November 30, 2017

International Volunteer Day 2017

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Good news stories, Leading Volunteers, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 11:03 pm by Sue Hine

IVDay_WebBanner_2017

All hail to volunteers on this day. May you enjoy being feted in various ways, and feel real warmth in the thanks and appreciation that is showered on you. Of course, I would like to think you get the respect you deserve throughout the year, and not all at once.

For the past seven years I have paid tribute to volunteers and volunteering through this blog, and railed against the platitudes of ‘couldn’t manage without you’ and ‘you help us make a difference’ and ‘volunteers are the life-blood of our organisation’.

I have also written about the benefits of volunteering – to national economy, to social well-being, and to all the community-based organisations offering services around people and animals and the environment and all the rest of human activity. And of course I have bleated and challenged and pounded the table on best practice in leading volunteers – to the point where I begin to repeat myself. Now it is time to bring a full stop to my blogging, and this post is my last.

For this IVDay I give thanks and appreciation to volunteers for what I learned from them, and for what I gained in my time as a manager and leader of volunteers.

I did not ‘own’ volunteers or refer to them as ‘my’ volunteers. I was not their best buddy, and never a ‘nanny-manager’. But the office door was ever open, to say hello and thank you, to be the support when volunteer work wasn’t going well and to listen when there were grievances that were getting in the way of their work. I loved the recruitment process of discovering new talent, new enthusiasms, and helping the shy and nervous to blossom.

Working with volunteers affirmed my faith in human nature. Their energy and commitment and their collective action showed me how community spirit is still alive and well. They gave freely without expectation of reward – and then discovered all the intangibles that make volunteer work a reward in itself.

To volunteers I have worked with, and to those all over who contribute so much to social well-being I give my sincere appreciation in a paraphrase of an oft-quoted saying:  “I have forgotten much of what you said and did, forgotten names and perhaps what you looked like, but I still remember how great it was to work alongside you.”

Ten years ago I wrote the short personal essay which follows. For me it reveals fundamental lesson – I wonder if it rings bells for other leaders, managers, coordinators of volunteers?

My Season for Hugs

I left paid employment as a manager of volunteers some two years ago.  Didn’t miss the work routines a jot, nor the morning and evening lemming-rush of commuters.  There were a few regrets for the loss of warm relationships with people in my workplace, but these passed as I became re-tyred and got a new life as far as I wanted to travel.  Until there was a call to fill the vacuum created by my successor’s extended sick leave.  I had to go back, because the organisation was not yet ready to cope with leaderless volunteers.

What I do not foresee is the welcome I receive on my return.  There are greetings and smiles close to cheers from the paid staff.  There is a big bear-hug from bear-like Brian who has been a stalwart volunteer forever.  I am spied by Jane and Stephanie whom I met first as diffident and anxious volunteer applicants.  They are now accomplished in their supportive roles with clients, love their work and are well-liked by staff.  There are cries of delight and acclamations at seeing me again, and more close hugging.  Later in the day another Jane, who wears shyness wrapped round her like a muffler, becomes more animated than I have known before: she too is pleased I have returned.

I know how rapidly the waters close over the departure of a staff member, no matter how well respected.  I’ve spent much of my life in community volunteering, social working and counselling and never paid much attention to my inter-personal contribution in the roles I have undertaken, despite knowing about its impact in communication and relationships.  This welcome from staff and volunteers is over-the-top, I think.  Then I remember one of the quotes I used to jot down from books I have read, the sentences that leap off the page, representing perhaps small coinage in the currency of my life at the time.  In Brazzaville Beach William Boyd writes “You are the last person to understand the effect you have on other people”.  Now I know this truth.  I am honoured and humbled in the way I have been greeted in my brief return to the workplace.  I wish I could unravel the code of the effect I have on others, so that I may not always be the last to know.

………………………..

International Volunteer Day is an annual event held on December 5. The global theme for 2017 is “Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere.” – recognising volunteer efforts around the world, as well as a tribute to the support volunteers provide in times of instability, disasters or humanitarian crises. The banner photos are showing off New Zealand Emergency Services.

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October 25, 2017

The Great Big Shout-Out

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Professionalism, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , at 9:07 pm by Sue Hine

On November 5 we will celebrate International Volunteer Managers’ Day, as we have done in various ways since 1999. This year a global effort is attracting pledges for action from leaders of volunteer programmes from north and south, east and west. There is also an opportunity for bloggers to share perspectives and ideas about being a voice. Here is my contribution.

I’m going to shout out about how the role of leading volunteers and managing a volunteer programme is where personal interests and attributes, professional standing and political commitment are rolled into one.

The Personal

It has become a truism that you need to be a ‘people person’ to lead volunteers. You like working with people and communities. You are good at building supportive relationships and developing people’s skills and confidence. Communication is everything in leading volunteers, from public speaking and facilitating group meetings to writing newsletters and the intimacies of 1:1 conversations. You know a lot about your community and its resources, and the value of networking. You are pretty self-aware, of your human frailties as well as your strengths. You recognise the importance of seeking out further training and support from your peers, or a mentor.

The Professional

There’s a set of professional standards you have set yourself, even if they are not written down. In the old-fashioned meaning of ‘professional’ you can declare what your values and beliefs are and these are demonstrably evident in your behaviour. That’s the essence of ‘being professional’.

You learn quickly about the knowledge base for leading volunteers: the processes for recruitment, training and placement, the level of support required and how to maintain their involvement. It is not an exclusive body of knowledge like the professions of medicine and law, but you know if you don’t get these things right then neither volunteers nor your organisation will be happy, and you could be missing out on meeting objectives and fulfilling organisation purposes. You know about ethical principles too, about privacy and confidentiality, as well as compliance with all the legal obligations placed on the sector. All the commitment to Professional Ethics in Volunteer Management is laid out for you here.

The Political

We may not be successful yet in establishing strong professional associations for strengthening the status of our role. Nor do we hold collective power to bargain for better pay and conditions of work. But that’s where Being the Voice and becoming political comes in.

To be effective as a leader of volunteers, in managing volunteer programmes, you need to get active – on several fronts. You need to shout out about the nature of volunteering and its significant contribution within organisations and to communities and society at large. You need to make sure organisation executives and the Board (volunteers themselves) ‘get’ volunteering. That means being strategic in building relationships and communicating effectively and often with all parts of the organisation. There may be misconceptions that need to be broken down, to avoid the divisive professional / amateur distinction between paid staff and volunteers for example.

And you do not need to go it alone. Volunteers can be encouraged to speak up about their interests, to present their case to senior management. (Of course they could have been invited in the first place, as a means to engage with the volunteer workforce and to enable their integration into the organisation.)

Another important strategic step is to join with other leaders as peers, for a learning opportunity and for mutual support. Meeting with others also encourages debate and collaboration on common issues. That’s where you could go public, as an independent group speaking about the relevance of the leadership role and the value of volunteers. Social media, opinion pieces, community newsletters – there’s plenty of opportunity to make the public voice of volunteer managers heard loud and clear.

 

There you have it, a tautology that says the Personal is the Professional is the Political. Of course this may not be you right now, but that’s where you can be heading, with your beliefs, your standards and your power. Let’s make sure our Voice is heard.

July 24, 2017

Finding Your Feet

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Professional Development tagged , , , , , at 4:11 am by Sue Hine

New Picture (1)So – you’ve got your dream job, managing a volunteer programme. You are all get up and go, until you discover it’s a pretty complex role and all your previous experience and training really was not enough. And sometimes you get tripped up and stumble with what is expected of you.

That’s tough, and you need to find time to figure out what you need and how to get your feet strong on the ground. Will the organisation give you some back-up, and support (with funding) to attend a worthwhile training programme, or to attend a relevant workshop or conference? No such luck if professional development is not included in the organisation’s employment policies, or if the organisation is a small-size community-led operation with minimal funding.

That’s when you need to start thinking about mentoring, that relationship process that will support you to up your skills, to find confidence and generally reach for your goals on your own terms, on your own feet, in your own time.

This mentoring thing is not a new invention. These days it is widely adopted by business and all sorts of organisations – sports, schools and universities, the arts, professions, start-up business projects, social enterprise. It’s a kind of coaching, a sort of on-the-job training, a form of supervision (clinical and administrative) – perhaps an amalgam of all the above. Mentoring has found favour over other terms which imply authoritative oversight. If it’s good enough for all those other occupations, why not for managers of volunteers?

New Picture (2)

When you look at this image it’s pretty much like what you do as a manager of volunteers: you want to sustain volunteer motivation, you are setting goals for them, giving advice and direction, and you are coaching and supporting them in their roles. Just what you are wishing for too?

So how do you find a mentor? Of course there are people who make mentoring a professional career. If that is beyond your means help could be on hand at your local Volunteer Centre. Try them, tell them what you are looking for, and see what they can come up with.

What can you expect from a mentor? A trusting relationship with somebody who listens, but doesn’t tell you what you ought to be doing. It’s amazing what you can learn just by talking out loud. Somebody who can challenge your ideas and attitudes, yet remain supportive while you figure out what will work best for you. Somebody who knows about good resources, as options to explore, not as imperatives.

As an alternative to 1:1 mentoring you could join a Peer Mentoring group in your own locality. Leaders of volunteers get together to find solutions to common issues, to support colleagues in working through what needs to happen, and to identify training needs, swapping notes and resources on best practice and policy procedures. Peer mentoring is thus a more purposeful form of networking. And a Peer Group could also operate as a professional committee to promote volunteering and the importance of management of volunteers within their network.

Peer groups work best when there is a regular facilitator or external leader, but a rotating facilitator can also help participants practice leadership skills.

Now a word for the people who have worked so hard to make the grade of an experienced programme manager and leader of volunteers: can you put up your hand to be a mentor for others? You’ve learned so much, you know the ropes, you’ve been around the traps – why not help others to get a grip on the ground of managing volunteers?

March 13, 2016

Staying Engaged

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Recognition of Volunteering, Relationships, Trends in Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 2:46 am by Sue Hine

After the excitement of the recruitment phase and the pronouncements of a new intake of volunteers, what are the factors that will keep them on track and stay engaged?

There are many laments from organisations about the ready dis-engagement of volunteers, and their apparent lack of commitment, as reported in Volunteering New Zealand’s first report on the State of Volunteering.

Yes, you can feel miffed that volunteers go through the application and screening process and then don’t show up for training.  Yes, it can be costly to train volunteers only to find they don’t sign up for a role, or a make short-lived appearance.  Yes, it is disappointing when people volunteer in order to gain work experience only to shoot off when they get a job.

Yes, the nature of volunteering is changing: more people look for task-focussed and time-limited assignments.  But that does not mean volunteer effort is always a ‘one-off’ or short-lived.

It all gets a bit difficult when there’s so much to do in running a volunteer programme and the volunteers come and go. So what are the initiatives that could counter all these glum pronouncements?  Here’s a list of best tips to make the most of volunteers, whether they are short-term or stayers.

  • Being very clear about expectations is a good start, especially with role definitions and time commitment – yet allowing space for negotiation on how and when the time and tasks will be given.
  • Show volunteers, in a hundred different ways, that they are valued and their work appreciated.
  • Exit Interviews can be a means to explore reasons for leaving and feedback on the volunteer experience and programme management.  Whether in a questionnaire format or a face-to-face meeting, finding out more about the volunteer’s experience and inviting feedback on the programme can show where improvements could be made.  You might have to be a bit searching to uncover comments like ‘don’t like the work’, ‘nobody talks to me’, ‘too many rules’, ‘not what I expected’ that underlie the ‘no time’ reasons.
  • Offer alternatives to those who talk of leaving, such as less frequent assignments, or different roles, or ways to keep their interest like receiving newsletters or joining a ‘Friends of’ group.  Because even if those young people and busy parents of young children don’t stay long they have been exposed to volunteering and to the organisation’s services, and chances are they will come back to volunteering at some stage.
  • Develop a plan for volunteer ‘career development’, as in assigning team leadership roles.  Offer extra training, or ‘support group’ meetings.  One of my best volunteer experiences was a regular check-in on how things were going, creating a bonding with other volunteers and enhancing links with the organisation.
  • Work on new initiatives, designed for volunteers to try out new ways of service delivery.  And take up volunteer suggestions and good ideas.  That is how many an organisation got started, and maybe it is time for a re-boot.

Of course none of us take for granted that each new volunteer will stay forever.   The question is: what are we doing to keep them engaged, and how can we adjust organisation needs to maintain volunteer commitment?

Like all relationships, whether romantic engagements or employment contracts, it takes thought and effort to keep volunteers keeping on.  Don’t let them give up with easy excuses.

February 14, 2016

Getting Engaged

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Recognition of Volunteering, Relationships, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 3:52 am by Sue Hine

all_about_relationshipsI take an inward groan when I hear tell of organisations having trouble recruiting the volunteer numbers they would like.  Over the years of my volunteering experience I have found the trouble is not in the nuts and bolts process of recruitment, it’s more about the lack of engagement with the volunteer.

I reckon most managers of volunteers have got the hang of the basics, like policies and job descriptions and training.  We all know (don’t we?) about targeted recruitment, sending out the best message, through a variety of media, and of course asking current volunteers to spread the word.  But what happens next, when the new willing-hands go up, is the critical point.

I’m talking about ‘getting engaged’.  Not in any romantic sense, you understand, simply establishing a relationship between volunteer and the programme manager, between the volunteer and the organisation and its staff.

Except it seems this is not so simple.  Here’s my list of would-be-volunteer songs that are too often left unsung in accepted practice.

I make a call or email the organisation’s contact person, and I never hear back.

If there is an interview it is all a bit perfunctory, concluding with an urgent tone of ‘when can you start?’

If I ask what sort of work there is on offer, either the tasks turn out to be pretty meaningless or the volunteer role is glossed over as being easy to pick up.  A job description is not always available.

When I take up this rather vague arrangement I discover my work shifts are not always regular and there are frequent short-notice requests for extra assignments.

I can get to know a few of the other volunteers, the one’s I work with, but it’s hard to learn the names of staff, and they seem to belong in a different world.

And I’d really like a bit more of a connection than the irregular group message via social media that offers a collective thanks, or (more-likely) instructions to correct errors some volunteers have made.   I never hear why my volunteer effort is important and what we have achieved for the organisation.

Sadly, this litany of bad news stories is not uncommon: see this satirical video for a reality check.  It leaves a sour taste for would-be volunteers, and a bad press for the organisation.  And it does not do volunteerism any good.

So what do I mean by ‘engaging’ with volunteers?  Clearly there are some straightforward steps to counter the negatives above.  Better still, is the effort put into establishing a relationship with volunteers.

This means an interview with a new volunteer is about a welcome and a two-way discussion to see if the interests of both sides are going to come to mutual satisfaction, to meet in the middle.  And that’s just the beginning.  Yes, police and referee checks might need to be done, but that relationship-building continues with orientation to the organisation, introductions to staff, and to a training programme.

We could say this is the ‘courting’ stage of an engagement.  All the time we are getting to know each other, checking out likes and dislikes, strengths and vulnerabilities.  We are building mutual trust and respect, and when volunteers share their personal circumstances and other commitments we get a steer on how they will fit into the organisation and how to draw on their skills and experience.  When you think of the variety of volunteer backgrounds, and their range of motivations, this relationship-building period becomes even more important.

Of course the engagement is just the beginning.  Any relationship needs regular maintenance, and for volunteers that means enjoying their work and knowing their efforts are appreciated.  Paid staff will welcome volunteers by name when they begin their shifts, and offer a sincere thank you when leaving.  Volunteers are invited to give feedback and to contribute ideas and new initiatives to the organisation.  In turn, volunteers are supported in their work, know the process for resolving disputes, and are kept informed about organisation developments.

None of this stuff is over-the-top difficult to accomplish.  It does imply that a manager of volunteers needs to be a ‘people person’ with well-honed communication skills.  But aren’t these qualities what everyone needs when they are involved in the community and voluntary sector?  And while some organisations have grown to corporate size, and as pressures increase for businesslike operations, engaging volunteers  and maintaining healthy relationships with them will never go away.

January 18, 2015

Understanding Voluntary Organisations – A Book Review

Posted in Leading Volunteers, Managing Change, Organisation Development, Organisation responsibilities, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , at 3:27 am by Sue Hine

Charles HandyFrom time to time I have wondered about absence of ‘organisation theory’ in training courses for managers of volunteers.  The focus continues to be devoted to the components and processes of a volunteer programme and getting them right.  Yet all the while we live and breathe within a structure that contains and at times constrains the work we do.  The struggles a manager of volunteers can encounter are well-recorded and debated, but rarely set in the context of organisational realities.  It’s as though we should know about organisations by osmosis – after all, we live all our lives in one form of them or other.

So when I discovered recently that Charles Handy had published a book outlining the characteristics of voluntary organisations I pounced on the old and tattered copy found in my public library.  Handy was a go-to management guru of the late 20th century, the person who did for organisations what Myers-Briggs (and others) has done for our understanding of personality types.  Who could resist Handy’s typology of organisations based on the characteristics of ancient Greek gods?  (See Gods of Management, 1978.)

You can find out a bit more about these gods in Understanding Voluntary Organisations.  And so much more about how to make organisations function effectively.  This book is about organisations, not management, on the principle that better understanding will lead to better practice.  As Handy suggests in this advice:

It is as foolish to try to run things without organisational understanding as it would be to go mountain climbing without the proper clothing and equipment.

The first part of the book is devoted to people in organisations.  Handy writes about individual motivation, casting aside conventional theories on volunteering based on needs and focusing on our self-concepts.  He reminds us that people like targets, they like to feel good and that we are all different: truisms that fit well with what we learn very quickly about volunteers.  When it comes to ‘roles’, Handy shows how complex they can be: overlapping, confused, ambiguous, conflicting, and overloaded.  “People in roles talk to other people in roles”, affecting our thinking and behaviour.  When we slot people into role pigeon-holes we can get blinded by our expectations and forget to see the person in the role.  There we have an explanation for the sometimes poor relations between paid staff and volunteers.

The chapter on groups covers standard theory and practice on teams, committees and group process, putting a framework on the do’s and don’ts of group work.  The longest chapter in this section is on power and influence – forbidden topics, according to Handy, “especially in voluntary organisations”.  Handy brings them into the light, both the negative and positive aspects, and calls for a better understanding based around democracy.  There are plenty of cues here to support the practice of managers of volunteers.

Part Two is all about organising the organisation.  Here you can find a chapter on the cultures of the Greek gods, with the proviso that organisations are not culturally pure, just like one’s dominant personality type is infused with others.  Factors of size, work flow, environment and history can influence the cultural style.

The shape of organisation structures is determined according to division of labour, accountability and coherence.  A structure is the skeleton which comes alive with people and groups and tasks “to get the blood running and the nerves and sinews working” – which implies the need to find ways to integrate different parts of the structure, something well-understood by managers of volunteers, even if we do not always know why or how to achieve integration.

Organisation systems are never more at risk of fall-out than when communications are distorted, by either sender or receiver, or a lack of clarity and distance.  (How many volunteer offices are located down the far end of the building, some distance from the executive wing – and what does that communicate?)

The numbers game for accountability is just as fraught, depending on different levels of success and how to measure them.  Handy’s answer is to be very clear about purpose; to be specific about tasks related to that purpose; and to establish a set of measures indicating what will mean success for each task – that’s the role of numbers.  He emphasises the importance of numbers: neglecting this part of the system will distort organisational effort.  There’s a message here for organisations struggling to find ways to measure outcomes and effectiveness.

The final chapter covers organisational change, that drive for growth and development that can also bring dislocation and disruption.  We adopt blinkers to block change; we prefer predictability – and organisations rely on predictability to ensure efficiency – which just inhibits experimentation, innovation and creativity.  Handy sets out the ‘levers of change’ which are the key elements of an organisation he has described previously: task, systems, structures and people.  They are all interconnected, so change in one part will impact on all others (that is basic systems theory).  He does not present a manual for change but does say:

If you want an exciting, developing, changing organisation, look for one where the individuals are themselves encouraged to be exciting, developing and changing.

Leadership, in case you are wondering, permeates all chapters in the book.  It’s there in discussion on groups, on power and influence, on communication, and on organisational change and development.   Handy points out that the word ‘management’ is found only in English, and its use in everyday contexts is not confined to organisations or running a business.  Management theory is based on engineering models, he says, implying that “control of people is similar to the control of things, that people are resources to be counted, deployed and utilised.”  Non-profit organisations are not immune to treating people this way.

Handy urges us to adopt the new metaphors of political theory, in thinking of organisations as societies or communities rather than as machines or warehouses.  Look how we are currently investing more usage and practice on words like ‘networks and alliances’, ‘shared values’, ‘power and influence’ and ‘leadership’.  Is it time to drop the word ‘management’ from our understanding of volunteer programmes and our job title?

Handy offers an explanation of voluntary organisations that tells us why things are as they are: he is not just repeating what we already know.  There are times when lines between formal and informal organisations are blurred.  Perhaps the book sketches the world we inhabit rather too lightly, and its publication date means there is no account of sector developments over the past 25 years.  Yet the key messages resonate still, about people, tasks, structures and systems that make up our organisations.   Understanding Voluntary Organisations is a short and easy read with plenty of examples and box inserts.  Go find a copy if you can – it’s worth a read.

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Handy, Charles (1988) Understanding Voluntary Organisations: How to Make Them Function Effectively.  Penguin

November 2, 2014

To Care and to Clap

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 3:10 am by Sue Hine

volunteer-appreciation[1]

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.

October 26, 2014

The Drivers of Passion

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 1:20 am by Sue Hine

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Celebrations for the fifteenth international day for managers of volunteers will happen at a place near you on November 5. It’s a day to acknowledge the skills, talents, leadership and downright doggedness of managing volunteers.  And by proxy, to understand how volunteering makes magic happen in our communities, in organisations and in all the services supported by volunteers.

On Facebook we are spurred to consider what elements of volunteer management drives our passion.  And what is our vision for an ideal world of managing volunteers?

It’s all very well to dream up future scenarios, and to repeat that quote attributed to GB Shaw:

You see things and you ask “Why?” But I dream things that never were, and I ask “Why not?”

Well – Susan J Ellis taught me a long time ago how the history of volunteering is the history of the lunatic fringe: volunteers often work at the cutting edge of change. Managers of volunteers are part of that fringe, forever seeking new chemistry that will enable volunteering to adapt to changing conditions.

For the moment I am keeping my feet on the ground.  I am thinking about the drivers that keep managers of volunteers keeping on.  What is it that the stayers among managers of volunteers love about their work?  Here is my sampling:

  • When the shy and nervous volunteer turns into a confident and well-respected member of the team.
  • When you are charged with organising a huge event, and the volunteers just keep on turning up and turning their hands to what needs doing. They know how to manage themselves.
  • When you find heads nodding in a training session covering organisation mission and values – not because people are falling asleep or because it’s boring – because the mission and values is what has attracted them to the organisation in the first place.
  • When thank you letters from grateful clients are sent to the Chief Executive, and they include volunteers alongside paid staff. It’s even better when they mention the volunteer by name.
  • When a volunteer steps up to manage an unexpected crisis situation, showing how all that training and support pays off.
  • When staff get to understand they have responsibility to support and guide volunteers on their team, and they cease running to the manager with complaints about volunteer performance.
  • When International Volunteers’ Day or National Volunteer Week happen, and staff and senior managers organise an appreciation function for volunteers. Or they set up a Post-it board to pin up messages of goodwill and recognition of good work.
  • When volunteers get due acknowledgement at Annual Meetings, and in the Annual Report – more than a few words or a last page paragraph.
  • When people stop saying how wonderful volunteers are and uttering platitudes – when they start talking about the real work and accomplishments of volunteers.
  • When we finally get a means to measure the impact of volunteer work that is more than a record of outputs translated into $ values.

You will notice this litany is all about the product of managing volunteers, not what has to happen to achieve these credits.  But that’s just it – job satisfaction comes from the outcomes, seeing how the manager’s ground work produces great results. You will also see how volunteering is people-centred, dependent on personal service and performance.   And at last, get to understand how great volunteer programmes do not fall out of the sky: it takes a visionary manager to make them happen.

October 5, 2014

A Coming of Age?

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managing Change, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 9:53 pm by Sue Hine

images[6] (2)I’ve seen a few job vacancies lately, opportunities that make me sit up and take notice. These are senior positions in national organisations, charged with strategic management and development of volunteer programmes.

Words and phrases like ‘leadership’ and ‘integrating volunteer work with service delivery’ and ‘best practice processes and resources to maximise voluntary service’ leap out of the published blurbs. These jobs are close to Executive Team level, offering opportunities to lift the profile of volunteering and its contribution to organisation operations.  Candidates are expected to competent in strategic planning and project implementation, and in leading transformational change.  Being able to undertake surveys and analysis could be useful too.  And of course, being experienced in developing and maintaining good relationships with both internal and external stakeholders is another given.

Yay! Management of volunteers has come of age!  At last, there is recognition for the rightful place of volunteering within organisations.  And yes, the relevance of strategic leadership, as outlined in Volunteering New Zealand’s Competencies for Managers of Volunteers, gets acknowledged.

And then I start looking at the fine print. What are the qualities and qualifications these organisations are expecting in candidates?  “A relevant tertiary qualification” can be anything from community development to health, including human resources and psychology.  Or in research and evaluation.  Or in ‘social services’, or management.  Take your pick.  Your experience is likely to count for more – say a minimum of four years in social service management. The list of desired experience includes leadership and people management.  Desired communication skills extend to coaching, conflict resolution and group facilitation.  While all these skills and experience are relevant and important, any reference to direct experience in managing volunteers is a lesser consideration.

By now you might be able to sense my raised eyebrows.

Yes, I know there are people out there with qualifications and experience that could foot any of these positions.

And yes, management is management, and leadership likewise, regardless of the field.

And yet, a toehold at executive management level is still precarious for volunteering.

Unless the executive team has their own experience of volunteering, unless they understand fully what volunteering is about, the new strategic manager is still in the position of advocating for volunteers, still arguing their cause and how to engage fully with them. That’s a hard road, where expectations and big ideals can get sidelined when the organisations are struggling to meet contract obligations and to secure funding to cover the shortfall.  It is even harder if the appointee is not steeped in volunteering philosophy and practice.

What if the new position is more about taking control and command of volunteering, ‘using’ volunteers as a utilitarian tool in service provision? That’s a risk, specially without direct experience of volunteering.  And volunteering will be the poorer for that.

Because at bottom there are big distinctions between working for pay and working as a volunteer. I need to earn a living, so a paid job is a necessity.  When I volunteer it is by choice, to follow an interest or to support a cause.  There are set hours for paid work; volunteer work can happen at all hours, including weekends.  Volunteers set their own ‘leave’ schedules; paid workers must apply to take time off.  Paid workers fit into designated positions, limited by organisation budgets; volunteers will be assigned to particular roles, but these are limitless.  Numbers of volunteers can outweigh paid staff 5:1 and more.

So there are big challenges for the person taking on an organisation’s strategic development of volunteering. How to meet the challenges is a story for another time.

March 16, 2014

Volunteers, and Organisation Change

Posted in Good news stories, Leading Volunteers, Managing Change tagged , , , , at 1:49 am by Sue Hine

????????????????????????????????????????News media are regularly reporting leaks of information, not always on the scale of an Assange or a Snowden.  This past week an Auckland institution has had some of its domestic linen waved around in public.  The Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) has been around for more than 50 years.  It was started by volunteers and continues to be supported by volunteers who work on restoration and maintenance of exhibits as well as hosting visitors.  Auckland ratepayers contribute $12 million in annual funding.  There is also a history of troubled relationships between the founding Motat Society and the museum’s governance.  This time the headline reads:

Motat boss quits as volunteers walk out

The deputy board chairman at Motat has resigned and 20 volunteers have walked out as troubles grow deeper at the country’s largest transport museum.

The walk-out is related to a confidential review tabled two years ago which has now been leaked, revealing the museum is in crisis, ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘childish’, facing irrelevance and closing if there is no change in direction.  These words are pretty damning, even though a new strategic vision is about to be launched.

Organisation change is difficult at the best of times and needs careful management.  Motat’s director recognises “Not everyone will want to come on this journey. Some will be threatened by it. You get an element of disaffection or insecurity that comes out of change. There are some people who will feel exposed.”

I don’t know details of volunteer dissension at Motat, but I do know how long-standing volunteers can feel they own their work and the organisation as an intimate part of their life.  And I’ve lived through enough organisational change to know how uncomfortable it can be for employees as well as volunteers.

Well, here’s a story that illustrates organisation change and a less-than-disastrous outcome:

There’s an Op Shop that’s been operating for years, a social enterprise and excellent source of funding for a well-known national organisation.  A new manager is appointed.  She’s got business experience and nous for the industry of second-hand, pre-loved, re-cycled goods.  “We’ve got to up our game”, she says to the volunteer staff.  “We need better displays of our goods and we need to offer excellent customer service.  We’ve got to be up-to-the-minute with our marketing because there is lots of competition out there.”  She adds “Our organisation is looking to us to increase the funding base so we can maintain services to clients.

A development plan is presented for discussion.  “Have your say”, invites the manager.

Of course there is much mumbling and grumbling among the volunteers.  “You can’t do that”, one says, “It won’t work”.  Another says “We’ve always done it this way and your way doesn’t look any better”.  There is a tide of objections and opposition.

A bunch of volunteers resign, saying they cannot work with the new manager and certainly not with her new-fangled ideas.  That’s the price of organisation change, though at least there are no redundancy payments for volunteers.  Yes, there may have been some negative tattling in the community, but no newspaper headlines exposed dissension in the ranks of volunteers.

The manager gets on with introducing the changes, engaging volunteers in each step of the way, providing extra training if warranted.  New volunteers come knocking at the door when they hear about new opportunities.  Customer count rises, drawn to attractive window displays, and word-of-mouth conversations about helpful volunteer staff.  And of course the ultimate goal of increased income is a monthly cause for celebration.

And then, in ones and twos, and then more – the old volunteers start to return.  They are impressed with what they see and they hear good things about the new manager – how she listens to volunteers and is willing to try out their suggestions.  They do not ask for their old jobs back: they want to give the organisation another go, to join what looks like a fun place to work.  And they miss the social camaraderie that goes with the job.

This story is not a fiction, though I have embroidered the details.  It does not describe change of the magnitude Motat is likely to be looking at, nor does it give assurance that Motat volunteers will accept the changes ahead of them.  But it does tell me that even if you lose some in the process of change, you can also win them back.

………..

For more on long-term volunteers see this Thoughtful Thursdays blog and discussion.

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