July 24, 2017

Finding Your Feet

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Professional Development tagged , , , , , at 4:11 am by Sue Hine

New Picture (1)So – you’ve got your dream job, managing a volunteer programme. You are all get up and go, until you discover it’s a pretty complex role and all your previous experience and training really was not enough. And sometimes you get tripped up and stumble with what is expected of you.

That’s tough, and you need to find time to figure out what you need and how to get your feet strong on the ground. Will the organisation give you some back-up, and support (with funding) to attend a worthwhile training programme, or to attend a relevant workshop or conference? No such luck if professional development is not included in the organisation’s employment policies, or if the organisation is a small-size community-led operation with minimal funding.

That’s when you need to start thinking about mentoring, that relationship process that will support you to up your skills, to find confidence and generally reach for your goals on your own terms, on your own feet, in your own time.

This mentoring thing is not a new invention. These days it is widely adopted by business and all sorts of organisations – sports, schools and universities, the arts, professions, start-up business projects, social enterprise. It’s a kind of coaching, a sort of on-the-job training, a form of supervision (clinical and administrative) – perhaps an amalgam of all the above. Mentoring has found favour over other terms which imply authoritative oversight. If it’s good enough for all those other occupations, why not for managers of volunteers?

New Picture (2)

When you look at this image it’s pretty much like what you do as a manager of volunteers: you want to sustain volunteer motivation, you are setting goals for them, giving advice and direction, and you are coaching and supporting them in their roles. Just what you are wishing for too?

So how do you find a mentor? Of course there are people who make mentoring a professional career. If that is beyond your means help could be on hand at your local Volunteer Centre. Try them, tell them what you are looking for, and see what they can come up with.

What can you expect from a mentor? A trusting relationship with somebody who listens, but doesn’t tell you what you ought to be doing. It’s amazing what you can learn just by talking out loud. Somebody who can challenge your ideas and attitudes, yet remain supportive while you figure out what will work best for you. Somebody who knows about good resources, as options to explore, not as imperatives.

As an alternative to 1:1 mentoring you could join a Peer Mentoring group in your own locality. Leaders of volunteers get together to find solutions to common issues, to support colleagues in working through what needs to happen, and to identify training needs, swapping notes and resources on best practice and policy procedures. Peer mentoring is thus a more purposeful form of networking. And a Peer Group could also operate as a professional committee to promote volunteering and the importance of management of volunteers within their network.

Peer groups work best when there is a regular facilitator or external leader, but a rotating facilitator can also help participants practice leadership skills.

Now a word for the people who have worked so hard to make the grade of an experienced programme manager and leader of volunteers: can you put up your hand to be a mentor for others? You’ve learned so much, you know the ropes, you’ve been around the traps – why not help others to get a grip on the ground of managing volunteers?

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December 3, 2015

Champions Show the Way

Posted in Best Practice, Good news stories, Leadership, Managing Change, Organisation Development tagged , , , , at 1:03 am by Sue Hine

Values Strip

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Volunteering New Zealand Conference e tu, where we heard a lot about the progress champion organisations have made through adopting the Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations.  Results are impressive, for managers of volunteers, for volunteers, and for the whole organisation.

I got excited to learn about a new set of values developed by St John New Zealand.  Because organisation values have been a long-standing academic and applied interest for me. Here’s some thoughts I wrote three years ago.

In that blog I was concerned about the distance between words adopted as values and their meaning, and about organisational response to the importance of values.

Not every organisation displays their values on a website or their letterhead.  Questions about organisation values are rarely asked in recruitment interviews.  Monitoring behaviour against the meaning of value words is a low priority.  Could this lack of attention explain the ease of ‘mission creep’ and ‘marketisation’ of many organisations over recent times?

What got me excited about St John’s innovation is the language used, avoiding the usual high-level abstract virtues:

Our five Values guide how we do things together as One St John.  These are:

We do the Right Thing – Whakaaro Tika We take responsibility. Make the tough calls. Think of others.

We stand Side by Side – Whakakoha We respect, value and support what others contribute.

We Make it Better – Whakawerohia We find solutions- step up, own it, do it.

We have Open Minds – Whakahangahanga We listen openly. Encourage ideas. Welcome feedback.

We are Straight Up – Whakapono We act with honesty, courage and kindness.

Yes, there is still some abstraction.  But note how Inclusive is present throughout the iteration: We do things together, and each value is a declaration of intent prefaced by We, indicating again that everyone in the organisation is involved.  Instead of the word Integrity, widely invoked as a value in the sector, each value resounds with responsible ethical practice.  Dignity isn’t there either, but inferred in Think of others, Respect what others contribute, Acting with kindness. No need to talk of Excellence – striving for the best is inherent in every one of those values.

Note also how each value is underpinned by behavioural expectations.  These are the benchmarks that will steer all operations throughout the organisation.  No longer are values something for the Board and the Senior Management Team to worry about: all staff and volunteers are responsible for aligning their actions with the stated intent of the values.  There’s accountability for you, and potentially an indicator of performance and impact.

Anyone who has been involved in culture change in an organisation will know what an enormous undertaking this can be, taking a long time, overcoming resistance, and downright frustrating at times for all parties.  St John New Zealand, an organisation that serves communities throughout the country, with staff and volunteers numbering thousands, has made the process look straightforward.

When an organisation establishes a new strategic plan and finds the old values are out of touch it is time for change.  St John set up a steering group of representatives ‘from the shop floor’, to canvass people in all parts of the country on the values that were significant in their work.  Yes, there was an external agency involved, but it was the steering group that led discussions and gathered feedback. There was a high level of engagement throughout, and it took months.

Once the preferred values were identified and named another round of meetings ensued, presenting results, encouraging understanding and buy-in of the new look line-up of values.  Additional information and resources were available too, including a badge to pin on uniform shirts.

And all the time St John kept an eye on the Best Practice Guidelines, monitoring performance against changes observed and responses to the new values.

Thank you, St John New Zealand, for showing the way to implement change, and thank you Volunteering New Zealand for providing the platform.

October 5, 2014

A Coming of Age?

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managing Change, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 9:53 pm by Sue Hine

images[6] (2)I’ve seen a few job vacancies lately, opportunities that make me sit up and take notice. These are senior positions in national organisations, charged with strategic management and development of volunteer programmes.

Words and phrases like ‘leadership’ and ‘integrating volunteer work with service delivery’ and ‘best practice processes and resources to maximise voluntary service’ leap out of the published blurbs. These jobs are close to Executive Team level, offering opportunities to lift the profile of volunteering and its contribution to organisation operations.  Candidates are expected to competent in strategic planning and project implementation, and in leading transformational change.  Being able to undertake surveys and analysis could be useful too.  And of course, being experienced in developing and maintaining good relationships with both internal and external stakeholders is another given.

Yay! Management of volunteers has come of age!  At last, there is recognition for the rightful place of volunteering within organisations.  And yes, the relevance of strategic leadership, as outlined in Volunteering New Zealand’s Competencies for Managers of Volunteers, gets acknowledged.

And then I start looking at the fine print. What are the qualities and qualifications these organisations are expecting in candidates?  “A relevant tertiary qualification” can be anything from community development to health, including human resources and psychology.  Or in research and evaluation.  Or in ‘social services’, or management.  Take your pick.  Your experience is likely to count for more – say a minimum of four years in social service management. The list of desired experience includes leadership and people management.  Desired communication skills extend to coaching, conflict resolution and group facilitation.  While all these skills and experience are relevant and important, any reference to direct experience in managing volunteers is a lesser consideration.

By now you might be able to sense my raised eyebrows.

Yes, I know there are people out there with qualifications and experience that could foot any of these positions.

And yes, management is management, and leadership likewise, regardless of the field.

And yet, a toehold at executive management level is still precarious for volunteering.

Unless the executive team has their own experience of volunteering, unless they understand fully what volunteering is about, the new strategic manager is still in the position of advocating for volunteers, still arguing their cause and how to engage fully with them. That’s a hard road, where expectations and big ideals can get sidelined when the organisations are struggling to meet contract obligations and to secure funding to cover the shortfall.  It is even harder if the appointee is not steeped in volunteering philosophy and practice.

What if the new position is more about taking control and command of volunteering, ‘using’ volunteers as a utilitarian tool in service provision? That’s a risk, specially without direct experience of volunteering.  And volunteering will be the poorer for that.

Because at bottom there are big distinctions between working for pay and working as a volunteer. I need to earn a living, so a paid job is a necessity.  When I volunteer it is by choice, to follow an interest or to support a cause.  There are set hours for paid work; volunteer work can happen at all hours, including weekends.  Volunteers set their own ‘leave’ schedules; paid workers must apply to take time off.  Paid workers fit into designated positions, limited by organisation budgets; volunteers will be assigned to particular roles, but these are limitless.  Numbers of volunteers can outweigh paid staff 5:1 and more.

So there are big challenges for the person taking on an organisation’s strategic development of volunteering. How to meet the challenges is a story for another time.

September 8, 2014

A Fair Go for Volunteers

Posted in Best Practice, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 7:13 am by Sue Hine

images[1]It’s in our DNA.  It’s in our thinking and every-day language.  A Fair Go has been the Kiwi ethos since the early days of European colonisation.  New settlers came to escape from social injustice and gross inequity in their home states.  Then the limitations of climate and soil and natural resources fed the development of cultural norms, social practices and political institutions that encouraged and enabled fairness, sharing and redistribution.  We were living in ‘God’s own country’.

We got votes for women in 1893, a pension for elderly people in 1898, and in 1938 the landmark Social Security Act introduced our distributive welfare system.  Fairness has been a foundation for our health and education policies and public services, and of course in the evolution of community organisations.  But the growth of inequality in recent decades has shaken up our faith in getting a fair go.

Politicians (especially in this election-fevered period) like to talk of ‘ordinary New Zealanders’ in defence of their policies and to rebut critics.  Trouble is, we are no longer an ‘ordinary’ bunch of people: the conformist years of 1950s are long gone.  There is nothing ordinary about income inequality and child poverty.  Ethnic diversity has become extraordinary, along with different cultures and a plurality of values.  Fair Go (a consumer advocacy programme) might be the longest running TV show in New Zealand, consistently achieving high ratings – because it is about righting shoddy practice and unfair dealings – but could the programme’s success indicate a decline in the practice of fairness over recent decades?

When it comes to the community and voluntary sector it does not take much search of the literature to find references to ‘marginalisation’, ‘political interference’, ‘loss of independence’ and ‘contracting constraints’.  There is nothing fair going on here.

I wonder how volunteer programmes fare in this current environment.  What does it take to ensure and to maintain a fair go for volunteers?  There’s a bunch of indicators that could give me some answers.

Recruitment patterns:  Elements of discrimination or exclusion, and recruiting volunteers to fit the organisation mould – or diversity welcomed and potential perceived.

Level of Engagement:  Volunteers assigned low-skill tasks, minimal support and encouragement – or real work contributing to organisation mission; opportunities for job enrichment; ongoing support and training; consulted on organisation change; ideas and suggestions welcomed, and actioned; good relations with paid staff.

Retention rates:  Regular turnover of volunteers – or sustained and involved engagement; resignations due to external factors.

These measures are no-brainers: they indicate the best and worst of volunteer engagement.  Best is the organisation that understands volunteering, appreciates the work of volunteers and the added value they bring to the organisation.  It’s an organisation that never has to hang out signs like ‘Desperately Needing Volunteers’.

And it doesn’t take much to join the dots with the core business of a manager of volunteers.  That’s the person that knows all about a Fair Go, and how to make it happen for volunteers.  So let’s make sure we give the manager of volunteers a fair go too.  Find out how in the Volunteering New Zealand document, Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer Involving Organisations.

July 6, 2014

The Line in the Sand

Posted in Best Practice, Professional Development, Professionalism tagged , , at 4:46 am by Sue Hine

line-in-the-sand[1]

 

It’s the sort of thing you don’t know exists until you are told you’ve done wrong.  It’s not written into an organisation’s code of practice, or the house rules, and never in your employment contract.

But still you learn pretty smartly when you have stepped over a line.

The line in the sand is collectively ‘professional boundaries’, not something we get to talk about over a brief coffee break.  And lines drawn in the sand mostly get washed over in the next tide, so we forget about the boundary rules until the next time, when the rule seems to have changed, or we encounter a different one.

A colleague has been reminded about professional boundaries recently.  Light-hearted banter with a volunteer led to an idea to introduce a bit of comedy into the workplace.  It did not happen because the boss called in to say “this was not the type of professional image we wish to project in our organisation”.

Hmmmm….  Professional image?  What does that look like?  How would we know it?  And why didn’t we get inducted to expectations when we started in the job?

The image is all part of a professionalism package.  Professional values deem the expected behaviour, in relationships, and work responsibilities.  Anything from the dress code to communication style can be included, along with conventions around loyalty, confidentiality, respect and trust.   In other words, a professional image is a set of qualities and characteristics that represent perceptions of your competence and character, as judged by your key constituents (work colleagues, volunteers, members of your community network).

While my colleague discovers she has transgressed a professional boundary, she has also learned volunteers are attracted to the organisation through her reputation as a competent and professional manager for the volunteer programme.   Which adds a bit more confusion to the line in the sand.

There’s a bigger question for me when I start thinking about volunteers and boundaries (professional or otherwise), especially for volunteers engaged in interpersonal work.  Training will cover the importance of confidentiality and privacy provisions, but how many new volunteers get to consider the line between being ‘friendly’ and ‘friendship’, or discussing the difference between a ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ relationship?  When does accurate information turn into advice of the “if-I-were-you” kind?  That’s another good reason to provide regular support and ongoing training for volunteers, and for managers of volunteers to engage in a mentoring process.   We need to talk more about boundary issues.

But why can’t we get a fixed line in the sand?

Because, like the tide that washes away my sand-artwork, determining professional boundaries is a fluid process.  Crossing the line is a matter of degree, a perception or judgement that is made too often by someone else.  Yes, we learn from experience.  But knowing the traps, and how to avoid them would give us a head start.

 

 

May 25, 2014

Professionalism, Again

Posted in Professional Development, Professionalism tagged , , , at 4:37 am by Sue Hine

search_for_professionalism_wallpaper_by_sspssp-d4ulzbbFrom time to time over past decades flags have been waved about professionalism in managers of volunteers.  Country-wide and regional associations to promote the profession have been founded, and foundered.  Certification and credentials and National Standards have struggled to gain a foothold.  In New Zealand we have developed Best Practice Guidelines, and a Competency pathway, as a means to support managers of volunteers and to gain recognition of their roles.  Now UK’s Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) is generating a renewed discussion on professionalism.  Here’s an opening paragraph on the context for the arguments:

Under pressure, not least from an economic crisis, volunteering’s changing. Its social value is increasingly seen in economic terms. Volunteering’s formal side is eclipsing its informal side and redefining what it means to volunteer in the process. In the midst of this change, moves to professionalise the development of volunteering face greater scrutiny. Rethinking what it means to be a professional offers us a route to rebalance and reevaluate volunteering’s role in today’s society.

More recent presentations have covered a case for a Code of Practice; distinctions between a job, an occupation and a profession; and some of the questions and risks that need to be discussed.

I have been down this road before.  Twenty-five years ago I was embroiled in debates about registration for social workers in New Zealand.  University level programmes had been going for some years, offering academic credentials; a national association was active with newsletters and a quarterly journal.  But the arguments on professionalising were about competence and performance appraisal.  (I’ve still got the documents, typed in Courier font before the days of computers.)  For social workers in government welfare agencies there were statutory responsibilities to worry about; in the health sector social workers were more concerned with raising their status to the level of other Allied Health professionals.  Compared with the current position of management of volunteers, social work at this time was streets ahead in developing professional credibility.

I bowed out of the debate, gave up membership of the association, and have never submitted to assessment for registration – in part because I moved to some different fields of work, rather as managers of volunteers will do.  Mostly I gave up because being professional was far more important to me than professionalisation.

Professionalisation is a formal process to gain status and credentials, to ensure standards of practice can be maintained.  Trouble is, elements of exclusiveness can creep in, and it would be mighty difficult to establish a comprehensive code of practice that would cover all contexts that engage managers of volunteers.  See here for an outline of potential consequences of this form of professionalisation.   As we have been saying in New Zealand for several years, one size does not fit all.

Being professional, on the other hand, is about demonstrating a set of beliefs and values in behaviour.  That’s why the art of managing volunteers includes such emphasis on communication and relationships with volunteers, paid staff and management, with the wider community, and in support and appreciation and recognition of volunteer work.   That’s why we work hard at advocating for volunteers and volunteering – and there’s an art in doing that effectively too.  Being professional connotes the integrity of our work, a wholeness that comes from articulating beliefs about volunteering and communities, and in acting on those beliefs.

Being professional in this sense is about leadership and personal characteristics.  It is different from the administrative and management processes of establishing and maintaining a volunteer programme.  These elements can be clearly defined and applied; leadership is the behavioural style of application.

Professionalism in management of volunteers does not fall easily into conventional patterns of professional status.  There is no exclusive knowledge base, and our practice skills are not so different from those required in other management positions.  There are any number of training and experience routes that bring us to appointment as a manager of volunteers, and there are even more variations in volunteering and volunteer programmes.  And, there is no formal career path to follow.

Susan Ellis wrote way back in 1997:

No one will buy you professional status. You either have it or you don’t. But it is different from competence on the job. It means affiliation with a field and a willingness to work together to build that field.

A professional association can offer a defined set of ethical principles related to management roles and some form of accountability for abiding by those principles.  A professional association also has the potential to take collective action, speaking out on controversial issues outside the constraints of our employing organisations.  Real professions, says Susan Ellis, have strong associations.  I maintain my membership in the Australasian Association for Managers of Volunteers (AAMoV) on the basis of these expectations.

Because, to paraphrase a quote from a long-ago text* on professionalism in social work:

Management of volunteers without service would be lame, without values would be blind, and without professional association will be mute.

……………..

*Toren, Nina  (1972) Social Work: the Case of a Semi-Profession  Sage Publications.

October 6, 2013

Why Managers of Volunteers Love their Work

Posted in Leadership, Leading Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 2:54 am by Sue Hine

thinking-out-loud-banner[1]Ask a group of managers of volunteers what they like most about their job and nine out of ten will say “working with volunteers”.  I forget what the tenth person says, because I have started thinking and wondering why and how volunteers make their manager feel so good about their work.

It’s the people thing, isn’t it?  Those interpersonal relationships, the people skills.  We get to know volunteers in quite intimate ways, which enhances our ability to involve them effectively, to encourage skill development, to help move them to greater performance.  It’s a virtuous circle, really.

It’s also a bit soft and mushy.  There has to be more than simply being on good terms with each other.

Enlightenment has come to me this week from several different sources.

  1. Look at the words for Volunteering New Zealand’s whakatauki for IVM Day:

Ma mua ka kete a muri,  Those who lead give sight to those who follow;

Ma muri ka ora a mua.   Those who follow give life to those who lead.

There’s that mutual benefit of the reciprocal relationship again, a self-reinforcing cycle.  There are also imputations of ‘leadership’: leaders enable their followers; they model desired behaviour and practice.  And followers affirm their belief in and support for their leaders.

So people who manage volunteer programmes are really leaders.  Yes, we know that – but what are the ingredients of leadership?

2.  That’s where a recent issue of NZ Listener spotlighting ‘influentials’ offers some leads.

“Today’s complexities demand new forms of leadership and influence across private, public and non-profit spheres.”  Great to have the community sector included here, with examples like the Student Army efforts post-Christchurch earthquake.  “This is an example of the kind of bottom-up, adaptive influence that can channel the resources and energy of ordinary people with something to contribute, and turn it into effective action that improves lives” (Brad Jackson, co-director of New Zealand Leadership Institute).

Yes, a manager can be influential in the way volunteers achieve effective action, so ‘influence’ is surely one part of a leader’s tool-kit.  I am cautious about using this word, however, because ‘influence’ has connotations of that P-word that can produce hugely negative results.  But when there is a common cause it is not so difficult to channel ‘the resources and energy of ordinary people’.  I know how the common cause also facilitates harnessing the diversity of ages and skills and interests among volunteers.

There is a huge literature on leadership, including masses of research, though not a lot spills into the volunteer management domain.  Contemporary thinking appears to be less concerned with individual personality profiles: it’s the ability to take the initiative and responsibility for the purpose of the cause that matters.  So the role of the leader is to ensure common interests, shared goals and collective commitment: these drivers have been forever the means for development of community organisations.  There is also a shift from individual accountability to mutual accountability, a change from ‘I know best’ to ‘we know how’, says Chris Johnson, Auckland leadership consultant. Leadership becomes Teamwork, as the America’s Cup racing in San Francisco has demonstrated – by both Team New Zealand and Oracle.  The role of each team member is integrated into a seamless collaboration.

Yes again: these points will be familiar to managers of volunteers.

However, on the employment front research shows that only about 20% of the average workforce is ‘highly engaged’ – that is, motivated and committed to the organisation’s purpose (according to Johnson).  That would never happen in a volunteer programme: if volunteers are not highly engaged they will be walking elsewhere.  And there we have a very big distinction between paid staff and volunteers.

Today’s leaders have to trust the people who work for them (Johnson).  Again, this is nothing new to managers of volunteers.  Trust is probably the biggest attribute in their tool-box, contributing to their positive relationships with volunteers.  We know that too, don’t we?

3.  Here is affirmation for managers of volunteers, coming from an unexpected quarter:

Volunteering – A Great Way To Learn Real Executive Leadership

Young corporate managers are urged to do volunteer work early in their careers, because the type of leadership at the top is akin to being a leader of volunteers. It is not about carrots and sticks but about persuasion and getting people to grasp and follow your vision. [Emphasis added]

The article acknowledges the challenging environment for managers in volunteer organisations.  It refers to ‘permission leadership’, in which managers have to earn the trust and respect of people they are supervising.

Here’s the virtuous circle again.  Relationships do matter: leadership (and management) is all about people skills.

So what? I hear people thinking, if not saying.  We’ve always known the importance of ‘people skills’, and by extension the precepts of leadership.

I am thinking aloud, you understand, unravelling the obvious, just a little.  What is still an open question is the detail in ‘people skills’ and how we get to learn them.  Where can I find some answers?

September 8, 2013

Speaking Out and Taking Action

Posted in Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professional Development tagged , , , , at 4:06 am by Sue Hine

backhanded lessonYes, that’s what you do.  That’s the big task for a manager of volunteers.  Advocating for volunteers they call it, every day, all the time.  Being the go-between, riding the boundary between paid staff and the freely-given time of willing volunteers, negotiating your way inside the strata and up and down the silos of the organisation.

You can do it in the nicest possible way.  You can find ways to be creative in the roles for volunteers.  You can get stroppy and assertive and pushy.  You might get devious and just go your own way with volunteers.  Or end up with a battered brow.

When a body gets crushed into a corner, when nobody wants to know the value of volunteer work and their contribution to the organisation, and when your efforts to make a real difference to the volunteer programme are ignored – what’s there to do except give up, resign, go somewhere else?

I have become a broken record over the past couple of years, bleating on about best practice and promoting a volunteer programme, resources available for managers of volunteers, a survival kit, professional development and what volunteers appreciate.  I have repeated a mantra learned from experience many years ago: If you do not take care of yourself you cannot look after others. 

Here is a shorthand version of survival strategies:

  • Identify allies within the organisation and build good relationships
  • Work up a supportive network in the community
  • Look at what Volunteer Centres can offer
  • Find a mentor or mentoring group you can join, or take up formal supervision
  • Identify learning needs and go find appropriate training

All of this is saying You do not have to go it alone.

And do not live in hope everything will get better in time.  The time to take action is when the niggles and doubts begin, not months down the track when you have lost all enthusiasm for the job.  Work up an action plan for change, and do it!

June 23, 2013

Volunteer Recognition (4) The Week that Was

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , , at 4:37 am by Sue Hine

NVW-Website-Banner-1

What a blast!  What a storm of praise, press releases, and parties.  Interviews erupted all over news media and the internet, whether it was in print, on radio, television, or webinars and Youtube clips.   Facebook and Twitter were full-on with accounts from Volunteer Centres and volunteer organisations.  They just kept on coming.  National Volunteer Week has never been like this!

Even when a destructive Antarctic storm roared “like an express train without a driver” through the country volunteers could still capture a headline:

Emergency Volunteers in Action for National Volunteer Week

Was all this hype over-the-top?  Too much?  There can never be too much promotion for volunteering!  Even non-volunteers in my brief informal poll have picked up key messages about the social and economic contribution of volunteers to New Zealand.

Government recognition came from the Prime Minister and MPs, and local councils issued press statements in support.  The Minister of Health presented five awards to volunteers in the health and disability sector for outstanding achievement.  There were more awards from the Minister of Police for public safety volunteers.  There was recognition from all sectors – sport, health, emergency services, public safety, schools, conservation, and social services.  There were awards, certificates, ceremonies and celebrations – for long service; outstanding achievement, and for excellence.  A volunteer expo promoted local organisations to attract new recruits; there were displays in libraries and community centres.  Promotion and publicity was innovative and creative throughout the week.

I was not tracking everything, and my engagement in the week’s events was confined to Wellington.  Here is my selection for the Top Twelve features of the week (not in any particular order):

Best headline: Let’s Celebrate People Power (Wellington City Council)

Best reported quote: (On TV1 Breakfast Show) Maya said she volunteers on crossing patrol because she a young leader at the school and volunteering is what leaders do.

Best innovation: Volunteering NZ daily webinars, on Resourcing the community with partners; on Te Reo, the Language of Volunteering in Aotearoa; on Recognition and Rewards; on Reimbursing Volunteers; and on the Rights of the Volunteer.  (Now available on VNZ’s YouTube channel)

Best story: A fishy story, one that illustrates the best of volunteer service and awarding recognition.

Best TV interview:  Dr Louise Lee, on employee volunteering (plus associated press releases)

Best plug for management of volunteers:  Conference presentation on Volunteer Recruitment (Dr Karen Smith)

Closely followed by : Competencies for Managers of Volunteers (coming in early the previous week); and the launch of on-line Guidelines for Managers of Volunteer Services, from Hospice New Zealand.

Best Thank You message (specially for going beyond individual volunteer contribution): New Zealand Fire Service –“Your tireless commitment to protecting lives and property has helped to build safe, strong and caring communities.  We are also grateful to whanau, friends and employers for supporting our volunteers to be on call to help, whenever help is needed.”

Runner-up:  “Volunteers  – thank you for your smile” – Auckland Council.

Best function: Nikau Foundation Corporate Challenge celebration – to see the suits sincerely committed to joining with the volunteer sector, and being impressed by what volunteering can achieve.

(There were a lot of other functions up and down the country, but I could not get to all of them!)

Best under-the-radar recognition:  a School Newsletter acknowledging volunteer contribution to the sports programme:  “…. thanking the staff, parents and members of the local community who give up their time to share their talents and experiences with our students.”

Best testimonials for volunteering: a compilation of feel-good stories direct from volunteers, presented by Volunteer Nelson.

Best Action Plan:  Our Volunteer Capital, Wellington City Council’s effort to recognise and grow volunteer groups, launched this week.

For recognition of multi-volunteer roles:  Taupo Hospice

So National Volunteer Week and all the public recognition for volunteering is done and dusted for this year, even though we all know volunteering does not stop with the end of this week.  Go follow-up the links here to catch up on the week’s happenings, or just to re-live the experience.

I would like to think ‘recognition’ of volunteers continues on in the form of regular ‘appreciation’.  Recognition is that formal stuff; appreciation is the daily acknowledgement, the regular thank you to each and every volunteer no matter how large or small their contributions might be.  You show your appreciation in behaviour, your tone of voice, the gesture, the time you take to listen with attention, and the way you communicate and keep in touch with volunteers.  Appreciation is remembering a volunteer’s name, including volunteers in organisational planning and development, understanding the ‘added value’ and ‘service enhancement’ and the role volunteers play as ‘ambassadors’ for your organisation in the community.  Volunteering is indeed People Power:  He Tangata! He Tangata! He Tangata!

…………………

This post is the last for a few weeks:  I am out of the country until August.

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.

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