October 19, 2014

Raising the Bar

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Management of Volunteers Project, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Professional Development, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 1:50 am by Sue Hine



Volunteering New Zealand held a workshop for managers of volunteers in Wellington last week. Raising the Bar was the first of a number to be held around the country, drawing on the Best Practice Guidelines to ask What does Best Practice look like and how do we get there?

My long memory recalls the origins of this workshop, the tiny germs of ideas that got translated over time into a working group, to a VNZ project, to publishing the Guidelines, and now to working on getting them implemented.

Back in 2009 the VNZ Conference theme was Volunteering Unleashed, and there were two streams: Volunteering Tomorrow and Inspiring Leaders – two sides of the same coin you might say.  With presentations like ‘Unmasking the role of volunteer management’ and ‘Awaken the hero leader in you’ there was plenty to inspire and unleash imaginations for future effort.  At the final session I asked “What happens next?” to which there was a smart reply: “What would you like to happen?”

A few weeks later a meeting was convened with a bunch of other people who were asking the same question. The Management of Volunteers Development Group was born, if not right then, but over the next few meetings.  I’ve written about its progress several times:

Getting to Go; Management of Volunteers Project; Creating a Learning Pathway; and The Fruits of Our Labours

Raising the Bar was the theme for VNZ’s conference in 2011, and a principal stream was devoted to ‘Developing the Leaders’.  Sessions covered a range of regular practice for managers of volunteers, and included focus on leadership – because managing volunteers is nothing without leadership.

The present round of workshops on Raising the Bar is another step to encourage managers of volunteers to take on strategic leadership, and to advocate for implementation of the Best Practice Guidelines.  At the same time there is a parallel effort going into nominating champions of managing volunteers, the executives of organisations that demonstrate and promote understanding and recognition of volunteering and its management.  Yes, we need to promote these champions so others may raise their sights, to include the value of volunteers and their managers in their vision.

The workshop this past week raised a real buzz, a community of managers of volunteers sharing concerns and their ideas and information, using the material of the Best Practice Guidelines. There was plenty of diversity in this group, both in size of organisation and in sector interests.  The old hands mixed with the newbies, and there was learning for everyone.

At the end of the day what happens next is up to participants. They’ve got their take-home message and intent for action, but we’ll have to wait to see results.  Strategic leadership for change and development takes skill, courage and determination.  And time.

How high does the bar have to go? We’ll know when we get there, for sure.

August 18, 2013

By Degrees

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


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.

May 27, 2012

Creating a Learning Pathway

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Management of Volunteers Project, Managers Matter, Professional Development, Professionalism tagged , , , , , , , at 4:16 am by Sue Hine

Those of you who receive the Updates on Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Project will notice a gathering momentum.  The Learning and Development work-stream, charged with creating a professional development pathway, is making good progress towards a significant milestone.

As a reminder, the two key areas of the group’s work programme are:

  1. To identify key competencies for leaders and managers of volunteers
  2. To establish a process for enabling Assessment of Prior Learning (APL)

The part that has taken the most time and effort is figuring out how to frame Competencies.  A whole issue of e-volunteerism (October 2011) devoted to ‘credentialing’, with contributors from all around the world, could not produce a consensus.  It was not simply a matter of establishing options for certification, nor in identifying particular tasks or skills.  Much of the debate roved around the meaning of competence and its application to the business of managing volunteers.

The Learning and Development group is not engaged in determining the detail of what knowledge, skills and attributes signify competencies for managers of volunteers.  That way overlooks the huge diversity in organisations, responsibilities, communities and sector interests.  There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula.  Prescription could also become stifling for people wanting to move beyond standard practice, for people wanting to carve out new territory in leading volunteers.

The principal concern for the group is to identify a learning pathway, a road-map that offers clear entry points, recognition of prior learning, indications for further learning, and for leadership extension.  The pathway is open to all non-profit organisations, will offer something to all managers and leaders of volunteers, regardless of scope and scale of the organisation.

Think of a motorway with on-ramps, and passing lanes, and exits to different destinations.  Think of short journeys for immediate and relevant development needs, or taking the long road to a higher goal.  This learning pathway will have signposts and markers for different options, and room for personal choice and direction.

The Wellington Leadership Group met a couple of weeks ago to consider a draft proposal for the motorway. We are impressed with the breadth and depth of the work that has gone into compiling the documents. We are excited by the range of ways the model could be used, and how useful it will be as a development guide for both new and experienced managers of volunteers.

The draft competency framework will be available for consultation in a matter of weeks.  Getting feedback is one small step towards the significant milestone that will benefit all managers and leaders of volunteers inNew Zealand, and their organisations.

January 29, 2012

Yet another acronym: MVP

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Management of Volunteers Project, Managers Matter, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 8:53 pm by Sue Hine

Here is another test for your up-to-datedness.  In New Zealand we use MVP in our chatter about the Volunteering NZ programme for developing Managers of Volunteers.  The programme is going great guns on a Learning and Development pathway for professional development, and on organisational development for best practice in engaging with volunteers.

Some of us, and a heap of others outside our sector, will be alerted to a different interpretation of MVP.  Kids at Saturday sport competitions will know what MVP stands for.  Individuals in amateur and professional sport teams, local and international, glow with pride when they are accorded the accolade of MVP.

MVP = Most Valued Player.

Of course, you knew that!  It’s what you tell volunteers every day, every annual celebration, every award ceremony.  Now I am asking you to think again, to think about the MVP when it comes to managing volunteers in your organisation.

OK – you may not be a designated ‘manager’ for volunteers; you may be the sole employee responsible for programmes and policy and the people, the whole caboodle; or you might have to take charge of volunteers as part of other responsibilities.

The question is, regardless of whether you are a bona fide full-time, or part-time manager of volunteers, or you are yourself a volunteer coordinating and managing volunteers – whatever your role or status – how do you rate as an MVP with your organisation?   You are welcome to offer your own assessment.  But really, I want to hear from your board or committee, and the Executive, and from other staff.

Because, if your organisation engages volunteers in service delivery, fundraising, promotion, or whatever, the staff, the executive and the board need to appreciate and acknowledge just how much goes into recruitment, training, deployment, supervising, reviewing, programme development… and, and, and…..

Which is why you need to stand up and tell them just why managers of volunteers should be the heroes, the MVPs, of your organisation.

It may just happen that the MVP in your organisation is not you, but is identified among other people who recognise, give full credit to, hold up the banner for, that added value that volunteers bring to your organisation.  That is when your organisation is on track to become a whole lot greater than the sum of its parts.


This post is the last for January, and the last until mid-March.  I will be away travelling in outposts of southern China and Laos, sans mobile phone or notebook computer or anything.  I hope to come back with a couple of stories on NGOs in foreign parts.

January 15, 2012

A Year in Review

Posted in Annual Review, Managers Matter, Professional Development, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , at 4:58 am by Sue Hine

A year ago I did my usual New Year reflection on the past and looked forward with new aspirations.  A year ago I was hoping a few more managers of volunteers could make a better deal for volunteers and their organisations, and specially for themselves. And I wished those who had a good deal going for them would reach out to help others learn what they need to know.

Now it is time to issue the report card.

  • Access as of employment right to Professional Development –  I have not taken a measure on this wish, whether organisations have come to recognise the value of on-going training for their managers of volunteers; nor whether there has been an increase in taking up formal training, mentoring or supervision .  But I do know the Volunteering NZ’s Management of Volunteers Programme (MVP) is working on a Learning and Development Pathway, a range of options appropriate for small and large organisations, for entry-level up to advanced standard.
  • Fewer managers floundering in their role, struggling to find help.  The ‘too busy, no time’ syndrome continues to prevail, despite the interest expressed by workshop participants for mentoring and peer support groups.  So I have to wonder if leaders need to improve their marketing skills, or to resort to leg-roping people so we can demonstrate just how much benefit there is in setting aside an hour every so often for chewing fat with colleagues, for problem-solving, learning new strategies and techniques.  As I have said before, “you cannot afford not to take time”.  On the plus side the MVP workshops held around the country have spawned a number of local ‘Leadership Groups’ and I expect to see some positive outcomes for managers of volunteers during 2012.
  • During IYV+10 there should be some public and organisational recognition of Managers of Volunteers who keep Volunteering keeping on.  This wish has a flat-as-a-pancake outcome.  No formal government acknowledgement, no special funding, and no organisation (to my knowledge) doing a public demonstration of appreciation to their manager of volunteers.  Except for Heather Moore of Volunteering Waikato winning the AAVA Award of Excellence – a grand achievement.  Except there should be much more, and more widely publicised.  (Read earlier blogs on Honouring Local Heroes and The Year that Got Lost)  However, there is a big tick going to Volunteering NZ for the daily post, November 5 – December 5 offering biopics about volunteers and managers of volunteers – well worth a look for the range of organisations and activities, and achievements.
  • Professional Status.  The Volunteering NZ Conference held in May was a big step forward, including ‘Developing the Leaders’ as a principal stream.  There was further consolidation at the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management, also held inWellington following the VNZ Conference.  The biggest achievement of the year is for MVP to be included in VNZ’s work programme.  Those of us involved are seeing very clearly the ultimate advantage for the wellbeing and efficacy of volunteer services, for enhanced organisational performance, and for recognition of the professional standing of managers of volunteers.  Watch this space!

My last great wish a year ago was for a disaster free year.  Well that fell flat in Christchurch, as early as February 22, closely followed by the tsunami in Japan.  Floods, volcano eruptions, typhoons and cyclones, and more earthquakes pummeled the rest of the globe in varying degrees.  And an oil-spill off New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty continues to threaten environmental damage.  There is not much of an up-side in times of disaster, but 2011 has surely been the year for praising and rejoicing in the work of volunteers during times of crisis. I am not surprised – looking out for others in times of need, and offering service when no-one else is around – that’s what volunteers do, right?

In looking ahead, I draw on another manager’s wishes for 2012:

I want to continue to appreciate and support the great team of volunteers, to enhance the services we offer clients, to listen twice as much as I talk, and to get some ‘me’ time.

Amen, I say – that’s what managers of volunteers do, right?