October 19, 2014
Volunteering New Zealand held a workshop for managers of volunteers in Wellington last week. Raising the Bar was the first of a number to be held around the country, drawing on the Best Practice Guidelines to ask What does Best Practice look like and how do we get there?
My long memory recalls the origins of this workshop, the tiny germs of ideas that got translated over time into a working group, to a VNZ project, to publishing the Guidelines, and now to working on getting them implemented.
Back in 2009 the VNZ Conference theme was Volunteering Unleashed, and there were two streams: Volunteering Tomorrow and Inspiring Leaders – two sides of the same coin you might say. With presentations like ‘Unmasking the role of volunteer management’ and ‘Awaken the hero leader in you’ there was plenty to inspire and unleash imaginations for future effort. At the final session I asked “What happens next?” to which there was a smart reply: “What would you like to happen?”
A few weeks later a meeting was convened with a bunch of other people who were asking the same question. The Management of Volunteers Development Group was born, if not right then, but over the next few meetings. I’ve written about its progress several times:
Raising the Bar was the theme for VNZ’s conference in 2011, and a principal stream was devoted to ‘Developing the Leaders’. Sessions covered a range of regular practice for managers of volunteers, and included focus on leadership – because managing volunteers is nothing without leadership.
The present round of workshops on Raising the Bar is another step to encourage managers of volunteers to take on strategic leadership, and to advocate for implementation of the Best Practice Guidelines. At the same time there is a parallel effort going into nominating champions of managing volunteers, the executives of organisations that demonstrate and promote understanding and recognition of volunteering and its management. Yes, we need to promote these champions so others may raise their sights, to include the value of volunteers and their managers in their vision.
The workshop this past week raised a real buzz, a community of managers of volunteers sharing concerns and their ideas and information, using the material of the Best Practice Guidelines. There was plenty of diversity in this group, both in size of organisation and in sector interests. The old hands mixed with the newbies, and there was learning for everyone.
At the end of the day what happens next is up to participants. They’ve got their take-home message and intent for action, but we’ll have to wait to see results. Strategic leadership for change and development takes skill, courage and determination. And time.
How high does the bar have to go? We’ll know when we get there, for sure.
March 3, 2013
March 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.
May 27, 2012
Those of you who receive the Updates on Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Project will notice a gathering momentum. The Learning and Development work-stream, charged with creating a professional development pathway, is making good progress towards a significant milestone.
As a reminder, the two key areas of the group’s work programme are:
- To identify key competencies for leaders and managers of volunteers
- To establish a process for enabling Assessment of Prior Learning (APL)
The part that has taken the most time and effort is figuring out how to frame Competencies. A whole issue of e-volunteerism (October 2011) devoted to ‘credentialing’, with contributors from all around the world, could not produce a consensus. It was not simply a matter of establishing options for certification, nor in identifying particular tasks or skills. Much of the debate roved around the meaning of competence and its application to the business of managing volunteers.
The Learning and Development group is not engaged in determining the detail of what knowledge, skills and attributes signify competencies for managers of volunteers. That way overlooks the huge diversity in organisations, responsibilities, communities and sector interests. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula. Prescription could also become stifling for people wanting to move beyond standard practice, for people wanting to carve out new territory in leading volunteers.
The principal concern for the group is to identify a learning pathway, a road-map that offers clear entry points, recognition of prior learning, indications for further learning, and for leadership extension. The pathway is open to all non-profit organisations, will offer something to all managers and leaders of volunteers, regardless of scope and scale of the organisation.
Think of a motorway with on-ramps, and passing lanes, and exits to different destinations. Think of short journeys for immediate and relevant development needs, or taking the long road to a higher goal. This learning pathway will have signposts and markers for different options, and room for personal choice and direction.
The Wellington Leadership Group met a couple of weeks ago to consider a draft proposal for the motorway. We are impressed with the breadth and depth of the work that has gone into compiling the documents. We are excited by the range of ways the model could be used, and how useful it will be as a development guide for both new and experienced managers of volunteers.
The draft competency framework will be available for consultation in a matter of weeks. Getting feedback is one small step towards the significant milestone that will benefit all managers and leaders of volunteers inNew Zealand, and their organisations.
January 29, 2012
Here is another test for your up-to-datedness. In New Zealand we use MVP in our chatter about the Volunteering NZ programme for developing Managers of Volunteers. The programme is going great guns on a Learning and Development pathway for professional development, and on organisational development for best practice in engaging with volunteers.
Some of us, and a heap of others outside our sector, will be alerted to a different interpretation of MVP. Kids at Saturday sport competitions will know what MVP stands for. Individuals in amateur and professional sport teams, local and international, glow with pride when they are accorded the accolade of MVP.
MVP = Most Valued Player.
Of course, you knew that! It’s what you tell volunteers every day, every annual celebration, every award ceremony. Now I am asking you to think again, to think about the MVP when it comes to managing volunteers in your organisation.
OK – you may not be a designated ‘manager’ for volunteers; you may be the sole employee responsible for programmes and policy and the people, the whole caboodle; or you might have to take charge of volunteers as part of other responsibilities.
The question is, regardless of whether you are a bona fide full-time, or part-time manager of volunteers, or you are yourself a volunteer coordinating and managing volunteers – whatever your role or status – how do you rate as an MVP with your organisation? You are welcome to offer your own assessment. But really, I want to hear from your board or committee, and the Executive, and from other staff.
Because, if your organisation engages volunteers in service delivery, fundraising, promotion, or whatever, the staff, the executive and the board need to appreciate and acknowledge just how much goes into recruitment, training, deployment, supervising, reviewing, programme development… and, and, and…..
Which is why you need to stand up and tell them just why managers of volunteers should be the heroes, the MVPs, of your organisation.
It may just happen that the MVP in your organisation is not you, but is identified among other people who recognise, give full credit to, hold up the banner for, that added value that volunteers bring to your organisation. That is when your organisation is on track to become a whole lot greater than the sum of its parts.
This post is the last for January, and the last until mid-March. I will be away travelling in outposts of southern China and Laos, sans mobile phone or notebook computer or anything. I hope to come back with a couple of stories on NGOs in foreign parts.
September 25, 2011
The challenge issued last week to managers of volunteers has not aroused a spirited defence. I am surprised, given the impetus and real progress the Volunteering New Zealand’s Managers of Volunteers Programme (MVP) has been making around New Zealand. Nobody has yet come out trumpeting visions and dreams and just what makes management of volunteers a great career option and why it is important. Or even telling me I am talking through a hole in my head.
Now I will try the affirmative story. The MVP is on the road right now, offering workshops on Leadership in selected locations. Participants are enthusiastic. They have to work of course, thinking on their feet and around the room and scribing views on large sheets of paper. They are asked to spell out wish lists, priorities, what works, and what more is wanted in the name of management of volunteers. The questions require a wider perspective than what is happening for me right now.
For example: What do you see as priorities for you and the team, for the organisation, the community, the sector and the nation? That’s a pretty big ask, but heck the answers keep flowing. Like we have already done the analysis, and we know what needs to happen.
At the end of the day there is a map for future directions, and a lot of enthusiasm for going forward. There is an identified agenda for making things happen in local communities, in the name of Leadership and Management of Volunteers.
This process is classic community development, an example of the ‘think global, act local’ strategies that have proved effective in the past. The workshops are also the start of ripples that can turn into waves.
The first ripples are engaging managers of volunteers to work together, across organisations. The next ripple is to promote our cause, finding ways to engage with the market. Defining competencies and best practice for the role would be a good start, along with a learning pathway and a shared resource base and discussion forum. Another ripple will start when we engage with our organisations and sectors and the wider community, with the key messages on volunteering, volunteer management and their real significance.
That’s when the real wave starts, when the MVP gets to surf on the crest of an ocean roller.
If you need some encouragement try Cleo Laine’s full-throated version of the Sondheim song.
Or look at the innovative webinars on management of volunteers offered by the Volunteer Centre Warrington (UK). This summary includes links to further detail.
Or take in Susan J Ellis’ wisdom, It Takes a Whole Organisation, recorded in Queensland a few months ago.
The point is, if you didn’t get it last week, is to get out there to market our wares to those who need to know. If managers of volunteers do such a great job of recruiting and retaining volunteers what is so different or difficult in explaining who we are and why we are important?
July 17, 2011
Six months ago, around the middle of January, Claire Teal embarked on the ride of her life, putting some wheels on a year-long discussion to create a vehicle for promoting the role and value of Managers / Leaders of Volunteers. This week marks the end of her internship with Volunteering New Zealand, sponsored by the Department of Internal Affairs.
What happens next is contingent on the outcome of funding applications and crossed fingers for other support.
The project began as a spontaneous response to the Inspiring Leaders stream of the Volunteering New Zealand Conference in November 2009. For a year a small group representing Sporting, Volunteer Centres, academic research and direct practice interests chewed over what we wanted to do, researched and discussed, explored options. There was never any doubt that our mission was to promote the role and value of Managers / Leaders of Volunteers. We wanted to see them well resourced with plenty of professional development opportunities.
The publication of Management Matters in June 2010, a research study undertaken by Karen Smith and Carolyn Cordery of Victoria University Wellington, offered significant benchmarks on the state of management of volunteers in New Zealand. As elsewhere in the world, the occupation ranges from full-time and part-time paid employment to volunteer engagement in leading volunteers. As elsewhere, the salary range, qualifications and professional development opportunities varies enormously.
Karen and Carolyn have followed this research with more on the economic value of volunteering and with a literature review What works? A systematic review of research and evaluation literature on encouragement and support of volunteering. This report illustrates good practice in managing volunteers, and highlights key success factors for participation in volunteering and the support of management of volunteers within formal organisations.
From January 2011 Claire Teal initiated a community development approach to soliciting support for the project, developing relationships and establishing networks around New Zealand. One significant group is considering Learning and Development for Managers / Leaders of Volunteers, drawing on academic and educational expertise, Volunteer Centre knowledge and the experience and ideas of practitioners. The focus is on finding a range of pathways for professional development. Putting a straitjacket on professional qualifications is not in our book: one size, as we keep on saying, does not fit all.
A second strand, and possibly more significant, is drawing together organisational executives to champion the cause of management of volunteers – which is really about recognising the significance of volunteer contribution to the organisation. This enthusiastic group will do much to promote volunteering and management of volunteers throughout New Zealand.
This brief overview does not do full justice to the work Claire Teal has undertaken. Without doubt however, she has driven the project within range of achieving its goals.
In May this year the Volunteering NZ Conference included a stream on Developing the Leaders. Sessions for this stream were largely over-subscribed. The Conference was followed by the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Managers of Volunteers. Both these events engendered comments like the following:
- It was a tremendous experience to be surrounded by people that share the same vision but at the same time have such a variety of view points, experiences and organisational practice. The obvious passion and energy for me was the ongoing highlight of the retreat. It was so gratifying to hear from others a shared believe of the importance of world citizenship and broadening our view of where we sit in the community – local, national and international.
- The light bulb moment for me being so new to Volunteer Management is that it is a PROFESSION rather than just a job, that there are amazing, passionate, talented people managing volunteers and I have lots of colleagues! I now know that I am a Volunteer Manager and I tell people so! I have also changed my language not only to promote our profession but also to encourage volunteers to value what they do in a professional sense. It’s great to read of people taking action and capitalising on their heightened energy following their ‘aha moment’. Thanks for the inspiration.
- I guess the thing that stands out most to me is the sense of being part of a global community of people who are passionate about what we do and what we can achieve… I know now that I have an amazing support/reality-checking network around me that ‘get’ why I do what I do and why I fight for what I fight for. That’s pretty awesome…
- I can now better articulate what it is we’re all trying to do: make a difference/impact/change through engaging the community in the work we do. = not a ‘soft option’ profession. Crucial.
- We are professionals, not “just a volunteer manager”. I learn that I need to change the language I have been using to promote our profession.
Right now the following themes can be observed:
- The project is attracting international attention
- International trainers are quoting New Zealand as a model for developing Management / Leaders of volunteers
- There is a groundswell of support and enthusiasm for the project within New Zealand, from organisations as well as Managers / Leaders of Volunteers
- There is a spin-off in the way the profile of volunteering has been raised, leading to increased awareness of the political and social significance of volunteers and community organisations
From a community development perspective there are two really important messages:
- We are building the critical infrastructure of volunteering inNew Zealand; and
- There is no effective volunteering without the creative, strategic input of Managers and Leaders of Volunteers.
There is a lot at stake here for organisations and the managers and leaders of volunteers. There are more than one million volunteers who stand to gain from good management practice and from organisational recognition and support. The gains for volunteers and their organisations are also gains for New Zealand communities and our social well-being.
We must not allow this project to lapse.
May 1, 2011
As an ardent supporter and promoter of the role and function of managers and leaders of volunteers how dare I ask this question!
Yet it is important to figure some answers. Because “anybody can do it” is what I hear at times from paid staff, though none of them want to take on the job. Other people see managing volunteers as simply a function of human resource management.
And if volunteers are not valued as a skilled and well-trained resource for the organisation it is no wonder managers of volunteers do not see themselves as a specialist occupation. The litany of “I’m just a volunteer” gets to be repeated in “I’m just a volunteer manager”.
So I’ve gone looking at management training opportunities to see what I could learn from all the certificate and diploma courses out there (not to mention tertiary degrees in business management).
One polytechnic offers the following subjects for a National Certificate in Business (First Line Management) Level 4.
- Time Management
- Business Writing
- Problem Solving
- Managing Conflict
- Health & Safety
- Organisational Principles
- Workplace Relationships
- Performance Management
- Training & Development
- Staff Selection
Great – the course meets NZQA standards, and I think the topics could be useful to managers of volunteers.
Another institution, for the same qualification, offers three compulsory unit standards, plus an additional two of three options on communication, and then more credits from a range of unit standards. All of the listed unit standards are relevant to management of volunteers.
I am willing to bet, with a high stake, that in all these subjects and unit standard descriptions there is never a mention of volunteers. I will have to do some translation of theory and practice principles to make the descriptions relevant. Again, I am begging the question of ‘what is different in the management of volunteers?’ – or ‘is there any difference?’
Now I have found an Australian programme offering a Certificate in Volunteer Programme Coordination. To gain the certificate I need to complete seven core competencies covering team effectiveness, communication skills, the legal and ethical framework, OSH processes, recruitment, work-based learning, and the principles and issues of volunteering. Good stuff, though I would have thought this last competency should be first. On top of this foundation you need to add three elective competencies, from a range of more than twenty options.
Not too much difference here from the credits to be gained in the New Zealand Level 4 Certificate in Business.
I note Level 4 is a first base qualification, and also how slow organisations and the community sector have been to pick up on the value of such education.
There are masses of training opportunities for managers of volunteers out there already, from certificates, to diplomas and degrees, within New Zealand and internationally, both on-line or on-site. If only organisations and individuals would recognise the value of professional development, to enhance not just management performance but also the service contribution of volunteers.
Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Project is working on these concerns. An Advisory Group drawn from educators, Volunteer Centres and other key players has been established to develop a Learning Pathway for existing and new managers at all levels of experience – and of course to find ways to recognise prior learning (RPL).
What’s so special about Management of Volunteers? You will tell me now, please, to set me straight, and so we can get the Learning Pathway on the right track.
February 6, 2011
In our globalised networks we’ve been talking for a long time about the importance of good management for volunteers. Screeds have been written about the what and the why. We have debated and argued at conferences and in on-line newsgroups for yonks. Sometimes a plaintive voice asks Why Not Do Something? And we keep on talking.
Enough! Here in New Zealand our small team on the Volunteering NZ Managers of Volunteers Project has got to the action phase. There’s a little bit of stage fright, and it’s a bit scary to look at the steep mountain ahead of us, but we’ve also got a lot of grit.
If you have read the Volunteering NZ Update for January you will know we have secured a 6-month paid internship for Claire Teal, the Project’s co-leader, and you will know more about specific objectives for the project that will run till the end of 2012.
The project is turning into a really neat bit of community development. It ticks the boxes of
- Active involvement, and a sharing of skills and knowledge
- A collective process to achieve agreed goals
- Empowerment (in the recognition and valuing of management of volunteers)
- Challenges for change
To make the plan work properly, as any activist knows, we have to spread the word and create networks. We have to be open and flexible; we need to involve a wide range of organisations; we need to build a broad-based understanding of our mission and a vision we can all share. Communication all over the place gets high priority, and we’ll need a lot of coordination for action. Maybe there will be disagreements about strategy and approach, but debate leads to incorporation of new ideas to achieve our ends. There is never a one-way concrete path.
Members of the Project Team are not driving for their own ends. They mean to act as catalysts, facilitating as far as possible the ideas and initiatives that others dream of. Our vision is simple: Managers/Leaders of Volunteers are valued, well-resourced, competent professionals.
In three short weeks of creating a new and active network the response has been enthusiastic and enlightening. As though people have been waiting to be roused.
This time a ripple, next time a wave. (Stephen Sondheim, from the song Everybody Says Don’t)
Why are we doing this? Good question, simple answer: for volunteering and for those who volunteer – they deserve no less than best quality management.
To join the network, contact Claire Teal at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone (04) 384 3636.