May 11, 2014

Playing the Game

Posted in Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Professional Development, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 4:01 am by Sue Hine

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A rugby league star switched to rugby union last year, but has failed to make the grade in this different code.  He has now returned to rugby league.

 

Some commentators reckon he was not given enough game time and opportunities to make his mark in rugby.

As an employee he was entitled to receive adequate training to meet team management’s expectations.  Employers have a duty of care to ensure staff can perform their roles at high levels, whether in the office or on the sports field.  I grabbed at this statement from an employment law specialist in my weekend newspaper.

Because in attending conferences and specialist training programmes I have been surprised at how many managers of volunteers are paying their own way to participate in their own professional development.  Three cheers for their personal commitment to on-going learning, even though they were not supported or encouraged by their employing organisations.  (On the other hand, equal opportunity becomes a mirage if I cannot afford the cost of the conference or training course.)

Surely it is in the employer’s best interests to enable best possible performance from all staff.  Skill maintenance and up-skilling has to be a good investment – for business productivity and for staff retention and job satisfaction.  In the absence of organisation support the high turnover rates for management of volunteer positions is not surprising.  Like that rugby player who is leaving the game, there is disappointment and disillusionment.

When professional development is not offered to managers of volunteers I have to wonder if the volunteer programme is perceived as merely a nice-to-have optional extra for the organisation’s operations; that managing volunteers is a job anyone can do; and one that does not need specialist training.  It means that volunteers are not really appreciated for their contributions, and by extension neither is their manager.

On the other hand, finding a training programme that meets particular or even general needs for managing volunteers can entail a lot of searching.  You have to go looking across local and global interconnections, and do the ‘stumble-upon’.  You have to know where to look, unless you already know about Volunteering New Zealand’s Competencies for Managers of Volunteers, or their on-line training programme.  That’s a good starting point.

There is good value too in connecting with the local Volunteer Centre, usually offering everything from a lunchtime forum to day-long seminars and workshops, extending to opportunities for mentoring.

Yes, say employers, there is a monetary cost to training.  But the relatively small investment in conference fees or a short course can reap significant benefits in management confidence and competence, and in developing effective volunteer programmes.  Don’t let the manager get choked off like the rugby player, before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves.

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April 20, 2014

Volunteer Recruitment – the ‘Group Interview’

Posted in Best Practice, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism tagged , , at 3:43 am by Sue Hine

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Screening and interviewing prospective volunteers is that most basic of tasks for managers of volunteers. My take on what to do and how to go about it is a bit different to most of the reams of available information.

I like to get a head start by asking searching questions on the application form, as I described in a previous blog. Get beyond contact details. Ask about motivation, personal qualities appropriate for the work of the organisation, skills and relevant previous experience, and of course availability and preferred time commitment. Not quite a CV, but information that offers a great deal about the applicant.

Of course this approach assumes we are clear on what we want to know about applicants, and why. Beyond their capacity to undertake volunteer roles we will be assessing the fit of volunteer and organisation expectations, and best get the latter sorted before starting the recruitment process.

I gave up individual interviews years ago, mostly because spending an hour with each applicant would have taken up more of my part-time working week than I could afford. I adopted a group screening and orientation process, two two-hour sessions held a week apart. Mostly there are between twelve and twenty participants.

In the first session introductions and ice-breakers and then a couple of key questions on motivation can demonstrate people’s ability to relate easily with each other, and to understand more about the nature of volunteering.   The presence of an experienced volunteer or staff member to act as an observer at this session allows a ‘second opinion’ on the qualities of participants.

Because volunteer roles involve interaction with patients and families it is important applicants can cope with stress, so a role-play engages them in exploring depths of emotion they might encounter in themselves and others. It’s a powerful tool that prepares them for volunteer work. Or else it shows this organisation is not for them.

The other side of screening is orientation to the organisation, helping people understand how it works, a bit of its history and discussion on its values and their meanings.

Few applicants withdraw from this process. They receive a folder of information to reinforce their learning so far. Following referee and police checks they will be partnered with a buddy to introduce them to their volunteer role and tasks. A 16-hour training programme comes later, and this brief experience has primed them for what they want to learn.

Now you have a brief outline of my alternative to individual interviews. It works, on several levels. Applicants are presenting themselves to their peers as well as organisation representatives, and there is less opportunity to fudge answers to direct questions. It is a learning process, about volunteering and the organisation, and also about themselves and each other. There is opportunity for group bonding which gets renewed at organisation functions.

It may not work for all organisations. When volunteers are engaged in extended term 1:1 relationships with clients it is likely further screening is needed, and the group process may not be appropriate.   Facilitating the sessions also requires skilled experience, being able to draw on human resource principles, social work and community development practice – but isn’t that all the stuff that makes a manager of volunteers?

Give it a go – group screening is a great way to discover the best in volunteering potential.

January 26, 2014

In Confidence

Posted in Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism tagged , , , , at 3:14 am by Sue Hine

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In all the on-line chatter between managers of volunteers it seems strange we do not raise ethical issues very often.  Yes we can get hot under the collar about job substitution or whether mandatory service is really volunteering – but I do not recall discussion about privacy and confidentiality or codes of conduct.  It’s like we – and volunteers – have a built-in recognition and sense of ethical responsibility for such matters.

Yet I am quite certain this does not mean volunteers are all perfect and we never have cause to deal with breaches of privacy.

I spent the first half of my life in a small town where my name and pedigree were widely known.  My face was familiar to storekeepers without having to present an ID card.  Youthful indiscretions could be reported to parents before I got home.  Later, my children were bewildered by the number of pauses I made in walking down the street to greet and chat with all the people I knew.  Back then the idea of individual privacy and confidentiality was nothing to worry about.  Why would you, in such an open and inclusive community?

Time passes.  Population increases and urban migration ramp up the pace of living.  Global technology speeds up communication and multiplies the means of interaction – and also the opportunities for information-sharing.  The value of personal privacy is coded into legal rights and protections, and no voluntary agency can afford to be without a privacy policy, which can include reference to personal information held on volunteer databases.  Confidentiality and privacy boundaries will be included in volunteer training.  It’s all about trust and integrity, especially when volunteers are engaged in people support services.  Confidentiality is also important to maintaining the integrity of the organisation and its standing in the community.

But still there are slips of the tongue, sometimes unthinking.  Sometimes there is gossip-mongering.  So what is a manager of volunteers to do?

A story is fed back to me that a couple of volunteers were overheard chatting about their work in the queue at the supermarket.  The volunteers are not identified, and there is no major transgression evident.  I choose to put up a sign in the volunteers’ office:  Loose Lips Sinks Ships, and in the next newsletter I include a reminder of the importance of protecting client privacy.  I can also reinforce this message at a volunteer support meeting.

On another occasion a staff member hears a volunteer in conversation with a service user about another part of her volunteer work, disclosing information about another client’s condition.  When the volunteer is known I say thank goodness for the volunteer code of conduct.   I can remind her of the clause about confidentiality, and about the potential impact of the private information getting back to the client.  It’s not quite a disciplinary matter, and the direct approach is usually sufficient to avoid a repeat.

In an ideal world people would not need to be reminded of this ‘duty of care’.  We would know the limits of what to share, with whom and how.  Even better, we can learn to say quite firmly We shouldn’t be talking about this, or Hey, that information is private.  And when I say I can’t tell you – it would be breaching the Privacy Act, I am sending a clear reminder of the rules we need to follow.

And then you will point out the paradox.  In the world of journalism and internet social media there are no boundaries.  We chase the gossip about celebrities and crave the latest details of personal and public tragedies.  Social media offer a platform for disclosing personal information and sharing it widely.  My small town village pump gossip has not gone away – it’s gone global, along with inherent risks of abuse.

Yet privacy law remains a benchmark for organisations, their staff and volunteers.  Personal information is given by the individual; it is held for organisation purposes; and disclosure elsewhere needs individual permission.   Let’s keep it that way, as a principle of our professional ethics.

November 17, 2013

Shifting Focus

Posted in Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism tagged , , at 3:35 am by Sue Hine

neler oluyor3[1]Sometimes we can hang on to old mantras and take them for granted.   ‘Thou shalt not replace paid workers with volunteers’: of course, I’ve known that for years!  Put volunteers into former paid positions and you are exploiting unpaid labour, not to mention engaging the ire (or worse) of unions and other paid staff.   So it’s a no-no, no question.

And then I encounter a situation that causes a rethink, a consideration of how hard and fast those principles really need to be.  I have been asked if a volunteer is available to cover for an administration employee on sick leave.  I ask questions about what happens when other staff go on leave, and isn’t there a pool of casual staff to call on, and why now, and don’t you know volunteers do not replace paid staff, period.  I feel uncomfortable, because it’s a short term assignment, it’s helping the organisation over a difficulty, and there are volunteers well able and available to undertake the tasks.

That’s when I start searching for confirmation on this business of not replacing paid staff with volunteers.  There is nothing in Codes of Ethics on management of volunteers, nor in Codes of Practice.  Nowhere do I find a clause referring to job substitution.  So is the ban on replacing paid staff with volunteers merely a convention?

At last I find a reference in the Government Policy on Volunteering (2002), in which the Government recognises that “volunteers should not replace paid workers”.  Note the government merely recognises, and should does not signify a legal requirement.  There is more in Guidelines for Appropriate Volunteer Positions, describing ‘factors which tend to make involvement of volunteers appropriate / inappropriate’.  As a steer on volunteer encroachment into paid employment territory the clauses are pretty much common sense, and again not cast-iron regulation.

So I cast my search net beyond a New Zealand context and land some pretty good fish.

Susan J Ellis asks pertinent questions like “Who is making rules about what is and isn’t legitimate volunteer work—and on what grounds?”  And what about the obverse to staff displacement: “When and how is it legitimate to place employees into roles traditionally held by volunteers?”  We don’t think about that too often.

There’s a bunch of myths around job substitution by volunteers, says this UK article.   We all know the involvement of volunteers should complement the work of paid staff, and should not be used to displace paid staff or undercut their pay and conditions of service.  But when times are tough and loss of funding causes staff cuts, engaging volunteers to fill the gaps is replacing staff, not displacement.

If you still have doubts there’s a guide to avoiding job substitution, describing a process to be followed.  Or take in this UK report on the health and social care sector: the authors conclude that rather than thinking of volunteering as a means for cutting costs, providers of all kinds should focus on volunteering as a means of improving quality by resourcing volunteer management appropriately.  Now there’s a good steer for action!

It looks like my concerns about a volunteer covering for staff are better answered through a strategic vision and policy on volunteering.   When we have constructive relations between paid staff and volunteers (and the manager of volunteers), when the volunteer programme is integrated with wider services of the organisation, and when volunteer contributions are understood and appreciated for the added value they bring – then we will have no need to follow advice that begins  “Thou shalt not….”.

That’s what I call a shift in focus, turning negativity into positive direction.

May 5, 2013

The Totally Best Volunteer Experience

Posted in Best Practice, Good news stories, Managers Matter, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 3:20 am by Sue Hine

volunteering-300x242[1]Going on three years ago I wrote about someone else’s bad volunteer experience, and regretted it ever since.  Because every year this post is the most viewed, by a wide margin.  Every day someone has Googled the words and they end up on my blog site.  I’ve tried in several different ways to highlight what volunteers appreciate, but good news stories do not attract the same attention.

So the tales of volunteers being under-valued and unappreciated, and treated badly, continue to mount up.  And now Australian volunteers are invited to register violations of their rights or inappropriate treatment.

Two problems here.  One, I don’t know of any cast iron document on volunteer rights relating to ‘inappropriate treatment’.  Which means, secondly, there is not much legal protection for volunteers (in New Zealand) beyond privacy and health and safety regulations and the non-discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act.  ‘Volunteer rights’ are more in the realm of ethical and best practice procedures.

There are various Codes of Practice for managing volunteers.  There are various Rights and Responsibilities documents outlining reciprocal obligations for volunteers and organisations.  There is, if you did not know already, a Code of Ethics for managers of volunteers.  In 2001 (remember that year?) a “Universal Declaration on the Profession of Leading and Managing Volunteers”   was developed by an international working group, including New Zealand representation.   These hallmarks of a profession are clearly not sufficiently embedded to address the wrongs experienced by volunteers.

The regulatory environment in most jurisdictions will include volunteers within health and safety, privacy and human rights.  Volunteers are excluded from employment law of course, though there is a grey area when we start talking about being ‘a good employer’ (see this post).

So from a volunteer’s perspective there is not much comeback if they get bullied, or mucked around, or ignored – all that personal insult stuff that is so hard to argue.  There is no formal means of redress, unless the organisation’s HR policies and their ‘good employer’ commitment includes volunteers in their complaints and disciplinary procedures, and in annual review processes which offer a two-way consideration of both the volunteer programme and volunteer contributions.  To go further into ‘workplace protection’ would jeopardise the meaning and status of volunteering.

In 2009 serious breaches of trust between volunteers and the organisations they volunteered for led to Volunteering England’s Volunteer Rights Inquiry.  The outcome called on organisations to sign up to the 3R Promise, promoting and protecting and taking responsibility for volunteer experience and raising standards of management of volunteers, and reconciliation when things go wrong. Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations is another model, outlining opportunities for organisation development and change to develop and maintain a programme that offers volunteers the best possible experience.

But the fundamentals of that best experience is based on good communication, effective working  relationships, high standards of training and induction, ongoing support, demonstrative appreciation and being valued for contributing to the organisation’s mission and to the community.  (Have I missed anything here?)  These are matters of professional standards and ethics and values.  They are ‘people-centred’, involving relationships of mutual respect and trust.

Volunteers can tell us what they want, what they think is their best experience in all sorts of ways.  See what I wrote a few months ago.   Or consider this account from another writer.

If we listened to ‘what volunteers want’ we would not have to set up complaint registers or to promise commitments, or guidelines for organisations.  If we listened to volunteers we would not be pushed to concern for protecting their rights.  We might even become the profession we ought to be.

And – we’ll get more pictures of happy and satisfied volunteers.

April 14, 2013

“Getting” Volunteering

Posted in Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 4:39 am by Sue Hine

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For too long I have been listening to these words, how “they” just do not understand volunteering and management of volunteers.  Now I am sitting up to ask the question “What do we mean by getting volunteering what do we want ‘them’ to get?”

And I’m running into trouble when I go looking for answers.

I could recite the litany of volunteer motivations; describe the history of community organisations and their rise to national and corporate status.  I could tell the stories of volunteers, and there are millions to document ‘making the difference’ for individuals and communities.  I’m not so keen on citing the record of hours worked and assumed $$ contributions, because that information does not seem to wash further than input/output statistics in the annual accounts – volunteers are just another resource to draw on.  And anyway, we have gone down all these roads, many times.

What is it, what is the real deal that would get staff and organisation executives and government departments and corporate bosses to open their eyes to a real Ah-Ha moment about volunteering?

For starters it would help if “they”

Have had personal experience of volunteering and an understanding of the relevance of community in the wider fields of political and social action.

Work in an organisation structure and culture where volunteers are physically located in staff work-spaces, and which integrates the volunteer programme in service delivery plans and processes.

Employee volunteering is another option to open eyes to the richness and diversity of community organisations, and to their needs.

Yet these experiences do not seem to work for everyone in all places.  The stories keep recurring about a lack of support for volunteers and their managers, and about organisations not taking volunteering seriously.  It’s a low cost investment, nice to have, but not something to be worried about nor included when it comes to planning and strategic development.

Of course what the bosses and bureaucrats should be doing is paying attention to Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations

It is encouraging to note increasing awareness and activism among managers of volunteers and associated groups.  We are talking up impact and outcome measurement of volunteer services, advocating for volunteering within our organisations.  But following this path is simply trying to prove the worth of volunteering on “their” terms, a linear logic that can be described with numbers on paper.

If only “they” could look the other way to see the true value of volunteering.  Here is what I would want “them” to see:

Volunteers complement the organisation’s delivery of services.

Volunteers add value to services, providing extras that are never going to be funded, and which enhance the holistic experience of users/clients.

Volunteers are ambassadors for the organisation.  With a good experience volunteers can be the best marketing agent ever.  If that experience is not so good they will do the worst possible damage to your reputation in the community, making it difficult to recruit new volunteers, and putting significant limitations on the success of fundraising projects.

Community organisations are said to be driven by values.  No matter the mission you will find words like respect, dignity, communication, family-whanau/people-centred, community inclusiveness featuring on the masthead.   Values represent beliefs and attitudes we hold dear, and we know them by the way they are exhibited in behaviour.  Regardless of the reasons why people volunteer their behaviour generally reflects the ideals of the organisation.

So when we try to measure volunteering according to business plans and key performance indicators and impact measurement we get stuck on things like courtesy and goodwill, like relationships and understanding, like social connections and community development and individual and collective strengths.  Volunteering is about people, by people and for people.

The value of volunteering is not less than the organisation’s ability to reach targets and to show a return on investment.  Volunteering is a different sort of value.  So, for “them” to ‘get volunteering’ requires understanding a different culture.

The beauty of understanding and accepting cultural difference is the new relationship that forms, based on each others’ strengths and a willingness to learn how to work together.  That’s when I shall know “they” really get volunteering.

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.

November 11, 2012

The By-Products of Volunteering

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Motivation, Organisation responsibilities, Recognition of Volunteering, volunteer experience tagged , , at 3:24 am by Sue Hine

We know all about the benefits of volunteering, for organisations and communities.  We can count up the numbers – of volunteers and hours worked – which show simple aggregates of inputs and outputs, and we are finding ways to offer evidence of ‘making a difference’.

We know how a well-run programme can attract new volunteers and donors and gains in street-cred for the organisation.  (And how quickly the reverse can happen if quality standards slip).

These days we know volunteer motivation can be less grounded in altruism than in seeking ROI – skill development, work experience and social contact.  That’s the individual and personal gain.

There are other spin-offs.  At volunteer gatherings where a mix of teams get together I have known excited reunions of people who went to school together or who lived in the same street a long time ago.

When volunteers are really engaged in the organisation you can bet they are developing relationships and forging new friendships.  There’s many a tale of clusters of volunteers who meet regularly out of the workplace, organise a reunion, start their own Facebook page.  Rugby World Cup volunteers got together again recently, to reminisce and to celebrate their achievements.

But did you know that Volunteering is also Good for Your Heart?

So says a report on research on individual health benefits of volunteering (published 2007).

Volunteer activities can strengthen the social ties that protect individuals from isolation during difficult times, while the experience of helping others leads to a sense of greater self-worth and trust.

Those who engage in volunteer activities are less likely to suffer from ill health later in life and may be introduced into a positive reinforcing cycle of good health and future volunteering.

Even when controlling for other factors such as age, health, and gender, research has found that when individuals volunteer, they are more likely to live longer.

These claims are substantiated in more than 30 studies reviewing the relationship between health and volunteering.  It is suggested by one commentator that Civic Engagement and Volunteering is the new hybrid health club for the 21st century – and it’s free to join.

Which is all very encouraging for volunteerism and community organisations and community well-being.  But is the correlation of volunteering with good health dependent on practice standards in organisations, and quality management of volunteers?    Feeling good about volunteering is certainly related to job satisfaction, a supportive work environment, and being respected and appreciated – all charged out as organisation responsibilities.

So the launch this week of Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Organisations is to be welcomed, by administrators, managers of volunteers, and surely – by volunteers themselves.

October 28, 2012

The Spirit of Managing Volunteers

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Managers Matter, Organisation responsibilities, Professional Development tagged , , , , , at 4:06 am by Sue Hine

I rather like this crib of a World War II poster, now doing the rounds in cyberspace in a whole lot of variations.

I can raise a smile at the slogan which is a contradiction in itself.  How do you keep your cool when the job of managing volunteers is chaotic most of the time?  Even the bold red colouring suggests keeping calm is about keeping the lid on stress that is best kept out of the chaos.

Lest you think I am indulging in cynicism, let me start again.

In the list of knowledge, skills and attributes for a management position I have never seen any hint of a required ability to manage stress (in self and others).  Yes I know stress comes with the territory whatever the field of management, but why should it be reported so frequently by managers of volunteers?

There could be a number of reasons:

  • Position responsibilities have not been properly scoped, leading to task overload
  • The appointee is not adequately qualified or experienced for the position
  • No proper induction
  • No professional development programme
  • No volunteer policy to give meaning and direction to the volunteer programme
  • Senior management fail to understand and appreciate the value of the volunteering

These factors are organisational matters: feeling stressed and overwhelmed under these circumstances does not derive from personal shortcomings.

Raising questions about extending part-time hours or engaging administration assistance too often gets the reply (after the standard ‘lack of resources’ response):  Make a case to justify increasing the budget for the volunteer programme.  It’s not hard to guess what happens then: I haven’t got time, and I’m too tired.  A few months later there is another notch to score in rate of turnovers for the position.

We could, in the face of adversity, Keep Calm and Drink Tea.  Or we could Keep Calm and just Carry On.  Volunteers deserve more, and they need good management and effective leadership.

There is no denying the role is diverse and demanding.  The art of multi-tasking, being multi-skilled and with demonstrable leadership qualities turn the job into something that could be called ‘multi-management’.

That’s where a tool-kit of Survival Strategies is useful.  The load gets lighter when it is shared:

  • Engage volunteers for administration support
  • Establish volunteer team leader positions for support and communication with volunteers
  • Recruit or train-up volunteers to interview new applicants, or introduce group-screening
  • Seek out allies within the organisation to help promote and advocate for volunteers
  • Check out Volunteer Centre training opportunities and make a point of attending
  • Find a mentor, or join a mentoring group

Adopting some or all of these strategies will then give a little space to address organisation shortcomings regarding volunteering and its management.  Further help will be available very soon: Volunteering New Zealand will launch Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations on International Volunteer Managers’ Day, November 5.  Join the webinar to learn more.

Nobody has ever said being a manager of volunteers is an easy job.  But there are many people who love the work, and who make it a long career.  It’s worth the effort to make it worthwhile.  That’s the spirit of managing volunteers.

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