September 28, 2014

Volunteer Effort in Conference

Posted in Civil Society, Community Development, Conference communication, Politics of volunteering, Trends in Volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:44 am by Sue Hine

 

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IAVE is the organisation that exists to promote, strengthen and celebrate the development of volunteering worldwide. At the Gold Coast in Australia in mid-September the 23rd IAVE conference was indeed a worldwide gathering.

Plenary and breakout sessions offered a menu that was both mouth-watering and bordering on indigestible. I could choose between the trials and triumphs of local organisations or listen to the political arguments around structural issues for the sector.

The hot topics for our age were well canvassed. Corporate volunteering, partnerships and collaboration, working with government, marketing and engaging with technology were the popular subjects in the programme outline.

Practice issues did not feature so prominently. Presentations considered engaging with youth and aged populations, with diversity – or rather inclusion, with building communities, and with emergency and event volunteering.  Even less attention was offered to management of volunteers and the importance of leadership, and I heard no voice raised by volunteers themselves.

The message that came through loudest was the tension between government and business involvement in the community and voluntary sector, and sector organisations struggling to be heard and respected as an equal partner.

It seems economic analysis is more important than social policy. *

Comments like this one reflect prevailing political ideology, that economic development is the best route to social development and community wellbeing. Opposition was forthright:

Government does not own volunteers: nobody does!

Government involvement with NGOs is a contradiction in terms!

Western democracy is afraid to cede power to community.  

There were plenty of references to social capital, to capacity building and development, yet never accompanied by objectives or expected outcomes. I should not be surprised.   It seems like volunteering /volunteerism is being colonised by public and private sectors. Efforts to build Civil Society are being subjected to business and government interests.  On the other hand:

What is the nature of engagement we want with government? 

Government should offer enabling frameworks, should stimulate but not step in further.

Yet New South Wales government steps up and funds a Time-Banking programme. By contrast, the UK minister (now former) for civil society told UK charities “to stick to your knitting and keep out of politics”.

However, positive collaboration can happen. South Australia offers an impressive example where state and local government, the business sector and the Volunteering peak body, Volunteering SA&NT have developed a state-wide volunteering strategy designed to bring improvements to volunteer experience.  Read about it here.

While the question of relationships between sectors looks like being the debate of the decade (and beyond), another stream raised important voices.

Professionalised human service delivery has pushed volunteering aside – volunteers are not being involved in decision-making.

What is the real purpose of volunteering?

We need to sell volunteering through telling volunteer stories.

The keynote address at the beginning of the conference, given by the Hon. Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, was an inspiring challenge.  It’s easy to admire volunteering, he said, in schools, in Rotary, in surf life-saving, but what are the things we are not talking about today?  Where are the unpopular causes?  What’s the next big thing?  We all have a duty to defend human dignity.  Responses were pretty immediate:

Get volunteering included in the constitution! (Australia)

Volunteering is the badge of freedom hard won

So it was fitting that a final forum for the conference was about Volunteers and Advocacy – Challenging the Status Quo.  We heard about Every Australian Counts, a campaign for the rights of disabled people, about Australia’s First Peoples and their struggle for inclusion, and about improving conditions for AIDS caregivers in Africa.

Advocacy is about connecting with others – you can’t do it on your own.

Advocates are ‘creative extremists’.

That was a good note to end the conference. There is a lot more to be said, but I have brought home a headful of reflections, and an Einstein quote raised by a speaker:

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

I just have to figure out how to change the way I think!

………………..

*  All statements in italics are direct quotes.

See the Michael Kirby address here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sarXb_aTzuk

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September 14, 2014

Is it Time to Change the Rules?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , at 3:55 am by Sue Hine

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New Zealand’s All Black top-of-the-game rugby coach has earned another headline: Rip up the rulebook and write another! He is complaining about numerous laws of the game and their complexity which gives referees leeway in their interpretation. Spectator fans are infuriated when they see the game and rule infringements treated differently from their own expectations.

Well, I’ve found a rule for volunteering that seems quite out of sync with contemporary practice. Included under a heading Factors which tend to make the involvement of volunteers inappropriate is this item:

Where the work is for the benefit of a profit-making organisation.

OK – it’s not really a rule, merely a recommendation that volunteers in for-profit organisations is not a good look. But what does it imply, and how does it work out in practice?

I guess the ‘rule’ is related to that other no-no: volunteers must not displace paid staff positions. That is, it is assumed volunteering in a for-profit business has to be taking employment from someone else.  Not so, given the unpaid internship opportunities for new graduates in a range of corporate organisations.

Or are we being a bit precious about volunteering, not wanting to be tainted by profit motives? Volunteering belongs to the community, it stands outside the public and private sectors.  Get too cosy with them and Civil Society gets lost – is that what ‘rule-makers’ are thinking?

Let’s do a reality-check with contemporary practices.

Contracts for service provision have encouraged a number of NGOs to become large corporate-like organisations, in which volunteering becomes less central to core business. When budget cuts result in service reduction organisations overlook how volunteer time could be just as valuable and productive as the $$ equivalent.

Sponsorship and partnerships are bringing the commercial world closer to non-profit organisations. Corporate social responsibility has spawned widespread employee volunteering and Not-for-profits welcome their contributions, both practical and professional.   Why should volunteers be excluded from a reciprocal arrangement?

These days many NGOs are setting up fund-raising enterprises as subsidiary businesses. Think op-shops, able to raise significant income through donated goods and volunteer time.  Trade Aid is a NFP, operating as a retailer, importer and wholesaler agency – staffed by volunteers.  Oxfam has generated an income stream from offering consultancy to businesses wanting to move into developing countries.  If there are no barriers for NFPs to run a business which includes a volunteer programme, it does not make sense to frown on volunteer involvement in a for-profit business.

Rest homes and private hospitals have run volunteer programmes for many years, recognising all the different ways voluntary action can support the personal and relationship needs of older people. Yes, the provision of rest homes for the burgeoning aged population is a growth industry, showing significant profits for shareholders.  Volunteers are welcomed in private sector rest homes, in recognition of the ‘added value’ for residents that paid staff do not have the luxury of time to offer.

There is widespread volunteer involvement in the public sector too.   Schools, courts and prisons, conservation services, museums and public hospitals all enjoy significant support from volunteers, sometimes through subsidiary NFP organisations.  Emergency services with large volunteer programmes are operating a public service.  No-one is raising objections here, even though public sector organisations are operating under vastly different conditions from NFPs.

Consider too, those large sporting events, tourist operations and expos run by private event management operators. There’s no question of volunteer involvement in these circumstances – the volunteers become the public face of the event.

It looks like volunteers are engaged in a whole range of organisations across all sectors. Maybe not so much in manufacturing businesses – though Victim Support is on hand as a free service when an industrial accident occurs.  Volunteering is characterised by innovation and flexibility, so anything is possible in the future.  Let’s not short-change the scope and influence of volunteering by holding to a premise which is no longer working.

June 8, 2014

The Business of Non-Profit Organisations

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Civil Society, Community Development, Funding and Finance, Marketing, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , at 2:56 am by Sue Hine

People-first-300x300[1]I nearly bought myself into an argument recently, wanting to defend the claim “Charity organisations are different from a business”.  Now I have done some reflecting and marshalled the points I could have made at the time, as a kind of dialogue with myself.

Of course they are different, given the ‘for-profit’ and ‘non-profit’ labels.  But I have never liked the use of ‘charity’ in reference to non-profit organisations and NGOs.  The word has got too many connotations of ‘doing-to’ consumers/users/clients, as many a for-profit business operates.  I prefer the concept of ‘doing-with’ people – groups and individuals in the community.  When I hear concerns expressed about large nonprofits operating like corporate businesses I have to concede my opponents might have a point.

On the other hand it is not an unreasonable expectation that non-profits operate in a businesslike manner, especially in a contracting environment.  Of course non-profits need to be accountable for their financial management.   They also need to prove their value, to demonstrate outcomes and impact, or in current business-speak, to show a social return on investment.  And yes, they need to establish a strategic plan, set policy, outline the programmes and services they will deliver.

But still I cry: they are different from a business.  They do not exist to make a profit.   They deliver services, they fill a gap, provide for a need, or they offer opportunities for healthy lifestyles and leisure interests.  These organisations bring communities together, engage people in activities and actions outside the market-place.  Collectively the non-profit sector and its associations represent Civil Society, acting as a counter-balance to the weight of the private and public sectors.  Otherwise non-profits get swallowed up in politics and the economics of consumerism.

  • That does not excuse them from governance responsibilities and ensuring practice standards are maintained.

Of course not.  If they are not meeting expectations, if they are not offering an environment for member or volunteer satisfaction then the organisation will fold.  Non-profit organisations are different from businesses in their aims and obligations.  They began with a specific mission, and they hold particular values.

  • But so do business organisations. They are no different in holding statements on their vision, mission and values.

Yes, I am reminded of the snappy mission held by Canon: Beat Xerox!  That competition element is a big driver in business, always looking for that niche in the market, and to improve market share.   That is not the business of nonprofits!  Non-profit organisations tend to live by their vision and values.  In business these can be just words and not treated seriously, as the Enron history shows.  Not to mention the shady dealings of finance companies exposed in the Global Financial Crisis.

Non-profit organisations do not compete, they complement each other.  They are fulfilling particular needs for a specific community, at a particular time and place.  And there is much more focus on collaboration, working together and sharing information.  Businesses work to protect their intellectual property and ensure their bottom line is always a good one.

  • And so we should! If it wasn’t for business and our ability to create profits and pay taxes non-profit organisations would not be ‘in business’.

Now you are getting narky.  And also highlighting the fundamental difference between business and non-profit organisations.  Put it this way: business is about making monetary profits which go to shareholders, the investors.  The profit for a non-profit organisation is the benefits and gains seen in community and individual well-being, and in the contributions of a well-run volunteer programme.  That’s why it’s important that we stay different.

You are still not convinced?  Yes, there is plenty more ground to cover in this debate.  What would you have to say?

 

December 1, 2013

Outsource to Volunteers!

Posted in Marketing, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 3:37 am by Sue Hine

Way Signs "Outsourcing - In-House Solutions"“Outsource to Volunteers” were the words inscribed on a floating pendant at Festival for the Future, a weekend event to celebrate what’s possible, “supporting the next generation to spark & grow world-changing ideas for a better New Zealand”.

Now there’s an idea, I thought, and my mind raced away on the potential for community organisations to outsource work and even whole service delivery to volunteers.  All I need to do is work up a business plan and organise a few contracts.

After all, hospitals outsource food and cleaning services to private operators; local authorities outsource waste collection services; airlines might have aircraft servicing done outside their country of origin; and we are all familiar with local businesses that outsource the manufacture of their products to way beyond our shores, along with IT services and Call Centres .

How could I make this work for volunteering?  It would be a non-profit business for starters.  I would recruit and train volunteers, undertake the whole professional management of volunteers, and organisations would contract with me to supply and deliver their volunteer programme.  I would make sure a contract price included provision for volunteer rewards and recognition, and also allowances for travel – as well as the costs of administration and training and support and so on – and reasonable recompense for my own efforts.  Volunteers do not come for free, you know.

Outsourcing will foster a strong volunteer identity, give volunteers a sense of ownership and pride in their status instead of being reminded of that professional/amateur inequality.  Nor would volunteering fall into the black hole of ignorance and being ignored by management in the organisation.  Outsourcing could make volunteering more visible in the community rather than being confined to particular organisations.  Ultimately volunteering would become an attractive proposition to a wider range of people, and stimulate widespread recognition as well as a broader range of activities.  Outsourcing will also give a manager of volunteers the freedom to apply best practice away from the curbs of restrictive organisation processes.

But would it still be ‘volunteering’?  Sigh.  Such flights of fancy always have fish-hooks.  Worst is the inference that volunteers are just another tradable commodity, even if they do not get paid for their work.  Market principles do not, should not ever, apply to volunteering.  Outsourcing might also expose a shameful concession that volunteer programmes are not part of an organisation’s core business.

My ideas also cut across some of the present work of Volunteer Centres.  Many organisations would never dream of letting an outsider take over ‘their’ volunteers.  There could be practical objections when it comes to specialised services like emergency services, telephone help-lines and befriending programmes.  Some people will protest that outsourcing changes the whole flavour and meaning of volunteering.

But think about it. Think about the words ‘outsource to volunteers’.  They do not mean ‘replace paid staff with volunteers’, nor ‘let’s exploit volunteer willingness to help’, and nor do they imply ‘volunteers can do anything’.  But they do encourage me to think about extending volunteer responsibilities and developing new initiatives that would add value to organisation services, or to trial new ways of operating.

My realist head is now seeing ‘outsource to volunteers’ as a simple slogan to remind us of the wealth of goodwill, of talents and experience, that volunteers bring to any organisation – and why we should place high value on their services.  If we forget that then our organisations and our communities are the poorer for it.

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.

February 10, 2013

Marketing a Volunteer Programme

Posted in Best Practice, Marketing, Professional Development tagged , , , at 2:48 am by Sue Hine

Content-MarketingI am old-fashioned enough to still be a regular reader of a daily newspaper, one that has not yet turned to tabloid format.  I reckon it’s a more leisurely way to get my fix of the news.  That includes a browse through the business pages: I look for the columnists who can explain the economy or market trends in plain language.  Often there is good advice for retailers and entrepreneurs.  And the funny thing is, the recommendations could apply equally to NFP organisations.

Marketing and fundraising, for example, are important features of contemporary NFP business plans.  There’s a lot of competition for the charity dollar, and gaining sponsorship or partnering with a for-profit business can require a delicate courtship ballet and some well-honed promotional skills.  Here‘s what is recommended for small retailers and for-profit enterprises:

  • Do everything you can to improve your online presence, website and strong social media representation. 
  • Tune in to today’s market – expectations are changing. 
  • Make sure you include ‘stepping stones’, a range of products and price affordability.
  • Make shopping trips an ‘occasion’ filled with experience, service and old-fashioned hospitality.

It does not take much to translate this advice for promoting a volunteer programme:

  • Get cracking with regular social media entries and pics; make sure the website is specially volunteer-friendly;
  • Heed the current trends in volunteer profiles and adapt to changing expectations;
  • Offer a range of volunteer and donor opportunities and defined commitments; and
  • Remember that quality ‘customer service’ can extend to volunteers as well as service users, and to all organisation relationships.

All familiar stuff we have been talking up for a while now – right?

Trouble is, the ascendance of marketing and fundraising in our sector is pushing volunteering aside, ignoring the potential returns on comparatively low-cost investment in volunteer skills and time – and overlooking the salary costs for those well-paid marketers and fundraisers.  Some of the tales that come to my notice – the shoddy treatment of volunteers by fundraisers, or the last-minute engagement of the manager of volunteers for organising an event – demonstrate a kind of discrimination against volunteering, not to mention the exploitation of volunteer goodwill.

So it has never been more important to get switched on to principles of marketing, to pushing barrows and proclaiming achievements, and to demonstrating the value of our volunteer programmes.  I’ll bet the carpet-bag of management skills carried by volunteer leaders will include patience, tact, empathy, assessment and negotiation – all attributes extolled for fundraising and marketing.  I reckon we could teach those teams a thing or two.

We just have to get out there and do it.  Now!

If you think you need a leg-up to get started just get yourself to the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management in Sydney, March 20-22.  Quite simply, and honestly, it is the best ever opportunity for professional development in managing volunteers, being simultaneously challenging and supportive, and fun.  Try it, and see for yourself.

January 20, 2013

Prospecting for a New Year

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Annual Review, Best Practice, Managers Matter tagged , , , , , , , at 3:43 am by Sue Hine

Happy-2013[1]  It’s that time of year for reflection, to look into the pool of 2012 and to assess the prospects for volunteers and their managers in 2013.

Looking good from last year was the continuing increase in numbers of volunteers, especially from youth cohorts. There was a lot more corporate volunteering too.  I was heartened by the increased support and recognition for International Volunteer Managers’ Day (November 5) and for International Volunteer’s Day (December 5).  And it seemed there was greater and more effective use of the e-waves than previously – for recruiting volunteers, for creative news reporting on volunteering, and for producing better and brighter organisation websites.

Volunteering New Zealand stepped up with the publication of Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations, outlining a steer on supporting managers of volunteers, getting the best from a volunteer programme and enhancing organisational attraction for volunteers and paid staff.  I am looking forward to the next publication, the Learning and Development Pathway for managers of volunteers.

But there is no time to rest on our laurels.  At the top of the search list for my blog, again, is Bad Volunteer Experience.   Again, it shows how many people miss out on good practice in management of volunteers.  More disheartening are the continuing accounts of raw deals for managers of volunteers, overburdened and under-appreciated, by organisations that should know better.  So work on promoting and educating on the basics – the essentials – of managing volunteers will continue to be a priority in the coming months.  Business as usual, you might say.

I picked up some signals last year that are going to be my worry-beads for 2013. I am not alone in my concerns:

Volunteering is becoming more transient, more promiscuous, more blurred

Convergence between NFPs and the business sector is not the panacea for all ills

Volunteering is an unloved child generally but was particularly so in 2012

Volunteers are demanding to be led – not managed 

Resources are being drawn away from volunteering for investment in fundraising

These quotes come from different sources and could all be placed under the rubric of The Great Unsettlement.  Here are the features I reckon are the ‘big-picture’ issues:

  • Corporate social responsibility has spawned corporate volunteering, and also sponsorship and partnerships with NFP organisations.  Good stuff, and sensible in cash-strapped times.  Except there is potential risk to maintaining organisation branding and identity if relations with a corporate business are not well-managed.  Worse is the way volunteering and the management of an ongoing volunteer programme seem to be sidelined in preference to scoring big business patronage.  This is particularly evident in marketing and managing fundraising events.
  • ‘Social enterprise’ has risen in popularity stakes as a business model for social outcomes.   Yes, good for the national economy, and more sexy than ordinary everyday volunteering – which (if you need reminding) has promoted social outcomes for generations.  I sigh, because the definition of volunteering is up for debate, again.
  • Government out-sourcing of social services has turned many NFPs into NGOs over the past 30 years, introducing an active if unequal interface between government and community.   Proposals for new models of funding such as social bonds will put a whole new agenda in front of many organisations, again challenging the place and the contribution of a volunteer programme.
  • Accountability, the business of measuring performance, not just inputs and outputs in dollar terms, has been around for a while now.  The current attention to Social Return on Investment (SROI) is more serious, more intense and we’d better get to know about it.  Except the impact of human service delivery is difficult to formulate, expensive to administer, and risks turning volunteering into a commodity.

The political and economic environment rules – OK?  So it seems, and in the process that part of social structure that is called Civil Society, or the Third Sector, or simply ‘the community’ becomes marginalised.  What’s a manager of volunteers to do?

Top of my wish-list for this year is to get beyond the hand-wringing and to turn questions of ‘what can we do?’ into ‘how do we get there?’  Notice how ‘we’ reminds us of the collective and the collaborative approach to action.  There is the stimulus, to seek out allies in local networks and to enlist support from the progressive organisations that were pilots for the Best Practice Guidelines.  Take some leafs from marketing and fundraising strategies: cultivate news media contacts, and never let up on social media plugs.  Become social entrepreneurs in the sense of community-building for social innovation, for volunteering and volunteer organisations.

There are already pockets of volunteering enterprise in various communities.  Just think what volunteering could become if we stitched those pockets into overalls.  There is our challenge for 2013: to gain a stake in the future we need to stake a claim, on our terms, for the territory of community and for volunteering.

October 21, 2012

An Opportunity Missed

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Organisation responsibilities, Professional Development, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:06 am by Sue Hine

There are a lot of disappointed people around the country this week.  There were just not enough of them to prevent cancellation of the conference planned by Volunteering Auckland for the beginning of November.

Let’s Get Connected aimed at bringing together people from across sectors – community, business and government – to listen and discuss topical issues relating to volunteering.  Just what we needed in times of change.

Just what we need when every day there are new stories about business sponsorship and partnerships with NFP organisations.  Just what organisations need, in order to get to learn more about social enterprise.

There has never been a better time to Get Together, to take the opportunity to sit at the same table and to listen and learn from each other.  Getting community, business and government together could have kick-started new relationships and collaboration.

We have missed out because registration numbers were too low.  Because, it is said, there is little money available for training and development in the current economic climate.  I hope reference to the recession is not a euphemism for organisations giving low priority to a conference related to volunteering and managing volunteers.

That would mean a big mistake as well as a missed opportunity.  It’s also a bit of a worry for future conference planning.  Prospective sponsors and funders may look twice at a group that could not muster the numbers for a conference in their own best interest.

In the UK one writer refers to present state of the third sector as a ‘great unsettlement’.  Certainly in New Zealand there are signs of potential transformation.  The government’s Better Public Services report promotes a focus on results and outcomes, greater efficiency and effectiveness, and getting value-for-money.  A responsible businesslike approach for the 21st century you could say – with an inevitable flow-on impact on community organisations providing services under government contracts.

Streamlined contracting arrangements are to be welcomed for reducing compliance costs and duplication.  Meeting conditions of provider capability, and more rigorous performance measurement will undoubtedly test organisational capacity to meet new arrangements.

This is no time to doubt community resilience, responsiveness and volunteer readiness.

This is where forging connections with business and social enterprise, as well as government, could stimulate new models of development in community organisations.  There’s a helping hand in a new report offering information and tools to help businesses and charities work better in partnership – produced by the government’s Department of Internal Affairs.  Let’s Get Connected, indeed!

In real life we can curse a bit when we miss a travel connection: it’s simply a frustrating delay till the next bus (or whatever) comes along.  But missing an opportunity to consider new ideas and new ways of operating is like leaving the rugby field open for others to score all the tries.

June 10, 2012

The Changing Volunteer World

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Professionalism, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:06 am by Sue Hine

Nothing can be certain, said Benjamin Franklin in a letter written in 1789, except death and taxes.  I am surprised he did not include ‘change’ in his aphorism.  He lived through a fair bit of historical change himself, in his enterprising career and as a Founding Father of United States, and he must surely have seen what was coming to France when he wrote his letter.

Well – change in the not-for-profit sector, and in volunteering, is all around the world at present.  I read the exhortations for managers of volunteers to get up to speed with social media – for everything from organising fundraising events to volunteer recruitment, and for regular organisation promos.  And for networking and conversations on common interests for managers of volunteers.

I read about the impact of generational differences and the statistics on who volunteers and what for and why.  Short-term, time-limited assignments please.  A specific focus, relevant to my skills. Or please, some work experience that will get me a job (when you give me a reference).  There are significant increases in prospective volunteers out there.  They are clamouring for roles – particularly the younger age groups.  And despite the huge bubble of older people, the baby-boomers, newly retired, this cohort is not rushing to fill the ranks of volunteers.

There is no denying the global financial crisis (GFC) is creating change, forcing governments to downsize, to rethink priorities for community support and development.

Change is coming from another direction too: the ethos of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is generating waves of corporate volunteering.  Corporates are going beyond conventional sponsorship and funding grants: active partnerships with non-profits are being pursued.  Even ‘Philanthropy’ gets a new connotation, loses its original glow of generosity, munificence and beneficence.  Now philanthropy is about venture capital for social change.

A whole new way of looking at the community and voluntary sector is evolving.  The social value of volunteering is increasingly seen in economic terms.  We trumpet the significant contribution volunteering and the NFP sector makes to GDP.  We are trying to improve reporting on volunteer impact beyond numbers and hours and donations in kind.  We look for ways to measure the social return on investment (SROI) in volunteering.  The word ‘social’ starts appearing in front of words I thought only bankers and accountants used: capital, innovation,  investment – and even New Zealand’s OCVS has a raft of papers and information social finance and social enterprise.  What will these terms mean for volunteers and
the community sector?  They sound good, but will they really do good?

Well – if we want to get volunteering and management of volunteers properly appreciated and recognised by those holding the purse-strings, then we need to learn and understand this language.  We need to be able to promote our causes and to argue our cases on an equal footing.

Yet in all the heady engagement between the not-for-profit sector and business and government, and with current trends in volunteering, I have not seen specific comment on the future for managers of volunteers.  Yes, we need to ride with changing times, adapt programmes to fit with the expectations of new generations of volunteers, be flexible innovative, creative.  But no-one has raised a direct question of what an alliance between public, private and community sectors might mean for managers of volunteers, and what will happen to volunteering further down the track.

What if CSR becomes the dominant source of volunteers, a formal process that may require a different style of management?  Different from the basic model of engaging individuals who want to ‘help’ add value to an organisation’s services?

That’s when managers of volunteers need to rise to Rob Jackson’s challenge: instead of organisations headed by “someone who knows how to make money … what we need is people-raising skills” (my emphasis).

We have been people-raising for several decades.  We have adapted to major change in the past.  Let’s demonstrate for the new era the know-how and can-do of our management expertise.

April 22, 2012

Minding Our Values

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice tagged , , , , , , at 4:12 am by Sue Hine

It’s always enlightening to bone up on organisation missions and visions.  The office reception or the organisation’s website or letterhead is the place to go.  That’s where I also look out for the values, the words that act as the moral compass to guide the organisation’s operation and practice.

Many NPF organisations claim they are Values-Driven, drawing on their foundation manifesto.  But organisation values are not exclusive to our sector.  Basic manuals on organisation development will include reference to the importance of developing a Mission, Vision and Values.  Corporate businesses and government departments can spend time and a lot of $$ pinning the right words and statements to their mastheads.  The mission describes the intention of an organisation’s design and plan, and the vision defines the desired end-state.  The values express ends and means underpinning both mission and vision.

That is, the abstract words that name our values become real in our behaviour, the way we do business and in our relationships.

One writer* calls values “the DNA of an organisation, the glue that holds culture, leadership and strategy together”.  So even if there are no values identified they will be operating under the radar.  Much better to have them up front.

Many an organisation has failed because it got diverted from its mission and the vision got blurred. But none failed so spectacularly as the energy corporation Enron, in 2001.  Engraved in granite at head office reception, Enron’s values were Communication, Integrity, Respect, and Excellence – decorative words that came to be a false deal in the company’s business practice.

This cautionary tale might be an extreme example, yet is a reminder to pay attention to organisational standards and everyday practices.  And to go about identifying values if not already established – involving all staff and volunteers.

Choosing particular value-words is the fun part. What does this organisation stand for?  What words represent the way we want our mission and vision to be understood?  And more particularly, what words will inform our actions and behaviours?  Yes, but value-words are abstracts that have no substance until we put meaning and actions to them.  And then we have to understand how commitment to a particular value can operate on a continuum: people will put different weights to the meanings, depending on their own beliefs.

Let’s take Respect as an example. A discussion might go something like this:

Q:        Why have we selected this value-word?

A:        Because … we believe in the fundamental dignity of all people; people have rights; we are a people-centred organisation; because it fits with our mission.

Q:        How can we live up to this value?  How can we demonstrate ‘respect’?

A:        We listen, actively; we want to empower others; we answer messages and queries promptly; we can agree to disagree; we accept differences.

Clearly such questions involve extensive discussion of the ‘makes you think’ kind.  Values then become embedded in organisation planning and policies and operations.  Values will be on the agenda in recruitment interviews.  And the pay-off will become evident in organisation culture, staff and volunteer cohesion, and flow on to reputation in the community.

This piece is a very brief introduction to the business of values.  A recent UK survey of NFP organisations will take you a bit further, under the title To Practise what we Preach.  Exactly!

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* Henderson, et al. (2006) Leading Through Values: Linking company culture to business strategy.  Auckland: HarperCollins.