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.

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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.

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.

May 12, 2013

A Shift in the Wind

Posted in Civil Society, Impact Measurement, Politics of volunteering, Role definition, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 5:35 am by Sue Hine

sailing-3[1]Earlier this week Volunteering New Zealand issued an invitation on FaceBook to consider the ethos of volunteering and the meaning of ‘giving time’ for the common good.  It was in response to a news item about Christchurch youth who had pledged four hours of volunteering in return for tickets to a music festival –The Concert – held late last year.  Except around 600 pledges have not been fulfilled, and according to the terms and conditions of the pledge (clearly stated) they are to be named and shamed.  They can expect to be outed on The Concert’s website.

There is absolutely no doubt the people who have participated in Student Army projects deserve recognition and a thanksgiving for the work they have been doing in quake-ravaged Christchurch.  From all accounts the concert was a great success.

The website includes clear information on whys and wherefores, including a FAQ section which defines volunteering as performing a service freely and for no charge.

Here’s the rub.  There may be no fees for volunteering, though there is always an opportunity cost for the donation of time.  The pay-back for that time can be offered in a huge number of ways, from a regular smile and ‘thank you’ to formal functions and speechifying, not to mention a lot of feel-good factors and personal gains.  But to offer a tangible (and highly desirable) carrot suggests the volunteering response is not given altogether freely.  What to do when the offer is not fulfilled?  Just let it go and mumble-mumble about free-loaders, or do the public name-and-shame?  To be fair, the 600 unfulfilled pledges represent only 7.5% of the 8000 people who created 50,000 hours of volunteer service.  And if they are outed, will public humiliation put them off volunteering for ever?  Will that matter?   Is going public with non-volunteering so different from the bad-mouthing that a poorly- managed volunteer programme can attract?

Alternatively, will volunteers elsewhere now expect enticing carrots when they offer their time, something a bit beyond the annual Christmas party?

Let me add these questions to voluntary sector conditions I have been noting in my posts in recent months:

  • A Register for violations of Volunteer Rights is suggested for Australia.  (Leading to a Union of Volunteers, as one comment has suggested?)
  • A major event is politicised to create a legacy for volunteering, to the point where £5million Lottery Funds are allocated “to be spent on Olympic inspired volunteering schemes”.
  • New ways to fund and provide social services (Social Bonds, Social Finance) are being discussed, without consideration of volunteer input.
  • Lack of understanding and appreciation of volunteers and the potential of volunteering are highlighted in recent academic research.
  • The focus on measuring social service impact and outcomes is not doing any favours for volunteering, specially where the quality of relationships makes the critical difference to outcomes for individuals.
  • The rise of Obligatory Volunteering is also evident, including internships, compulsory community service and conditional welfare entitlements.  Which is where the Christchurch Concert pledge fits in:  ‘free will’ is not so free after all.
  • Corporate responsibility and ‘workplace volunteering’ can sometimes be more self-serving than real social responsibility.
  • In addition we should take into account trends in volunteer preferences, like micro-volunteering, time-limited and task-focused assignments, and time-banking.

There we have a heap of shifts in practice to impact on the ethos of volunteering, and many of them influenced by Government directives.   Government is even supporting a new approach to community development with funding and advice.  It is disappointing to see how the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector is ignoring the long history and proud achievements of ‘community-led development’ that happens without any form of government intervention.

So it seems the ethos of volunteering has enlarged its sphere to include more formalised, more structured practice, and a variety of practice modes.  Volunteering is certainly less central to service delivery for many NGOs than the volunteering I grew up with, decades ago.  That’s OK – nothing is forever, and I’m getting used to living with constant change, in organisations and in volunteering.

But, and it’s a big but: formalised volunteering programmes, complete with policies and professional management of volunteers, are pretty small bikkies in NFP statistics.  Ninety per cent of volunteer organisations in New Zealand do not employ paid staff.  Think about it: that’s close to 90,000 organisations that do their own thing, working in their communities for the common good, and doing good, pitching in where needs must, scratching for funds, and keeping  their services going anyway.

So the ethos of volunteering, performing a service freely and for no charge, has not gone away.  It has just got a bit larger.  Denouncing volunteers who do not fulfil commitments is not yet within the boundaries of regular practice, not yet in the spirit of volunteering, even though volunteers are free to tarnish an organisation’s reputation if they don’t get the experience they expect.

As any yachtie knows, a shift in the wind means you have to trim the sails, and adjust the course to make the most of the wind-power.  That’s the excitement of sailing, being at the mercy of wind and ocean currents, and mastering your way around these forces.  Volunteering can shift with the wind too, yet will keep enough of its core to maintain a true course.

March 10, 2013

Breaking Bounds

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Motivation, Organisation responsibilities, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 2:57 am by Sue Hine

DSC06810Last weekend I followed my Sunday habit to visit the fruit and vegetable market held at the local primary school.  You have to admire the enterprise of schools these days for hiring out their space and facilities to Churches, Sunday sports for kids, and for the market.  That’s what you have to do to maintain a cash-strapped “free” education.

At the school entry I encountered a woman struggling to open the security gate.  The gate had been a puzzle for me on previous weeks but I had it sorted now.  I opened the gate for the woman and remarked “We never had to master this sort of barrier when we went to school”.  The woman nodded vigorously, acknowledging both the import of my comment and our shared age bracket.

I went on up the path, the back entrance to the school.  There was another security gate to gain access to classroom areas and the market stalls.

The gates were not so big they could not be opened by the average-sized six or seven year old child standing on tip-toes.  They offered more of an impediment than a barrier, and certainly no real obstacle to adult visitors.  But when a couple of four year old boys leave their day-care centre their adventure is called an ‘escape’.  From what, you might ask.

I start thinking, again.  I am really bothered that we have become so dependent on legislation and regulations around hazards and safety precautions that kids these days never get to use their instincts for self-preservation, never learn to evaluate risk and the limits on their own capacity.  It’s all done for them by adults who bend over backwards to ensure nothing bad happens.  No wonder teenagers think they are bullet-proof when they get behind the wheel of a car, or get tanked-up to go on the town.

The community sector is also plagued by regulation, as I described a few months back.  Volunteers are known to become tetchy when restrictions seem unreasonable.  Over the past ten years I have noticed a creep of limitations placed on the roles and tasks of volunteers: can’t have them doing personal cares for people in a clinical setting; huge risks if you let volunteers loose on Facebook; volunteers are not the same as staff; can’t ask them to do extra; but we’ll keep them on to work the phones and do the cleaning.

I exaggerate, just a little.  For all the stories of restrictions there are also accounts of volunteers going beyond the call of duty, and many times we can see how collective volunteer actions have created a community fabric.

You see, that’s the bounty of volunteering.  Volunteers get up and go, they can experiment with new ideas and different ways of doing things.  They see a need or a gap in community services and they are free and flexible enough to devise an immediate and sometimes a long-term response to the presenting problem.   They are risk-takers, big-time.  That’s how our major NGOs and NFPs got started in the first place – read their histories.

So please, do not wrap volunteers in cotton-wool.  Give them credit for intelligence and sensitivity and responsibility, and especially for their humanity.  Give them space to be innovative and creative in the best tradition of community development.  And remember that ‘humanity’ involves trust and respect and dignity – qualities that are never going to be measurable in pursuit of volunteer impact, yet can be diminished by over-regulation.

Perhaps I should have titled this piece ‘Stretching Boundaries’.  I do not wish to make light of school security, nor of the tragedies that have created the armoury of protection for students and stringent screening for visitors.  Nor am I suggesting volunteering should be turned into a laissez-faire free-for-all.  I just want to make sure that too much bureaucracy does not shut down the whole point of volunteering.

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.

August 26, 2012

Enlightenment (Take 2)

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

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

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

Here’s the Big But:

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

• Volunteering and management of volunteers did not get a mention

• And everybody ignored history

Here are my Reminders:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 19, 2012

Enlightenment

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Conference communication, Language tagged , , , , at 4:47 am by Sue Hine

There were two days this week of intensive concentration. Two days of learning new ways of expressing old ideas, two days of interpreting new inspirations for a new age.

There were two events: one was a national conference, and the other a brief breakfast session at Parliament hosted by Jacinda Adern MP, on behalf of ComVoices. Both covered common elements: community engagement and citizenship; the business of funding community projects and enterprise; and different models of operation.

Nothing is forever. We live in a world of constant change. There’s something new every day. Yes, I know all the clichés. But there is something more going on here.

The meanings of ordinary words are revitalised:
Citizenship is you and me and the responsibilities we have to our community and to each other;
Participation is being engaged in our communities and networks, and engaged in the process of change;
Sustainability is creating something that is not just a one-off attempt, and it is also the big word in better management of our environment;
Collaboration and Partnership will drive the operations of community groups in times of austerity; and are the key facilitators in developing a social enterprise.

Hackneyed terms and phrases are revisited and rephrased:
• The old catch-cry of Making a Difference morphs into Doing Real Good, implying there are tangible results in what you do. (And begging the question of defining what we mean by ‘Real Good’.) Well, we are learning fast about outcomes and results-based funding conditions.
Community gets to be described and understood as a philosophy, a collective value, and not just a blanket neutral term for everyone out there, or the generalisation for why our organisation exists. There are many different forms of ‘community’.

When we turn these words and ideas into action there is a whole new vocabulary to learn, and new ways of doing business. The new vocabulary begins with Social Enterprise, and the new business model is based on collaboration and partnership between business, philanthropy, government agencies and communities and community organisations.

That’s the beauty of the new ways of thinking: we can escape from our silos of Public, Private and Third or Non-Profit Sectors (and eliminate perceptions of community as third-rate, or non-anything) to find the new view and new solutions. It’s happening now, somewhere close to you. Go find out more, and be a part of the change. Or read about the international trend for NGOs to embrace profit-making social enterprises.

Going on three hundred and fifty years ago there was an earlier Enlightenment, a period of awakening in Europe, of the beginnings of formal science, philosophy, economics and the rise of capitalism and industrialisation. It was also called the Age of Reason, because it was argued that rational thinking provided more answers to the mysteries of life than religious beliefs. One of the facilitators of this new age was the invention of the Coffee House, where you could enjoy the new stimulant brought by the merchant traders from Africa and South America. Here was the place where intellectuals met to discuss the issues of the day, to form political policies and to plot the French Revolution.

Next time you go to a business meeting at your favourite café give some thought to how your discussion might influence the new Enlightenment.

July 29, 2012

What if ……?

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

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

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

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

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

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

To which I respond:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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