June 27, 2015

The Week That Was

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Impact Measurement, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 10:51 pm by Sue Hine

NVW 2015

Volunteering is for anyone and everyone!  That’s the celebrating we have been doing for this week.  The theme for National Volunteer Week, as the banner says, is ‘There is a place for you to volunteer’, ‘He wahi mohou hei tuao’.  And you just had to cast your eye over press releases and newspaper inserts and social media posts to notice how much volunteering is going on, and how widespread it is across our communities.

Volunteering is nothing less than diversity, in volunteer opportunities, the volunteers themselves, and in the impacts of volunteering.

There’s a young mum and her infant daughter who go visiting at a rest home; you can live a boyhood dream as an engine driver; there are countless opportunities to get outdoors into conservation projects; you can pay it forward in volunteering with emergency services or a health sector organisation; become a best buddy to people who want a bit more social contact; be the key support person to help a refugee family find a place in their community; try to make a dent in the effects of poverty or violence, or the abuse of drugs and alcohol.

Volunteers are found in schools and hospitals and all the big institutions.  They keep sports clubs going, drive emergency services, environment and heritage conservation.  They make national and local events and festivals the best ever.  They just keep on keeping on, whatever and wherever.  (You can read more about the importance of diversity in a volunteer programme here.)

Yes, you know all that.

Of course we are thanking volunteers every day, in all sorts of ways.  But on this one week of the year, what are we thanking them for?  The litany of platitudes still gets paraded:

Thanks to our wonderful volunteers

We couldn’t manage without you

We really need you

You help us make a difference (to what? I might ask)

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organisation

Much better, and more enlightening, are the messages coming through that tell something of what volunteers do for the organisation:

Thank you to all the volunteers ….

…..who work hard to ensure safe, enjoyable experiences in New Zealand’s outdoors for us all.

…..for helping to give more than 4000 individuals and families a hand up during the past year.

…..for supporting skilled migrants in their search for meaningful work.

…..for giving someone a second chance at life.

…..for helping support a life without limits.

…..for skills in providing telephone advice and resources.

Yes, you know all that stuff too.

This year there is a lot more quoting of figures related to volunteer services.  But oh dear, the wide variation makes me wonder what oracles were consulted for the information.

Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector says: “On average there are just over 400,000 kiwis volunteering every week for a charity, adding up to over 1.5 million hours contributed to our communities”.

Another report says nearly 500,000 people volunteer on a weekly basis; or 800,000 hours of work per week.  This rate amounts to 15.5% of the population, per week.  Per annum it is said 1.2 million people volunteer – about 25% of total population.

Different research methodology and different variables make for a confusing mix of information.

I have a bit more confidence in the Quarterly indicators from Department of Internal Affairs for September 2014 (the latest available):

  • Nearly 35 per cent of all respondents volunteered at least one hour of their time. This is the highest volunteering rate of the five years measured.
  • Of those who volunteered, 59 per cent were female and 41 per cent were male.
  • People between the ages of 30-39 volunteered the most.

And now there is a brand new survey from Seek Volunteer New Zealand which sheds a poor light on Wellingtonians: under 19% of working Kiwis in the region currently volunteer, though 38% say they have volunteered previously.   It’s the lack of time, say 69% of those surveyed.   Volunteer Wellington issued a prompt response which tells a different story:

‘Of the approximately 3000 volunteer seekers who come through our matching processes every year, those in the ‘working’ (meaning in full-time employment and part-time) category, have increased over the past few years and is currently nearly a third of our total volunteer seeker cohort.’

‘Annually we work with between 800–1000 employee volunteers who are matched with any one of our 400+ community organisation members to be connected with projects of interest. Last year 87 such projects took place, ranging from physical work to skill based programmes and, with several of these employee volunteering teams, being involved on a weekly basis.’

So while we claim New Zealand has a culture that values and encourages volunteering we are not so good in getting our facts together, or at least determining a consistent base-line for data-gathering.

Small wonder that organisations are being pressed to deliver measurable outcomes for the services delivered through government contracts.  At the beginning of June the Minister of Social Development announces a new Community Investment Strategy to “create a more results-focused and evidence-based approach for purchasing of social services for vulnerable people and communities, and will also be more transparent, targeted, flexible and efficient”.  On the first day of National Volunteer Week a clear warning is issued that more funding cuts are on the horizon.

No question that community social service organisations are under threat.  I’d like to think the prospect of significant change creates a real opportunity to put volunteering up where it belongs.  Former Prime Minister Helen Clark understood the importance of volunteering when she said “without volunteers New Zealand would stop”.  (She repeated the tenor of this comment on Twitter on International Volunteer Day in 2014, as head of UNDP).

Volunteering will not go away any time soon.  The adaptations to changing conditions will continue, innovation and enterprise will keep on creating new ways of responding to diverse situations – as people have done for millennia.

Seek Volunteer NZ might have got its figures wrong, but they have produced excellent presentations of real volunteers and the reality of volunteering.  And included is the best line of the whole week, said by a volunteer about her work, illustrating yet another dimension of volunteering – the personal value:

You can’t put a price on the feeling of what you can get out of it – you can’t.

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May 17, 2015

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Civil Society, Impact Measurement, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , , at 5:10 am by Sue Hine

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If the value of volunteering remains largely out of sight, it is likely also to remain out of mind.

 

Now there’s a sentence to make me sit up and take notice.  It is a conclusion reached by Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist for the Bank of England in a speech on the social value of volunteering.  (An edited version is available in e-volunteerism issue for January 2015.)

While Haldane laments the “market failure problem” of volunteering he is also offering a coherent account of the importance of measuring not just labour inputs and an arbitrary economic value: we should include the private value to volunteers (health and social well-being), and its social value.  Even economic dummies like me can see what could be achieved if organisations could afford to hire specialists in social cost-benefit analysis.

I have long wrestled with the issues of measuring volunteer impact, especially in the ‘soft’ social service areas like personal support, the buddy programmes and telephone counselling.  “Not everything that counts can be counted” was Einstein’s take.

But it is not just a lack of accounting that contributes to the low profile of volunteering.  Here is my hit-list of factors that indicate a lack of attention to the nature of volunteering and to recognising and appreciating the value of volunteer contributions.

  • There’s the metaphoric symbolism of locating the volunteer office, and the manager’s desk, in the basement or down the end of a long corridor. That could really put volunteers out of sight and out of mind.
  • The lowly status of a manager of volunteers becomes clear in the job title (‘Volunteer’ manager / coordinator) and a pay scale that can be 20% below other managers in the organisation – though the numbers of volunteers could be ten times the number of paid staff. And too often the manager misses out on strategic planning meetings or management training sessions because “you don’t manage staff”.
  • We all know how volunteers do not come for free, yet too often there is no budget allocation for programme costs. Worse are funder contract terms that expect volunteer engagement to contribute to service delivery, while making no allowance for reimbursing volunteer out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Fundraising and marketing offices take precedence in organisation hierarchy these days, and assume that volunteers will be on tap, on time, all the time. Volunteers are a taken-for-granted resource, and the manager is expected to provide the numbers regardless of short notice.
  • When it comes to appreciation, too often the occasions of National Volunteer Week and International Volunteer Day are a brief flare of publicity. Or there’s a raft of awards at local and national levels, and it’s nice to distribute certificates or to host a social gathering for volunteers. But it is rare to get a sense of understanding just what volunteers do and what they have achieved, and why they are ‘so wonderful’ and ‘needed’. Even the organisation’s annual report can leave acknowledging volunteer contributions to a paragraph on the last page.
  • There is much irony in the handwringing that accompanies a funding cut which is then followed by a reduction in services. There is no place for volunteers to pick up responsibilities; it is as though they have been a mere decorative flourish for the organisation. That’s enough to cause the organisation’s founding volunteers to turn in their graves.

If this list is not enough to go on with there is more outrage to be found in the latest Energize Hot Topic.  Or you could start wondering about a UK government pledge to launch a potential 15 million volunteers from the public and corporate sectors for 3 days volunteering per annum.  Note they would be getting paid leave to do so.

In all these examples there is a utilitarian approach to involving volunteers.  Volunteering has become a commodity, a resource to used for what is increasingly perceived as a political, economic and organisational gain while the social and cultural benefits of volunteering and its critical function for a healthy Civil Society are totally ignored.

Before I get run out of town for such dismal views, let me say I know they do not have universal application.  Let me give credit to those organisations who involve volunteers in positive and valued ways, who ‘understand’ the nature of volunteering.  And then I ask, why can’t others learn from these best practice examples?

Having said all this just offers reinforced support for getting momentum on measuring the true economic, private and social value of volunteering. In New Zealand we can apply the Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations.  Volunteering Australia launched this week its updated National Standards for Volunteer Involvement. Both documents offer the essentials of good practice and an audit tool to illustrate performance.  The publication of The Economic, Social and Cultural Value of Volunteering to Tasmania is another example of efforts being made to calculate the full extent of volunteering contributions.

These are small steps to measuring the scale of volunteering, and a start to taking giant leaps to make volunteering visible and a ‘market success’.

December 7, 2014

International Volunteer Day 2014

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 3:49 am by Sue Hine

SetWidth600-Over-a-third-of-the-people-that-live-here-give-here.-No-copy[1]It’s done and dusted for another year, that day when we do all the shouting out about volunteers and the work they do everywhere in our communities in all sorts of ways.

Events took place all over the country.  Various social gatherings, award presentations, a march down the main street of a regional town, and if you can call social media an event there was a field day of on-line interaction.  The stories about the work of volunteers and by volunteers describing their own journeys just kept on coming.  One contributor’s advice was ‘Milk it!’

There were public declarations of thanks and appreciation.  Some statements illustrated why it was this day is important.

National organisation, health sector:

We could not deliver what we do if it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of volunteers. They contribute in many different ways, such as assisting with land and water based exercise classes, volunteering at children’s camps, helping at seminars, working in our offices, being on support groups, supporting us on our regional and national committees, advocating for our services, assisting with our annual appeal, and much more.

Government Minister for Sport and Recreation:

These volunteers – coaches, umpires, referees, the people who wash the uniforms, transport the teams, organise sausage sizzles and clean the clubrooms – they are the heart of sport in New Zealand.  They also have a key role to play in the success of major sporting events.

Another health sector organisation:

About 2500 people have generously offered up their time in the past year, contributing more than 15,000 hours of unpaid work collectively.  That’s a huge amount of time our volunteers have freely given up to shake buckets, help at events, carry out administrative work and speak at public events on behalf of the organisation.

A Regional Council responsible for environmental issues had this to say:

The volunteers have been involved in a range of projects throughout the region and in the past year. They have collectively given more than 26,500 hours of their time to activities such as fencing, planting, plant and animal pest control, building visitor facilities, bird monitoring, litter collection, mangrove management, sign installation and promoting safe boating.  Through our combined efforts in the past year 106 ecological sites, 188.8km of waterway margins and 1449 hectares of highly erodible land has been protected. More than 100 tonnes of rubbish has been collected and many, many thousands of native plants have been planted and cared for.

Hurrah!  Now we are starting to hear what we are thanking volunteers for, beyond their time and $$ saved for organisations.

And then there is the opportunity to put a stake in political ground.  Another parliamentarian wanted to “celebrate volunteers by opposing regulatory burden”:

The current Health and Safety Reform Bill would treat volunteers – even casual ones – as workers, forcing organisations to take liability for the safety of people who have chosen to pitch in for events like tree plantings and disaster clean-ups.  The practical effect of this regulation is obvious: it will be harder for communities to mobilise volunteer action. Ratepayers in particular will be hit hard, as local councils currently utilise volunteer labour for many vital services and initiatives.

We also got a reminder from Volunteering New Zealand and Volunteer Service Abroad (NZ) that volunteering is not just about domestic issues, and how the need to promote volunteering never ceases:

Every year, more than one million New Zealanders volunteer here and overseas, in their own communities and in countries facing hardship and poverty. Their goal is to work with those who wish to improve their lives, and the lives of others, in some way.  On International Volunteer Day, the international volunteering community renews its call for volunteering to be seen as key to international and national development.

At the end of the day I was able to kick back with colleagues from Volunteering New Zealand.  We toasted our achievements for the day and looked forward to imminent holiday time.

Quote of the day comes from the Chair of Volunteer Wellington’s Board of Trustees:

It’s hard to measure the impact of volunteering, but it’s easy to feel the difference we make.

………………….

The image above is by Ken Samonte, for Positively Wellington Tourism.  See more here, especially re volunteering.

………………….

I’m signing off now for the year.  I’ll keep beating my drum in 2015, though probably less often.

November 23, 2014

In Praise of Volunteers

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 3:57 am by Sue Hine

VNZ_IV-Day-2014_Facebook-Banner-FINAL-450x166[1]Coming to your place in less than a fortnight: International Volunteer Day.  If you have not already got a ring around December 5, you need to mark this date now!

IVD is a global celebration of volunteerism, honouring people’s participation in making a change at all levels.

This statement is a tag-line on IVD 2014 website.  December 5 is the day to ‘applaud hundreds of millions of people who volunteer to make change happen’.  The Volunteering New Zealand whakatauki for the day (in the banner above) conveys a similar meaning.

Yes, I know it’s hard on the heels of International Volunteer Managers’ Day, but the two go together, don’t they?  It’s a moot point on which is more important: managers of volunteers will not exist without a volunteer programme; and you will never get the best of volunteer contribution and achievement without a switched-on leader and manager of the programme.

Even then we can run into trouble.  How can we measure the outcome, the effectiveness and the impact of volunteer work?  That’s the question that’s troubling the community and voluntary sector at present.  Counting hours of time delivered, perhaps adding in transport and travel costs as donations in kind, tells us simply the amount of free labour an organisation has enjoyed.  When the hours are translated into a rough (read basic hourly rate) $$ amount we can shout loudly about how much money volunteers have saved us.

That is not real appreciation for volunteer effort, not what most volunteers set out to do.   That is not ‘honouring people’s participation in making a change’.

So what are some better ways to acknowledge the real work of volunteers?  When the question is put like this the answers are obvious:

  • What is the real work volunteers have been doing? Describe it.
  • Add in how this work has contributed to organisation mission.
  • How does the work of volunteers enable higher staff performance and overall service provision? (Please don’t say staff could not manage without volunteers.)
  • In thinking about why volunteers are engaged in your organisation, what has been impressive in the way volunteers carry out their roles.
  • Go to consumers and ask them for stories about volunteers – the school kids who are coached by a volunteer; the homebound older person who relies on meals delivered by volunteers; the guests at the soup kitchen; the person whose cat was rescued from a tall tree by the volunteer fireman.

It’s hard to cover everything volunteers undertake.  But the more specific we can be in celebrating volunteering the better we can demonstrate our understanding of volunteering, and how we value it for its non-monetary worth.

When December 5 comes round I do not want to be disappointed by the raft of blanket statements proclaiming volunteers as the organisation’s backbone, or the backbone of society.  Volunteers are not skeletons!

June 22, 2014

Cheers for NVW 2014

Posted in Celebrations, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 3:38 am by Sue Hine

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From start to finish National Volunteer Week 2014 has been an outstanding success in achieving widespread promotion and acknowledgements for volunteer contributions to organisations and communities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

Day after day sector organisations offered press releases, postings on social media and accounts of events to mark the week.  There was a huge increase in the numbers of organisations going public, and in the range of organisations – the small, the large, the national and the local groups.

 Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te tangata.

(With your contribution and my contribution the people will live.)

This whakatauki represents the fundamental nature of volunteering.  It highlights the cooperative work of individuals and the sharing of skills, knowledge and experience that can make a difference in our communities.  And this is what the published tributes are saying:

Thanks for taking a moment to connect with us

Thank you for your passion, for all your hard work and thank you for your time.  You have helped us keep more hearts beating for longer.

Thank you for making our work possible

We recognise the talent and dedication of our volunteers

Ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference

They say it takes a village to raise a child, by volunteering at Playcentre we’ve found that village.

Then there are the events, the awards and the displays.

There were static displays at public libraries promoting what volunteering can offer and how to connect with an organisation.  There were community fairs where organisations could display information about their work.  The first Employee Volunteering Awards were presented in Wellington, the outcome of another sponsored Corporate Challenge for the region.  In other centres there are certificates of service to be presented, and local ‘Volunteer of the Year’ awards to be announced.

Special mention has to be made for the Wellington Sportsperson of the Year whose work is based on a philosophy of ‘attract, retain, develop’ in working with volunteers.  That’s a pretty good summation of the purpose for good management of volunteers.

Another special mention goes to Kiwibank who went all out to produce a couple of videos on Facebook, on staff who volunteer.  “Everyone contributes”, says one winner, “Giving back is natural, and it’s good to find work values are in line with my own”.

Prime-time TV grabbed a head-start on the week with a news item about Coastguard volunteers, outlining their work and the training involved.  Volunteers talked about why they volunteer and why they stick with it.

Volunteers at VNZ’s office were kept busy compiling a record of all the media items.  If you missed anything you can probably find it here.

So congratulations to Volunteering New Zealand for promoting the celebrations we have enjoyed this past week.   I did not get all last week’s wishes met, but one day, some day in the near future, we might reach a point where shouting out for volunteers happens every day, not just one week in a year.

February 9, 2014

Why Involve Volunteers?

Posted in Best Practice, Civil Society, Marketing, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 2:17 am by Sue Hine

definitionAsk a reasonable question about why volunteers are involved in non-profit organisations and don’t be surprised if the answer is To Save Money!  It’s there in writing as well, in comments about budget constraints which ‘increase reliance on volunteer support’, and in ‘saving on administration costs’.

Annual Reports can include acknowledgement of volunteer numbers and hours contributed translated into monetary value, but rarely any analysis or demonstration of why they are valued and important for the organisation.

This money thing really gets in the way of thinking about volunteers and understanding volunteering.

The people who claim ‘volunteers are priceless’ have not looked at the costs of running a volunteer programme.  Somebody should be adding up expenditure on recruitment and training, provision of support and supervision, functions for recognition of volunteer work, and reimbursement of expenses.  Hang on, why should we reimburse volunteer expenses?  Paid employees don’t get reimbursed for travelling to work, nor their parking fees!

When I hear about organisations saving money by using volunteers I am hearing ‘exploitation’.  To ‘use’ volunteers is close to ‘abusing’ their goodwill, and their time and their talents.

If the budget shortfall really means increasing volunteer support what extra work will they do?  Taking up jobs that used to be paid? That would mean relaxing some of the current rules that limit volunteer roles like a ban on undertaking personal cares for frail and vulnerable people or the constraints of safety boundaries.  And let’s not overlook a potential backlash from worker associations.

What is it that so many people need to understand about volunteering?

For starters, ‘volunteering’ is a modern-day term for an ancient human practice that provided mutual support and protection for the collective group, binding people within their communities.  These days we call it ‘Civil Society’, denoting all those activities that bring people together to pursue their mutual interests.  Volunteering is noted for its diversity and the wide fields of interests, for large national organisations and small informal and local groups.  These days, volunteering is a means for community engagement, for maintaining social relations and stability.  Volunteering is also the agency to promote a cause, to bring enlightenment and create change.

So when we get down to organisation level, to the place that employs paid staff, what’s the point of volunteering, if it is not to save money?  Here are some pointers to finding an answer:

  • At a basic level, volunteer assistance will support staff and enable them to focus on specialist responsibilities.
  • Volunteers help to create a positive image of the organisation in the community.  As ambassadors they can be a real asset, attracting donors and more volunteers, and being the best-ever marketing agents.  (Or, as the worst-ever critics, they could be your biggest liability.)
  • Volunteers can bring new insights, energy and time to the organisation.  It was probably volunteer enthusiasm and commitment that got it started in the first place. So why not harness that energy to develop and trial new strategies or processes, to push the envelope beyond existing limits.  The voluntary sector needs a research and development function as much as manufacturing corporations.
  • When volunteers bring a diverse range of skills and experience they enrich the organisation, and help expand community connections which can extend the reach of organisation services.
  • At best, volunteers offer added value to the organisation’s vision and contribute to achieving its mission.

These are general points, and will need to be tailored to organisation specifics.  More importantly, getting to grips with the real reasons for volunteer involvement will mean you never have to say ‘volunteers are priceless’ or that they save you money.  And, you’ll find the words and phrases to give real meaning to volunteering.

May 26, 2013

The Neediness of Volunteer Organisations

Posted in Best Practice, Language, Managers Matter, Marketing, Organisational gains from volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:36 am by Sue Hine

Help wanted on clothes lineI’m on my language hobby-horse again, this time on why we should be careful in using the word need.

Mostly I know volunteer organisations are established on the basis of responding to a need, whether it’s for kids sport, disaffected youth, family abuse, or for civic and political protest.  That is, people in the community recognise a gap or a flaw in services and decide to step up and step in to provide it themselves.

I can understand neediness when it comes to funding and resourcing operations.  Even the smallest organisation will be looking to cover costs for stamps and paper, and photocopying minutes of meetings, phone calls and internet services.  Maybe membership fees and dipping into our own pockets will cover the deficit, but that may not be sustainable over time.  The organisation might grow, get some traction through philanthropic grants and perhaps a government contract, though the $$ are never enough to cover total expenditure.

Recruiting volunteers is not the first step in developing a volunteer programme, but it’s certainly the one that trips many an organisation, as reported in the Managers Matter research (2010).  It seems the problem is about posing recruitment messages as needing volunteers.

Twice this week I’ve seen promos for volunteers that are more like begging pleas.  This or that organisation needs volunteers – can you help?  Need and help go together, relying simply on reader perception of these words and possible recognition of the organisation’s brand or logo.  Without indication of volunteer roles and responsibilities and without describing the advantages in volunteering for this organisation I am most likely to offer nothing more than a passing glance to such messages.

NeedHelp – and then add Want, to make a triumvirate of words least likely to attract volunteers.  British World War I recruitment posters no longer have the pull of earlier times: volunteers wanted is just another empty plea.  Empty, because no-one is asking about the skills and experience I could offer, nor describing the potential benefits of volunteering with your organisation.  Help wanted is just another banner fluttering in the breeze of volunteer opportunities.

What does work in attracting volunteers, whether it’s through community networks, a website, Facebook or other social media, or via Volunteer Centre brokerage?

For starters you don’t have to use any of the above: you go ask people.  Not because you need or want them to help.  You ask because they’ve got skills and talents that would be really useful; because the organisation is a fun place to work; because they’ve got a programme that supports and appreciates volunteer work – and a host of other reasons to shoulder-tap and get people interested.  There’s a powerful argument posted this week about Asking being the New Telling.  We’ve known about direct approaches to volunteers for many years, and we need to grow out of relying on begging messages.   Here’s another link promoting the direct ask, and you can’t do better than this compilation of ways to turn your organisation into a volunteer magnet.  Or have a look at Susan Ellis’ run-down on the turn-offs in volunteer recruitment.

I wish we could get past the agonising about needing and wanting volunteers to help organisations.  There is so much good advice available on practical ways to find and keep volunteers we should not have to keep on repeating the begging messages of neediness.

When I get past the neediness pleas I know that volunteering is much more about belonging in and building healthy communities.  And when I find an organisation that offers attractive recruitment promotion I will know there’s a switched-on manager of volunteers who knows how and can do.

It’s long past time to turn on a few more light bulbs.

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.

April 1, 2013

Measuring Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 23, 2013

Looking Both Ways

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

looking both ways

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple answer: you get strategic.

Help!  I don’t know how.

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

Where do I start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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