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.

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May 4, 2014

Volunteer Centre Realities

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Civil Society, Community Development, Politics of volunteering, Volunteer Centres tagged , , , , at 5:00 am by Sue Hine

partnership-trees[1]In continuing the vein of last week’s blog, I am picking up on the distinction between formal and informal volunteer organisations. Because this is where Volunteer Centres might have got a bit stuck between the rock of government-funding obligations and the hard-place needs of organisations and communities, and the wider net of volunteering and community-led development.

Trends of recent decades have drawn the ‘formal volunteering sector’ into the market economy, into competition for services and project funding, has shaped activities to meet performance criteria, and has notched up business practice standards. Read the history of global developments in ‘volunteering infrastructure’ in this e-volunteerism article.

As we know, 90% of ‘voluntary organisations’ in New Zealand are not formally registered charities, and though most of them will have formal structures and purposes many fall outside the purview of government funding contracts. Thus we get a division in the community and voluntary sector, between NGOs and NFPs, even if the former are still non-profit organisations. In this broad-brush and diverse context the question is where best to place Volunteer Centre energies. Are they here for ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ organisations, or for volunteers? Of course in practice all three are important.

Volunteer Centres in New Zealand emerged independently around the country from the mid-1980s. Each one has a slightly different take on their vision and purpose which can be summarised as To promote, support and advocate for volunteering. In practice this allows for working and liaising with community organisations and local government. Supporting managers of volunteers comes with the territory, to ensure volunteers get a good experience and organisations understand and appreciate the work of volunteers. So the infrastructure is there, as a sound base to support volunteering. To offer a rounded ecosystem we should add in the work of engaging with business interests around employee volunteering (and sponsorship), and with philanthropic funders (for Centre funding as well as promoting volunteer causes).

It’s a huge mandate to cover all those interests, indicating Volunteer Centres are running a sophisticated consultancy business. But there are some questions a hard-headed auditor might want to ask:

  • Why should funds be allocated for volunteer brokerage when there is potential for it to be adequately managed through an on-line programme?
  • When national awards for volunteering are handed out how many of them go to individuals or organisations that have been supported by Volunteer Centres?
  • How good are you (or other statistical surveys) at counting voluntary effort? Isn’t it time to get beyond counting to evaluating quality of the effort, and to capture the extent of ‘informal’ volunteering?
  • If 34% of New Zealand’s population are engaged in volunteering, what would it take to raise that proportion to 40% or higher?
  • Advocacy is specialist work – what successes can be reported on promoting volunteering with government (local and central) and philanthropists?

These are the questions Volunteer Centres could be addressing.  See how Centres around the world are adapting to new environments in another article in e-volunteerism.

April 28, 2014

The Volunteer Centre Experience

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Civil Society, Community Development, Managing Change, Politics of volunteering, Volunteer Centres tagged , , , at 12:01 am by Sue Hine

 

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The current issue of e-volunteerism is devoted to the purpose and futures of Volunteer Centres.  I’ve been reading the critiques and the caveats, and the challenges for a sustainable future, drawn from all around the (western) world.

 

There’s a tension between Volunteer Centres and managers of volunteers, say Susan J Ellis and Rob Jackson.  VCs are competing with community organisations for funding; they are not working with basic community needs as much as they could; and they are slow to take up on-line technology that could cut across their traditional brokerage role.  Changing times means VCs need to adapt to shifts in the way the world of the community and voluntary sector (and government policy) works.

For volunteering and Volunteer Centres the discussion is more than interesting reading.  It has spurred me to reflect on my own connections and experiences with Volunteer Centres in New Zealand.

I get to read newsletters from around the country and to keep up with their Facebook posts.  My direct experience is mostly with Volunteer Wellington.  (It is their logo at the top of this post.)  In my early days as a manager of volunteers their lunchtime training sessions were a life-saver, an opportunity to connect with other organisations and to share common experiences – and to learn from each other.  More recently I have facilitated a few training sessions, still seeing managers of volunteers hungry for knowledge and skill development.  Volunteer Wellington’s Employees in the Community programme is a boon for community organisations, not just for the work corporate businesses can offer.  Their brokerage process avoids the embarrassment for managers of volunteers when unsolicited offers of assistance have to be declined – because you don’t have a job for them, and certainly not for large numbers at a time, or the request is to do something next week, if not tomorrow.

I have worked alongside VC managers on the Volunteering NZ project which produced the Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations and Competencies for Managers of Volunteers.  They know their stuff, the organisations they work with, and they whole-heartedly support the role and practice of managers of volunteers.

But how does the performance of Volunteer Centres in New Zealand stack up against the questions raised in e-volunteerism commentaries?

I have heard wary comments about engaging with on-line technology.  The traditional process of brokerage based on face-to-face interviews and phone-call liaison with organisations risks getting side-stepped if there is ready access to an on-line database of volunteer opportunities.  Yet local evidence suggests personal contact and meetings are highly productive for both prospective volunteers and for organisations.

Centres may not be taking full advantage of social media yet, and micro-volunteering appears to be a step too far at this stage.  That’s begging the question of whether they are keeping up with other trends in volunteering, related to generational differences for example.

I have been impressed with Volunteer Wellington’s good relations with local government and their efforts to promote community engagement.  They work hard to build on existing relationships with their members.  But is this enough?  Are they working on behalf of volunteers and volunteering, or for their member organisations?  This is where I refer to the e-volunteerism commentary by Cees M. van den Bos (Netherlands).  He describes the difference between formal and informal volunteering as ‘system world’ and ‘life world’, and makes a case for a broader outlook and strategic development to incorporate both.  Here is the challenge for Volunteer Centres, to extend collaboration and make a shift to ‘community development’ practice models.

Volunteer Wellington’s statistics show they work with a wide age range and a variety of cultures which mirror the region’s ethnic population distribution.  But it seems people of the 60+ age cohort go elsewhere to find volunteer opportunities, or they are failing to get engaged.  It’s a pity the Centre’s record of working with disabled people is not publicly available.

My reflections draw on examples from Volunteer Wellington, though my comments are generalised.  New Zealand’s contribution to the e-volunteerism article from Cheryll Martin extols Volunteer Centre achievements, and their range of activities.  There is much to ponder from other commentators in the article, and nothing is more certain than significant change is imminent.

The e-volunteerism article opens with this statement: “Volunteer Centres are vital to build and sustain local and regional volunteer ecosystems”.   I would like to think our small population and social interconnectedness creates advantages that will sustain volunteer ecosystems into the future.

April 13, 2014

Managing Volunteers: The Extreme Sport?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managing Volunteers, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:07 am by Sue Hine

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A couple of weeks ago I was at a meeting where a consultant trainer in mentoring declared managing volunteers is an extreme sport. Wow! We are up there with all those dare-devils who go base-jumping, running rapids, going higher, deeper, longer and faster in places I would never venture. I know I’ve advocated being adventurous, taking a risk or two, like bungy-jumping, so we can learn from mistakes, push boundaries and seize opportunities for innovation and creative programme development. Extreme sport? That is something else.

‘Extreme’ in a sporting context means Very High Risk, and death is not an uncommon outcome for participants. I have never heard of a manager of volunteers dying on the job, unless you count burn-out and stress-related resignations. So I go digging for more insight into this comment.

A sport is labelled extreme when there are a high number of uncontrollable variables. Yes, I understand how weather and terrain – wind, snow, water and mountains – inevitably affect the outcome of an activity. Combine uncertainty and risk with human errors of judgement and disaster is a sure result.

So how can the job of managing volunteers be included as an extreme sport?

First there is the sheer number of variables. Numbers of volunteers, their age ranges, the cultural mix, the range of experience and skills they bring as well as the roles they undertake, their flexible time commitment – all these are add up to a mountain of detail that needs to be absorbed into the management process.

Then there are the uncontrolled variables. Human nature in its infinite variety means desired behaviour is not always predictable or guaranteed. This uncertainty applies to relations with staff and organisation management as much as to volunteers. Neither are managers of volunteers immune from errors of judgement.

The environment, in this case the community and social and political context of the organisation can also be unpredictable. In a world of constant change how can we be certain of the efficacy of this policy or that strategy and the intended outcome of a particular programme?

By these conditions I reckon management of volunteers qualifies for membership in the Extreme Sports Hall of Fame. Welcome to the club!

You can’t quite see how you make the grade? Sure, you would never find me gliding in a wing-suit or scaling high rise buildings and doing back-flips on a narrow board when I get to the top. But think about the basic tasks for management of volunteers: they are pretty-much focused on minimising risk. Policies and processes to cover recruitment, training, on-going support and communication – all these are designed to ensure the safety of volunteers and the organisation and as far as possible a programme that functions without hitches.

But of course the hitches and glitches turn up, every day. No amount of planning can guarantee a smooth path. Volunteers and organisations, let me remind you, do not run on prescribed channels like cans of peas on a manufacturing production line. So the constant juggling of multiple demands, the flexibility, the political nous, the mental stamina – all desirable qualities for managers of volunteers – add up to create an extreme sports participant.

I have chosen surfing extreme waves as my image of an extreme sport. After all, managing volunteers is about riding the highs and lows of a turbulent environment, and we keep on climbing back on board after the tumbles.

March 30, 2014

All About Community

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Celebrations, Civil Society, Language, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , , at 3:02 am by Sue Hine

High%20res%20logo%20no%20date[1] This weekend ‘Neighbours Day’ was celebrated throughout New Zealand Aotearoa. Two days of street parties, suburban fairs and celebrations – and they will continue throughout the coming week. I went to a party hosted on my suburb’s community marae, Nga Hau e Wha o Papararangi. City Council dignitaries and the local MP attended and addressed participants. There was entertainment and games, a hangi, and display stalls from local organisations.

Why would we need a week-long event to get to know our neighbours? Well, it matters, says the blurb on the Neighbours’ Day website, because:

Through fostering better connected neighbourhoods and more everyday ‘neighbourliness’, Kiwi communities can be stronger and more resilient and the wellbeing of individuals, family/whanau and community will be significantly enhanced.

Yes – I understand the importance of resilience and wellbeing: security for our citizenry is a matter of public policy. Yes – I know we are many generations distant from the days of closed communities and in-grained neighbourliness. But I wish we could pay more attention to what we mean by ‘community’.

That word ‘community’ carries a whole lot of baggage, has thousands of applications and is freely used and abused.

As a generalised reference ‘the community’ is so vague and broad the term becomes meaningless. ‘The Community and Voluntary Sector’ is likewise a broad-brush term, but at least we can understand it in relation to the Public and Private Sectors – though we too often forget that people engaged in the latter are also members of ‘the community’.

Community organisations can talk up ‘Community Engagement’, without recognising they are part of that community themselves. Governments also like to engage with communities to consult on new policies, though the outcome of consultation is not always to the community’s liking.

Let us also acknowledge the diversity of the Community and Voluntary Sector. We refer to NGOs and NFPs, to community groups and associations and to charities.* Let us note that the Voluntary sector serves the community – that is, serves a particular community of interest. And it’s this range of interests that we ignore when we refer to them with the blanket term ‘community’.

Trouble is, says a local political commentator, our sense of community has withered because of diversity. He is referring to the decline of ‘people like me’ sense of community in favour of the unequal relations of ‘us and them’. There we have yet another interpretation of ‘community’ where you can be either in, or out.

Social and political histories point to the division of labour, the evolution of the state, the development of mass urban society as significant contributions to the fragmentation of our sense of ‘community’. At the same time the human aspiration of being and belonging has not gone away. The idea of ‘community’ is a contrast to the impersonality of large scale organisation, whether it is political, economic or social: we use ‘community’ as a counterpoint to the alienation of modern life. **

My Neighbours Day gathering brought out nostalgic reminiscences for the old days, the time before urban migration and mobility of the latter half of the 20th century, before the busyness of modern living kicked in, before health and safety regulations proscribed the freedoms we enjoyed in childhood. There is no going back, even though we cling to the old ideas. Neighbours Day activities remind us there are still new ways to interpret new meanings of ‘community’.

…………….

* For classification of New Zealand’s non-profit sector see this publication.

** See Plant, Raymond (1974) Community and Ideology, an Essay in Applied Social Philosophy London: Routledge, Keegan Paul Ltd.

February 2, 2014

The Best of Volunteering

Posted in Good news stories, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , at 1:17 am by Sue Hine

volunteerism-and-the-third-sector-agent-democracy-38090[1]Volunteers.  They are everywhere.  You wouldn’t notice them in a crowd.  There are no distinctive physical characteristics, nor can they be marked by their age cohort.  They are people like you and me, living like you and me in a community, everywhere.

When they are on the job they can be easier to identify, by the badge or the bib or the branded T-shirt, or the full uniform of a volunteer emergency service.  Except I can’t remember wearing an ID for any of my volunteer positions, apart from stints of street- collecting, the annual fund-raising event.  And that’s the organisation brand being in-your-face, rather than noticing the volunteer giving time and goodwill.

Last weekend I encountered volunteers in two different contexts, and I wasn’t looking at the T-shirt or the name badge.  What I noticed before anything else was the quality of their work and their professionalism.

First up is a visit to a scientific and historic reserve, a place for visitors to explore, to get to know native plants and wild-life, and to see how forest restoration is developing.  There is no doubt there has been huge growth in the 14 years since I first visited.  And all of it started with plantings by volunteers.  Now volunteers are involved in maintaining tracks and predator-free status, guiding visitors, and of course in the governance of a charitable trust that oversees management of the reserve.  Development here is remarkable for the collaboration between at least three different volunteer organisations and the Department of Conservation.

There are no special IDs for the volunteers we meet.  What impresses me is the way they mingle quietly with the visitors, giving us information without being encyclopaedic, helping us understand and appreciate what we are seeing.  All friendly and relaxed – just the right touch.

It gets even better when a volunteer invites me and my two young charges to take a look at a special project to establish a breeding colony of Fluttering Shearwater.  We get to see the chicks in their burrows, and learn about their care. It’s a big commitment for volunteers: the chicks need to be fed sardine smoothies by syringe, on a daily basis.

The next day we visit an aquarium, a popular place to find and handle local rock pool inhabitants and to view tanks of fish from deeper waters.  Volunteers here wear well-labelled T-shirts, and their ages range from teenagers to retirees.  Again they are unobtrusive, yet ever ready to answer questions, to show children how to handle the creatures, and tell them something of their life cycle.  These volunteers know their stuff too.

The volunteers in these contexts are dedicated enthusiasts for their fields of interest.  No doubt newcomers are oriented to responsibilities, and there is a leadership role to ensure organisation protocols are met.   It is this autonomous confidence in their role, and enthusiasm for their work, that I would wish all volunteers could experience.

November 24, 2013

A Letter to Volunteering New Zealand

Posted in Good news stories, Leadership, Managers Matter tagged , , , at 3:56 am by Sue Hine

collab korero

Dear Volunteering New Zealand –

Now that the conference is over and a welcome summer break is on the horizon I hope you are reflecting with pride on what a remarkable year 2013 has been for the community and voluntary sector, and particularly for VNZ.  Indeed, over the past three years progress in promoting understanding and practice in volunteering and management of volunteers has been amazing.

The Management of Volunteers Programme may have been an initial spur through engaging with individuals and organisations across the sector.  It was like we had been waiting for someone to take the lead and provide the forum to plan and implement what we were looking for.  Thank you for rising to the challenge, and for the resulting publications.

VNZ’s enhanced promotion and publicity throughout this year has boosted the core business of promoting and valuing volunteering.  Communication technology has been exploited to showcase issues and achievements, and to publish local and global news.  Attracting volunteers and interns for projects and research demonstrates to the wider community your confidence in volunteer skills and attributes to support your work programmes.

You are illustrating the practice of collaboration and partnership most visibly in sharing office space and in the partnership agreement with ANGOA, Social Development Partners and Community Research.  The Collaborative Kōrero* conference this week was another step in show-casing how working together can produce outstanding outcomes.

It was a bold move to call for questions, inviting participants to shape the content, rather than people like me submitting abstracts on their pet topics.  The Conference Committee did well to distil a programme that covered standard concerns (recruitment, technology, HR vs MV, and measuring impact) yet giving space and a novel approach to listen and discuss these topics in different ways.  I look forward to revisiting plenary sessions on YouTube.  The Kōrero continued outside the workshops, swapping stories and learning from each other.  I wonder if anyone has noticed the conversations were not so much about volunteering, or civil society or fundraising and marketing – the focus was squarely on responsibilities of managing volunteers and leading volunteer programmes.  As the by-line says, “great volunteer programmes do not fall out of the sky”.

I think you would be the first to admit that none of these successes have happened in isolation.  They drew impetus from improved use and scope of technology, on the surge of corporate social responsibility and business volunteering, on developing working relations with government ministries, on (sadly) events like Christchurch earthquakes and the Rena oil spill, and on international connections through attending conferences and on-line networks.

At your AGM earlier this week I was surprised there were no supporting comments from the floor for the work you have done and the achievements that were noted in reports.  So I have taken time and a few more words to express my appreciation.  Of course there is still much to do, and I wish you well for the good ideas that will turn into projects and further successes.

Sincerely –

Your Independent Advocate

September 15, 2013

When is a Volunteer Not a Volunteer?

Posted in Language, Leading Volunteers, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 3:44 am by Sue Hine

definitionAn excerpt from a NFP newsletter dropped into my inbox recently.  The headline read We are not Volunteers.  The author preferred the term unpaid appointees on the basis that such people were ‘nominated’ by community organisations, rather than ‘putting up their hands’ to volunteer.  In all other respects these unpaid appointees followed standard volunteer programme practices in being interviewed, attending a training programme and orientation.  On completion of all this they were gazetted and sworn in to undertake their roles as Justices of the Peace.  That was the bit that put them beyond being called volunteers.

Oh dear – here we go again on the definitions and principles of volunteering.

Are volunteers for emergency services, for surf life-saving and fisheries protection to be deemed a different category from JPs?

For a couple of years a debate on whether unpaid interns are volunteers has been rumbling around internet channels.  See recent updates in this UK post, and this article in e-volunteerism. 

What about the work-for-the-dole programmes, and community sentencing?  That’s ‘compulsory’ work for nothing, people say, not volunteering!

When I give my time and accept tickets for a concert in return is that volunteering, or incentivised something?  Time-Banking raises another curly question: for all its popularity it’s more about exchanging services, a trading arrangement, isn’t it?

Then there’s the business of ‘informal volunteering’, being a family care giver for aged or disabled people, or being a good neighbour.  This sort of volunteering simply goes under the radar, uncounted and unrecognised.  But it is suggested that foster care, which is paid, could be termed volunteering under a ‘moral contract’.

And even if organisations involved in advocacy and activism are not eligible for charitable status, their workforce embodies significant volunteer commitment.

Some of these instances were debated in a panel discussion on the scope and definition of volunteering at the recent Australian National Conference on Volunteering.  Opinions diverged of course, but there was a point of agreement on the way forward:

Overcoming the undervaluing of volunteering is the outstanding challenge

This undervaluing of volunteering is evident in both NFP and Government sectors, said the CEO of Volunteering South Australia/Northern Territory.  Recent research in New Zealand drew similar conclusions.  It does not take much to see the flow-on effect in low respect and appreciation for the work of managers of volunteers.

So debate and discussion on what constitutes volunteering is a very big red herring.  The real issue here is finding a voice that speaks out about the value of volunteering, and I don’t mean in economic terms.  Volunteering is a force to be reckoned with, and we owe it to volunteers and our communities to demonstrate why and how.

The collective “We” includes organisations and their leaders, the movers and shakers in our communities, and managers of volunteers.  By creating alliances and developing collaboration we will find a unified voice, telling the story of volunteers and volunteering like it is.

There’s encouragement to be found in the latest Thoughtful Thursdays posting.  Susan Ellis acknowledges the busyness of managers of volunteers and reviews some reasons why we do not speak out.  The real challenge is to find ways to present volunteering as a vital part of civil society, within organisations as well as in the wider community.

August 25, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

Posted in Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 3:32 am by Sue Hine

This headline heralded the stories of community response to the 6.6 earthquake that shook up Wellington and the northeast of the South Island last Friday.

Some 30% of the population of Seddon (epicentre of the quake) has left the town.  That is balanced by the numbers of volunteers coming in to help with the clean-up of damaged property and to support people under stress.

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In Wellington the ‘flight response’ to the shaking caused a rapid exit of buildings and congregating on the streets.  Frightened people were comforted in the street by other workers, not necessarily from their own workplace.   A mass exit from the city created choked-up roads and the shut-down of the rail network left hundreds of commuters stranded.  That’s when motorists turned up to offer a rides to people trying to get home.  The Wellington Student Volunteer Army got into action for the second time in a month with sound advice on their FB page.

My neighbour was knocking on my door the minute the house stopped its shuddering.  She is not a stranger, but it was good to share what had happened and to laugh with relief that we were OK, and with no obvious damage to our homes.

Volunteers are always there it seems, coming out of the woodwork just when they are needed.  They make great news headlines in times like these.

Yet most of the literature on volunteering (research, reports, conference papers – and the blogs) is concerned with ‘formal volunteering’ where organisations are running structured volunteer programmes.    That’s a pity, because there is a wealth of unpaid work going on under the radar.  ‘Informal volunteers’, the people who help and support family and whanau or community efforts outside the home do not always belong to a particular service or organisation.  They are everywhere, most often doing what comes naturally.

And here’s why:

Volunteerism is a basic expression of human relationships. It is about people’s need to participate in their societies and to feel that they matter to others. We strongly believe that the social relationships intrinsic to volunteer work are critical to individual and community well-being. The ethos of volunteerism is infused with values including solidarity, reciprocity, mutual trust, belonging and empowerment, all of which contribute significantly to quality of life.

This paragraph is the opening statement in United Nations’ State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011This overview makes compelling reading: the ideals might be lofty, but the point is the universal embrace of volunteer participation.

So we should not be surprised at the very human responses to an earthquake in Wellington.  Surely the Christchurch experience has taught us a thing or two about the realities of community relationships: the kindness offered at times of stress is not from strangers but from the people of my community.

August 18, 2013

By Degrees

Posted in Managers Matter, Professional Development, Professionalism tagged , , , , at 8:05 am by Sue Hine

average-temperature-new-zealand-wellington[1]

In Wellington this year the month of July turned on weather that was 2 degrees warmer than usual midwinter temperatures.  Indeed national results are showing this year was the fourth-warmest July in 100 years of New Zealand records.  No-one is yet claiming this result as evidence for climate change – we just welcome the period without dreary grey skies and three-day southerly storms direct from the Antarctic.  The mild weather continues this month, encouraging an early rise of the dawn chorus, increased frequency for lawn-mowing and an abundance of spring flowering – though a couple of sharp earthquakes has shaken any complacency we might have enjoyed.

I have never seen any graphs that track volunteering like weather patterns or earthquakes, not by numbers, nor by demographics or spread of organisation.  Mostly the information is collated in intermittent reports (most recent is 2008) with little comparative analysis.  The best studies are the publications for the John Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project.

It’s the same for managing volunteers, an occupation we like to call a profession.  I’d like to think a graph blue-business-graph[1] of better management practice would show significant progress over the past forty years, mostly a slow and steady upward slope that gets a little steeper in more recent times.  Factors contributing to momentum are international organisations like IAVE, international conferences, the burst of technology that allows global communication in all sorts of forms: electronic journals, newsletters and webinars, bloggers like me, twitter and face-book discussion groups.  International Volunteer Manager Day (November 5) and National Volunteer Week (June) also attract plenty of attention from both inside the sector and without.  Possibly the biggest impetus for programme managers has come from government contracting out services to non-profit community-based organisations (though this move has produced its own fish-hooks).  At ground level Volunteer Centres are right up there offering support and training sessions for managers of volunteers, and the idea of mentoring as a means for professional development is slowly starting to get some traction.

So I think it is fair to claim the practice of managing volunteers is quite a few degrees warmer than it was twenty years ago.

However, there is still a fair way to go in that other meaning of ‘degree’, referring to tertiary education qualifications.  There is no single qualification for management of volunteers, though a raft of training programmes is available, from day-long workshops to on-line courses of varying duration and intensity.  University programmes are offered for ‘non-profit management’, and while they may include relevant material for management of volunteers the focus is generally on organisation-wide management.

This lack of academic attention is compounded by the different training and experience people bring to management of volunteers, and by the scope of responsibilities in the role.  It is not surprising that a lack of an identified career-path also leads to short-term engagements in managing volunteers for a good proportion of our numbers.

All is not lost!  Volunteering New Zealand published its comprehensive document on competencies for management of volunteers in June this year.  There are tools to help determine learning needs, and a long list of opportunities for study at various levels and topics of generic management.  Or go directly to options for assessment of prior learning (APL) which could lead to a formal qualification.

Unlike the debate on climate change I think the evidence is clear for current and future growth in prospects for managers of volunteers, whether by degrees or otherwise.

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