September 4, 2011

Another Word for ‘Managing’ Volunteers

Posted in Language, Leading Volunteers, Yes but at 4:20 am by Sue Hine

To invigorate the great unpaid workforce of volunteers … it takes more than snappy motivational speeches, persistence and stunning organisational skills.  You need to be a people person.  You need to have the ability to quickly read people’s wants, needs and desires.  If you don’t have this you are liable to lose them.                                                 

 Power to the Peoplein Forest & Bird, Issue 341, August 2011, p31.

There is nothing new in this opening paragraph for people who manage volunteers, though it gives me a glow to see acknowledgement for our management skills in print.  The article goes on to make a tribute to the retiring manager / coordinator of a huge forest restoration and conservation project in the Waitakere Ranges of north-west Auckland.

The achievements of the project are pretty amazing, in scope and scale and specially in the numbers of volunteers engaged.  What interests me are the words “volunteer wrangling”.  This is what (according to the writer of the article) the leader of the volunteers started doing, to redeem the project from ‘organised chaos’.

Now, I know that ‘wrangling’ is something a cowboy does when herding horses or cattle.  You have to ride your horse, whistle your dogs, get in amongst a mass of unpredictable animals, show who is boss, make sure the herd gets going down the right trail.

I know also that wrangling can be an angry disputation, an occasion for haggling and bargaining.  Or you might say ‘wangling’, to win an argument.  The origin of the word is said to come from 14th Century Old German, meaning ‘to struggle’, which injects a new word for what some managers of volunteers experience.

But a ‘wrangler’ of volunteers?

Astute readers will recognise that ‘wrangling’ is not beyond the role of managing volunteers.  There are times in ‘negotiating’ with senior management on volunteer policy or programme details which might become ‘disputatious’.  Running a major event project involving hundreds of volunteers can certainly involve ‘herding’ volunteers into the right place at the right time.

Perhaps it is not a stretch too far to acknowledge we ‘herd’ volunteers to fit specific job descriptions, or to draft them into new positions to fit their skills and interests.  But there are such a whole lot of other things managers of volunteers do to ensure their programmes work well for volunteers and the organisation.  Read the opening paragraph again.

I do not see any banners lobbying for adoption of the style and meaning of ‘wrangling’ into the language of managing volunteers.  But I do like the reminder for minding our language.

August 28, 2011

Volunteering: the Next Generation

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Technology, Yes but at 5:32 am by Sue Hine

Congratulations to Volunteer Wellington for offering an on-line recruitment process for member organisations.  There is an opt-out option, but the up-shot is a facility for direct communication between volunteer and organisation, without Volunteer Wellington’s intermediary role of screening volunteer interests and skills.  VW anticipate the majority of volunteers will continue to come through the current one-on-one interview process.

I sense a modicum of concern expressed in this announcement.  Maybe there is some residual anxiety about the business of real and effective communication.  Maybe there is a sense of responsibility to maintain established standards with member organisations.  By coincidence the newsletter also included an insert from my blog on volunteer-friendly websites, illustrating my views on what makes a website attractive for recruiting volunteers on-line.

The ‘next generation’ of volunteering has been around for some years, though it has not been taken up with the alacrity of a new App from Apple or Microsoft.  Volunteer Wellington has a presence on Facebook, and writes an occasional blog – cited recently as a good example in a US-based webinar for volunteer and community organisations on using social media.

Christchurch earthquakes, Queensland floods and Japan’s tsunami have shown us the utility of instant electronic communication for volunteering and for management of volunteers. The virtue of on-line volunteering is paraded around the world as a tool for enhancing the range of volunteer opportunities.  It is also welcomed by volunteers who seek time-limited do-it-from-home engagements. Micro-volunteering they call it.

Managers of volunteers are reaching beyond telephone conference calls, skype and video-conferencing: we can now engage in international seminars without leaving our desks.  (Just call them ‘webinars’.)  The savings on travel and accommodation to a conventional conference or training programme will not be escaping the budget manager’s eye.

Volunteering New Zealand offers an introductory course on managing volunteers, all on-line.  E-learning is nothing new these days.  In this programme there are six weeks of reading, video clips, weekly assignments and on-line forum participation finally a quiz to test student learning.  Tutor support and feedback is available throughout.  [Disclosure: I am the tutor for this course, and pleased to report student appreciation of content and learning.]

If people remain anxious about the quality and efficacy of communication without face-to-face interaction then let us remember the years that Youthline, Samaritans and Lifeline have been in the business of telephone counselling.  No problem in establishing working relationships here.  And if we have been communicating through the written word over centuries and continue to do so in book-publishing and newspapers, what is so different about ‘talking’ with each other through  the magic of modern technology?

Around the international traps there is much buzz about the new opportunities for volunteering, for managing volunteers and for management training.  This topic was explored last week in a webinar offered by Warrington Volunteer Centre (UK).  A summary is available here, with further links to more detailed information.  Or there is a wealth of good advice and encouragement available from US-based consultant and trainer Jayne Cravens who has been writing about effective utilisation of the internet for more than 20 years.

When you read the evidence, consider the examples, see how simple working on-line can be, you just have to grasp the nettle.  And really, it’s not so prickly.

January 30, 2011

Sticks and Carrots

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Yes but at 7:15 am by Sue Hine

This week I have been reading a flurry of posts on cyberspace on charging fees for volunteers to be trained and engaged in organisations. 

Hooo-eee!  I am coming close up and personal with some concepts of volunteering that challenge everything I thought were important.

I am asking questions, like is a fee-paying volunteer a ‘true volunteer’?  What is ‘True Volunteering’?  Well – that’s a bit redundant, because we know in this day and age how volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, and from several different directions. When I reviewed definitions of volunteering late last year there was never a mention of charging for the privilege of giving time, skills and interest in a community organisation.  It cuts across all the accepted principles of being a volunteer, and I am a staunch NIMBY on this one.   

Why would you want or need to make volunteering yet another user-pays activity? 

This sort of stick appears to be concerned with retention of volunteers relative to the cost of recruitment: a monetary outlay can be an incentive to last the distance of a required commitment. 

Another argument rests on the significance of a particular training programme, and the benefit to the volunteer’s personal and professional development.   Like the skills gained in specialist health and social services, for example.   Well maybe that’s OK if there is a recognised qualification at the end of the programme, and there are not too many agencies that have reached accreditation status yet. 

My major objection is that any compulsory fee for volunteering discriminates against low-income people, and thus limits their ability to be an active citizen contributing to community well-being.  Such exclusion is also limiting for the organisation, narrowing the breadth and depth of experience and vitality it can offer. 

Of course, volunteering has never been cost-free, for either the organisation or the volunteer.   Many a volunteer is heard to say “I can’t afford to donate money, but I can give my time”.  And the value of their time, and their travel costs, and other incidentals.  Others find it too easy to write a cheque and prefer the challenge of real volunteer work.

So if I don’t like the sticks of fee-paying volunteers what are the carrots that will keep them coming and meeting the programme standards?

Good Management! 

It’s all that best practice recruitment stuff: getting appropriate information on the application form; plenty of information about the organisation and the volunteer programme, including expectations; a screening and orientation process that helps the manager and the would-be volunteer see if they have got a good match.   

It’s also that leadership, support, and communication stuff that keeps volunteers in touch with the organisation and on track in their work, making sure they know they are valued and appreciated.  Add in annual reviews, satisfaction surveys and exit interviews and you are going to get such a good return on your investment you won’t need to think about fee-paying volunteers.

Well – we know the real world is not always like that.  Volunteers come and go for all sorts of legitimate reasons.  It does not mean they are lost to volunteering forever.  If they have been exposed to a good experience they can also be the best possible ambassadors for the organisation within their local communities.

That’s what good management and great leadership of volunteers can do. There is no justification in requiring volunteers to pay for their services.

July 18, 2010

Managing Better

Posted in Yes but at 2:20 am by Sue Hine

I have a feeling that a few tips about coping with time constraints are just scraping the surface of pressures facing the managers of volunteers.  So let’s have a closer look at the basics of the role to see how many things we are doing that can be left undone. 

In my view there are three generic functions for a manager of volunteers, looking something like this:

Direct Management and Leadership of a Volunteer Programme 

  • Recruitment
  • Training
  • Support
  • Recognition


 + Liaison and Networking

  • With other staff in the organisation
  • With other organisations in the community


 + Administration

  • Policy development
  • Job descriptions
  • Budget preparation and monitoring
  • Contribute to strategic and operational plans
  • Processing applications
  • Maintaining records
  • Programme Evaluation
  • Performance Assessment

If these functions are just the basics then the role is a huge ask, especially if you are holding other responsibilities in the organisation.  And this is before you even start thinking about the nice-to-do add-ons like getting a regular newsletter going or keeping in touch with all the volunteers by phone or email.  We can also get put upon with extra duties when it comes to a fund-raising event, or when there is a special request for an extra volunteer contribution.  We do it, mostly without complaint, because we know there is no-one else to step up.  Unless you step-up to finding the volunteer(s) who have the skills and enthusiasm to share some of your responsibilities.

It’s not just a matter of being a super-efficient multi-tasker. Managers of volunteers need to be multi-skilled.  Look at the functions above and go figure what it takes to accomplish all those role tasks.

 Marketing / Advocacy / Good Listening /  Attention to Detail  /  Persuasive  /  Group facilitation  / Interpersonal Communication /  Creative and Innovative  /  High level of People skills – good at establishing relationships  /  COMPUTER COMPETENCE  /  A working knowledge of HR management  / Understanding organisations and organisational development   /  Knowledge and understanding of the community sector

These skills are itemised at random, not in any particular order. Nor do you have to take this as a package deal: there is no box around this set of skills and knowledge.  Blimey!  That means the job is open-ended!  Do some thinking, and add and delete as appropriate.  And put some boundaries on what you are doing.

On-going professional development is not on the lists above, but should surely be included somewhere in your job description.  Yet when it comes to the point of attending training courses, mentoring and/or supervision I wonder how many of us skip the opportunities because we “don’t have time”.    

In my Wellington experience there are many people enthused about the idea of mentoring.  But why is there never a rush to take advantage of trained and experienced mentors being available, free of charge?  

The excuse of ‘haven’t got time’ is another way of saying ‘not on my list of priorities right now’.  That might also mean ‘I haven’t figured out what my priorities are’.  

I have not added any comfort on what tasks might dropped off the radar.  But I am saying:

  • Understand the role and function of Management of Volunteers
  • Get to grips with, and get some training in the skills you need
  • Involve volunteers, not just in regular programme delivery, but to enhance organisational functioning

 There are people out there who could do wonders for your sanity and your time management, and for the wellbeing of your organisation and its volunteer programmes.  Go find them, and you will find you are not alone.

July 11, 2010


Posted in Yes but at 6:06 am by Sue Hine

Ain’t it awful – that constant pressure, the competing demands, absolutely no work-life balance.  And certainly no time to browse a blog or read an interesting article.

Not when there are 30 emails waiting to be read, the phone is ringing, an anxious volunteer is hovering at the door, and you are late for an appointment and there’s a report to be written by 8.30 tomorrow morning.

Do I exaggerate?  I don’t think so.  Been there myself a few times. 

So I had to teach myself a few lessons which are worth a read, I think. 

 Because you can’t afford not to have time.   

  1. After two months of running round in circles I took a long hard look at the job description, and reviewed it every year.  Just to make sure what was written matched what I was really doing.  Very early on I got rid of that neat little clause that said ‘any other such tasks as may be required from time to time’.   
  2. I recognised the lack of time was not going to be resolved by attending courses on time or stress management.  It was the complexity of the role, the multi-tasking required – as well as numbers of volunteers – that was the burden.  So I really appreciated the organisational and relationship skills I had learned in household management and parenting.
  3. I learned very quickly how to prioritise, with and without a to-do list.  Once I had ticked off all the little things the load felt lighter and my head was clearer to tackle the major task for the day.
  4. In pre-computer days I was given this advice: Handle every piece of paper only once.  A helpful reminder when it came to managing emails.
  5. I reminded myself over and over:  Seek out the volunteer to help with this task or to take on that responsibility.
  6. Joining the Volunteer Centre lunchtime forums was a great way to meet and mix with other managers of volunteers, a kind of support network we all needed.  Mentoring or supervision is another means of support, and also skill development. 

Because you can’t afford not to have time.   

Because you owe it to the organisation, to the volunteers, and to yourself

Because you are worth it

And – if you want more than this homespun advice, the Energize Volunteer Management Update for July 2010** has some links to excellent websites under the heading Hints from Everyone Ready faculty.  And look for the book The (Help!) I-Don’t-Have-Enough-Time Guide to Volunteer Management, by Katherine Noyes Campbell and Susan J. Ellis.  I wish I had found something like this when I was floundering in my early days.  Read the blurbs and buy it. 

You see – it’s worth making time to look for resources.  There is always something to learn.

And that’s really why you can’t afford not to have time.

** If you are not already receiving this Update you can get the links at 

To receive the Update per email go to

July 1, 2010

Yes, but…

Posted in Yes but at 5:00 am by Sue Hine

It’s all very well to go on about managing volunteers as though it was a specific job, and that’s all they have to do.  Trouble is, there are people out there who have to be multi-taskers in multiple ways.  Consider the following examples:

(1) You are the sole charge paid position for running a community organisation – the philosophy, policy, practice, the volunteers – the lot.  Whew! – in terms of work-loads.

(2)  You have a paid professional position in your organisation (nursing / social work / administration / whatever) and you are delegated responsibility for the volunteer programme along with your principal role.  How do you divide your time?  Where do your loyalties lie?  Another whew!

(3)  Or you might be a volunteer called on to organise a team, a function, develop a new service, and you have no proper job description, and you really need a budget and it would be good to get some advice from someone else in the organisation, specially when you have never done this before.  And hey, I’ve got a full-time day-job as well.  Whew, again!

Whatever the circumstances of your organisation, volunteers need to be well-managed to get the best delivery of services and outcomes for your organisation. 

Which just makes you realise just how important it is to get management of volunteers right.  Right?

Watch this space, and tell me what works for you……..