants for mentoring and peer support groups.  So I have to wonder if leaders need to improve their marketing skills, or to resort to leg-roping people so we can demonstrate just how much benefit there is in setting aside an hour every so often for chewing fat with colleagues, for problem-solving, learning new strategies and techniques.  As I have said before, “you cannot afford not to take time”.  On the plus side the MVP workshops held around the country have spawned a number of local ‘Leadership Groups’ and I expect to see some positive outcomes for managers of volunteers during 2012.
  • During IYV+10 there should be some public and organisational recognition of Managers of Volunteers who keep Volunteering keeping on.  This wish has a flat-as-a-pancake outcome.  No formal government acknowledgement, no special funding, and no organisation (to my knowledge) doing a public demonstration of appreciation to their manager of volunteers.  Except for Heather Moore of Volunteering Waikato winning the AAVA Award of Excellence – a grand achievement.  Except there should be much more, and more widely publicised.  (Read earlier blogs on Honouring Local Heroes and The Year that Got Lost)  However, there is a big tick going to Volunteering NZ for the daily post, November 5 – December 5 offering biopics about volunteers and managers of volunteers – well worth a look for the range of organisations and activities, and achievements.
  • Professional Status.  The Volunteering NZ Conference held in May was a big step forward, including ‘Developing the Leaders’ as a principal stream.  There was further consolidation at the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management, also held inWellington following the VNZ Conference.  The biggest achievement of the year is for MVP to be included in VNZ’s work programme.  Those of us involved are seeing very clearly the ultimate advantage for the wellbeing and efficacy of volunteer services, for enhanced organisational performance, and for recognition of the professional standing of managers of volunteers.  Watch this space!

My last great wish a year ago was for a disaster free year.  Well that fell flat in Christchurch, as early as February 22, closely followed by the tsunami in Japan.  Floods, volcano eruptions, typhoons and cyclones, and more earthquakes pummeled the rest of the globe in varying degrees.  And an oil-spill off New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty continues to threaten environmental damage.  There is not much of an up-side in times of disaster, but 2011 has surely been the year for praising and rejoicing in the work of volunteers during times of crisis. I am not surprised – looking out for others in times of need, and offering service when no-one else is around – that’s what volunteers do, right?

In looking ahead, I draw on another manager’s wishes for 2012:

I want to continue to appreciate and support the great team of volunteers, to enhance the services we offer clients, to listen twice as much as I talk, and to get some ‘me’ time.

Amen, I say – that’s what managers of volunteers do, right?