August 26, 2012

Enlightenment (Take 2)

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Managers Matter, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:12 am by Sue Hine

I’m doing a double-take on the word Enterprise. In recent years the word has been thrown around like it is newly-minted. Yet the business of enterprise has been around for centuries, since history began. Business entrepreneurs have driven industry and economic growth for generations. They invented consumerism, though I daresay the global market of people avid for the new and different accelerated the process, and the profits. Entrepreneurs and enterprise have created corporate and multi-national organisations, and, let us acknowledge, contributed to the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) in less-than-honourable dealings.

I am sobering-up from last week’s high at the conference on Social Enterprise. Yes, creating a business that turns a profit for social interests is a sea change from creating wealth for private shareholders. And yes, there are a heap of good intentions and good results in ‘doing good’ and collaborating for sustainable outcomes.

Here’s the Big But:

• I did not hear acknowledgement or recognition of NFP organisations, though their representatives dominated the ranks of those attending the conference

• Volunteering and management of volunteers did not get a mention

• And everybody ignored history

Here are my Reminders:

• Social Movements have stimulated more social change than any corporate enterprise. (OK, that claim could be debated…) I am thinking of organisations and programmes established on the back of global activism in Civil Rights, Feminism, Disability, the Environment and hundreds of others at local community level. Or cast your mind back to early crusaders on slavery and poverty, and to pioneers like Florence Nightingale and Henri Dunant.

• It was Community-based Social Enterprise that created local support services and long-standing organisations and community change – achieved by Volunteers, and funded in the past simply by cake stalls and raffles.

• NFP organisations have been operating Social Profit enterprises since Oxfam opened its first High Street op-shop – though it seems most NFPs continue to rely on philanthropic largesse or the caprice of a government contract.

Operating a charity is not the same as running a for-profit business. Yet financial stability is of primary importance for both sectors. Just think what a community organisation could achieve if it could rely on a sustainable funding stream. That’s where social enterprise could really be Doing Real Good.

And here’s another thing: I read that “strong leadership is crucial for social enterprises”, including a list of recommended attributes:

• Have passion and purpose
• Trust and be trustworthy
• Be pragmatic and prudent
• Share the lead
• Never miss the opportunity to praise and say thank you

Which sounds to me just like the qualities of many a worthy manager of volunteers. When I think about the enterprise involved in running a volunteer programme I would call the managers Social Entrepreneurs. And even if volunteers do not come for free they can reap huge profits in terms of goodwill and service delivery, and in fund-raising.

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July 29, 2012

What if ……?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , , , at 4:57 am by Sue Hine

I have been rabbiting on for ages about the relevance of volunteering and the importance of good management of volunteers in the community and voluntary sector.  I have been on about organisations that just don’t get volunteering, about boards and management that take volunteers for granted, and who fail to recognise that volunteers might be just the true deliverers of organisation vision and values.

Volunteers live the organisation’s mission; they have organisational values at heart; and they put up their hands to work for free without expectation of a pay package or other reward.

What if, I venture to ask, what if we turn running the organisation over to volunteers?

I can hear the objections shouted down the e-waves:

  • The board members / trustees are all volunteers!  Isn’t that enough?
  • Volunteers are part-timers, mere bit-players in service delivery
  • Volunteers are unreliable, take time out, have other commitments and priorities
  • Volunteers do not have the necessary professional knowledge and skills
  • Come on – volunteers are not the answer to everything!
  • Lots of them are merely getting work experience, or fulfilling their employer’s obligations for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
  • Open Sesame to organisational chaos!

To which I respond:

  • The role of Board members / Trustees is governance, overall direction and decision-making responsibility – well-placed to ensure best practice service delivery
  • If you regard volunteers in your organisation as ‘bit-players’ then you do not deserve them
  • Many community services are delivered entirely by volunteers – and highly valued for their standard of service
  • Yes, volunteers are free to come and go: respect that freedom and you get loyalty and long-term commitment
  • When volunteers know and understand why they join your organisation, they are demonstrating the real meaning of being ‘professional’, and all the knowledge and skills that go with that
  • Volunteers are powerful contributors to community development, community integration, and the building of Civil Society
  • And by being exposed to volunteer experience those people engaged for work experience or CSR events are likely to continue volunteering
  • As for the chaos, welcome to tumultuous energy of the world of Management of Volunteers and  the community and voluntary sector

What if, I ask again, what if the manager of volunteers was promoted to Chief Executive?

I can hear the gob-smacked responses from here!  Sure there’s a load of extra responsibility and more things to think about.  But think about it a bit more:

  • The manager of volunteers is well-versed in management and leadership, especially in being responsible for more people than most Chief Executives in the community sector.  [See Susan J Ellis, Non-Profit World 1986, 4/2 – Maximising the Potential of the Director of Volunteers; and 1996 – What Makes the Position of Volunteer Programme Manager (VPM) Unique?  (Adapted from Chapter 4, From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program Success)]
  • The manager of volunteers is creative and flexible; has to be a strategic thinker and really good at time management; has an amazing network of colleagues and game-players to call on, and really good mentor support.
  • The manager of volunteers knows the organisation inside out; works across all service areas; has effective working relationships with senior managers.
  • The manager of volunteers is committed to organisation mission and vision and knows how to engage volunteers to put these into practice.

You might still think I am in fantasy-land.  Not so, if you read Claire Teal’s arguments about the status of management of volunteers:

[S]o many of us seem to simultaneously lament the lack of value given to our role, but also resist any real attempt to do anything about this. In many ways we seem to want to have our cake (a higher value placed on our role) and eat it too (not change anything we’re doing).

This on-going self-deprecation has to be turned around!  If you really object to a volunteer take-over, or to the manager of volunteers becoming your Chief Executive, go read Betty Stalling’s counterfactuals about Volunteer Program Champions.

That is the What If challenge for organisations and their managers of volunteers.  That’s the world of difference a What If question can make.

June 4, 2012

Looking for an Answer

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 4:03 am by Sue Hine

It’s such a simple question.  Quite straightforward.  Should be easy-as to give me an answer.

Why does your organisation involve volunteers?

The thing is, I have put a veto on telling me It’s to save money dummy!  Because I think if that’s the simple answer then why do we employ paid staff?  Why not run the whole organisation on Volunteer Power?  And if you say No way – impossible!  then the ‘saving money’ argument sounds more like that ‘exploitation’ word.

Why does your organisation involve volunteers?  This question is not an idle thought thrown up to make mischief.  Let me offer a few leads to think about.

There are major agencies in New Zealand providing professional emergency services which include significant volunteer personnel.  Think Fire Service, Ambulance, Civil Defence.  Search and Rescue missions are likely to be staffed mostly by volunteers.  The Government’s Department of Conservation includes an extensive volunteer programme.  Yet there are no volunteers wearing a Police uniform.

There are national not-for-profit organisations with annual budgets and turnover and paid staff numbers that put them in the large business category.  Think Red Cross, Cancer Society, IHC and the Churches, for example.  All of these organisations engage large numbers of volunteers.

Why?  Why involve volunteers?

Do volunteers offer something beyond the capacity of paid staff?  Is there something special in the quality of volunteer work?  Is there something unique about volunteers, apart from working for free?

I bet there is no-one out there is saying “The reason my organisation engages volunteers is to help them get work experience, learn new skills, enjoy social connections, or simply because they want ‘to help’”.

Praises are heaped on volunteers, during annual Volunteer Awareness Week, at special functions, in organisation newsletters and in Annual Reports, and in daily ‘thank you’ effusiveness.   Is this recognition a means to engender organisation loyalty, and commitment to participate in the next fundraising appeal?  Or does the praise indicate genuine understanding and acknowledgement of the real contributions volunteers are making to the organisation?

Which are?

I am asking these questions because when you truly understand why volunteers are involved in your organisation then

  • Volunteers are integrated in organisational structure and policy
  • There are no (invisible or otherwise) barriers between volunteers and paid staff
  • Volunteers have a specific function in service delivery: they are not handmaidens
  • Volunteer contributions are acknowledged in genuine and meaningful ways
  • The role of manager of volunteers finds its rightful place
  • And (not least) there will be no more disgruntled volunteers dissing your organisation, and I will no longer find my blog on a bad volunteer experience getting so many hits.

There is a whole lot more that could be said, about history and the evolution of volunteering, about politics and the reality of service contracts, about professionalisation of fundraising (cake stalls don’t cut it any more), and about current trends in volunteering and the rise and rise of corporate volunteering and business social responsibility.  Right now, the important thing is to get the reasoning straight, so the organisation can make more of itself, and so the volunteers make something real of the work they do.

May 6, 2012

Whose Side are You On?

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Organisational gains from volunteering, Role definition, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 1:19 am by Sue Hine

We can talk about management of volunteers forever.  We can have endless conversations that wander through the ins and outs of competence and tasks.  We can venture into the thickets of community issues and political pressures and questions about sustainable funding.  We can do a moan about the lack of recognition for our work (and volunteers).  But it’s not very often that we stop to figure out the fundamentals of the role of a manager of volunteers.

What is the purpose of the role?

Last year I wrote a clear statement:

The purpose of being a Manager of Volunteers is to contribute to the organisation’s mission, to facilitate delivery of services. So my role function is to attract, train and support (etc) volunteers to carry out tasks that will do just that.

Now I want to take the opposite position:

The purpose of the role of Manager of Volunteers is to develop the very best team of volunteers and to ensure they have the very best experience of volunteering.

A good volunteer experience takes precedence over the organisation’s mission and delivery of services?  Yes, absolutely.

So the volunteer benefits at the expense of the organisation?  I knew you would jump to that conclusion!  Let me persuade you otherwise.

Think about developing a team of volunteers.  There they are, knocking at your door, keen to ‘help’ the organisation.  They are a mixed bunch, with a dozen or more different motivations, and another dozen or so skills and aptitudes.  That’s your raw material, and you are not into conveyer-belt production.  Your job is to meet their expectations, as best you can.

So the training programme is designed to sustain volunteer enthusiasm as well as to introduce them to boundaries set by organisational policy and the roles they will be undertaking.  That is, there is a framework to follow, and enough flexible space within it for volunteers to flourish in their work.

The devil for ensuring a good volunteer experience is always in the detail.

Communication is the big No 1.  Follow-up, check in with volunteers, ask them how they’re doing.  Communicate regularly via various media to keep volunteers informed, to help them feel part of the organisation.  At the same time, be visible and proactive in advocating for volunteers with paid staff, including supporting staff who work directly with volunteers.

Continuous improvement for volunteers also needs to be on the agenda.  Volunteers may want to move their skills to another level or to try something different as much as paid staff.  The volunteer who does not ‘fit’ need not be turned away if you hang on to your sense of innovation.  That’s where management of volunteers becomes an art, way beyond the confines of human resource management.  Volunteers are a source for inspiration, not just a resource or an asset for exploitation.

Feedback on performance is as important for volunteers as it is for paid staff.  Get beyond the regular (and sincere) “Thank you” to add positive reinforcement of a job well done:

I was impressed by the way you….

Or try extending skill experience by adding:

Next time you could think about having a go at …. 

This is not just buttering up a volunteer ego, it is demonstrating your confidence in volunteer competence and ongoing capacity for development.

An annual review for each volunteer is another string to maintaining volunteer satisfaction.  Not so much a review of performance as a self-assessment of present involvement and future aspirations – and always including reflection on how to improve the volunteer programme, management of volunteers included.

Don’t forget the exit interview.  That can be another strand for comment on possible improvement and change.  Keeping a record of ‘reasons for leaving’ will draw a useful picture on turnover and levels of volunteer satisfaction, which could be incredibly useful in indicating to senior management and boards on the state of the organisation.

So what is the pay-off?  Why is a good volunteer experience important?  You will get any or all of the following:

Support for organisation mission     ADDING VALUE TO SERVICES            Retention          Loyalty       Commitment                Public Relations

Ambassadors in the Community               CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Volunteers pilot new ways of delivering services          INNOVATION

Volunteers build Civil Society         Community Development

SOCIAL INCLUSION        Service enhancement

Get the best team of volunteers and enable their very best volunteer experience and you will find volunteers contribute OTT to organisation mission and service delivery.  All round there is a Win-Win outcome.

April 15, 2012

For Whose Benefit?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , , at 12:18 am by Sue Hine

The Latin tag cui bono can be applied in many contexts, but rarely do we stop to consider the implications of who benefits from volunteering and in what ways.

Too often we speak in clichés and platitudes, like:

  • Volunteers are the salt of the earth
  • They are the glue of society
  • Thank you volunteers, we couldn’t manage without you

Yes we can measure volunteer contributions by translating hours and inputs into $$ figures which tell me little beyond how volunteers save the organisation a lot of money.  What of the qualitative value of their work and its impact on outcomes?  We really need to find the measuring tool that shows the true value of volunteer contributions to the organisation’s big-picture mission and strategic goals.  There are ways and means, as I suggested some 18 months ago, and there are extensive references listed at Energizinc.

There are two other questions worth considering:

Why do you engage volunteers in your organisation?

Why do volunteers choose to volunteer for your organisation?

Finding some answers could lead us away from the financial cost-benefit analysis to getting some real understanding of volunteering and the kind of social profit it brings, to the organisation as well as to volunteers.

Ideally we should be looking for a win-win outcome on all counts.  Any act of volunteering is a giving process, but it is never selfless.  There is always a quid pro quo, an exchange of something in return for a volunteer’s time, skills and knowledge.  So the real question should be What is the pay-off for the volunteer?

There are practical gains, like work experience, learning new skills, developing new interests.  Volunteering can improve job prospects and open new career options.

The intrinsic benefits may not be articulated well by volunteers.  They can come up with clichés and platitudes too:

  • Making a difference in the community
  • A sense of purpose

Get volunteers to talk about satisfactions and what they gain and they will offer responses like the following:

Volunteering can enlarge social networks and social interaction; volunteering offers a sense of belonging in a community.  Supporting a cause is to participate in creating change, to realise personal values.  The ethic of service can be a satisfaction in itself.  All of these ‘goods’ promote personal growth, enhanced confidence and competence in the work undertaken and a satisfying sense of achievement.  In other words, volunteering is empowering.

Research findings from the Rugby World Cup, and a survey of volunteers involved in the Bay of Plenty clean-up after the Rena grounding indicate similar satisfactions. There are more references at Energize.

So really, the gains, benefits and satisfactions are a two-way street between volunteers and their organisations.  That is a fundamental connection which should not be overlooked.

March 18, 2012

Learning Something New

Posted in Organisational gains from volunteering, volunteer experience tagged , , at 4:04 am by Sue Hine

I’ve never been a fan of voluntourism.  Yes, I know it is a growth industry but I worry about who benefits.  The definition from a comprehensive website suggests this kind of travel is all for the tourist:

The conscious, seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination and the best, traditional elements of travel — arts, culture, geography, history and recreation — in that destination.

I have also heard the stories of people lured to foreign parts on a ‘do-good’ mission, only to find their time and energies exploited in tasks that do not match their skills and interests.  Worse, in my view, is the easy come-and-go of the voluntraveller with limited contribution to the development needs of local communities or organisations.  It convolutes the purpose of volunteering, and when a payment is required for the experience I have to ask if this is still ‘volunteering’.  Of course many voluntour agencies take a responsible approach, offering ‘reality-check’ information and a placement process.  Research studies find positive outcomes for the volunteers in terms of self and career development, but there is little recorded evidence of the impact of volunteering in communities where participants are placed.  And that’s what should matter, specially when governments in developed nations promote or support international volunteering as part of their aid programmes.

As for micro-volunteering – I have yet to get my head around how it works and to add it to my lexicon of volunteering.  Yes, I know it’s convenient for the volunteer and allows for innovative ways to support non-profit organisations.  Yet, again, I wonder about the cost-benefit outcomes.  Can the value of a short-term, bite-sized volunteer task really be worth the management input to make micro-volunteering happen?  Volunteers do not come for free!

Well – I happened to do a spot of micro-volunteering, as a voluntourist, during recent travel in Laos.

I knew about Big Brother Mouse before I left New Zealand, and paying the office a visit was on my list of things to do. Big Brother Mouse (BBM) is a not-for-profit, Lao-owned project, with Lao staff.  Its focus is literacy, publishing books and distributing them around the country, particularly to highland villages.  There were BBM books to be found at night markets and other places round the country, and on one remote mountain road a van sporting the BBM logo went past.

In Luang Prabang I expressed interest in helping young adults with English conversation practice.  That was going to be my micro-voluntourist effort: two hours chatting with a stranger from another culture.  I was assigned to a young woman who wanted English skills so she could better communicate with tourist visitors at her workplace.  We got on just fine, covered a lot of ground beyond the basic personal and family information, and two hours went by in a flash.

One small bit of experience does not answer my questions, but at least I have learned how it works, for one organisation in a developing country.  What made it work in voluntourism terms is the explicit information on the website, all geared for visitors to Laos who could be prospective donors and/or volunteers. On site, staff were clear and firm about expectations.  And I am sorry this meeting was a one-off, because it would be good to follow the young woman’s development.  Extending volunteer commitment is one of the spin-offs of micro-volunteering, but it will not happen this time.  I wonder too if there are any records of progress in language development – is the experience useful for the participant? As the volunteer I introduced myself to office staff and presented some relevant credentials but no details were recorded, nor references required.  (This type of volunteering would surely be subject to some risk management back home.)

So – I have had a taste of two unfamiliar brands of volunteering.  The task process (relationship- building) was familiar, and it was the context that was different.  I will not be chasing further experience in either voluntourism or micro-volunteering, but I will be keeping an open mind and an eye on opportunities closer to home.

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