August 21, 2016

The Next Big Challenge

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Managing Change, Managing Volunteers, Organisation Development, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , at 2:42 am by Sue Hine

lego-shop

 

 

There is something going on in the business world that looks awfully like the principles of volunteer management.

 

I’ve been reading stuff on improving paid staff engagement, on increasing employee diversity (instead of hiring a bunch of clones), on how more people are placing importance on values and company purpose in their job-seeking than on the size of salary or climbing a career ladder. And when employees quit research is showing it’s mostly because organisation goals and action plans have got out of kilter with its vision and mission. Employees also want recognition and appreciation that isn’t just a monetary bonus for reaching pre-determined goals.

How come business is usurping all the best practices the volunteer industry has been developing for decades? And how dare they, without acknowledging this important intellectual property!

I congratulate those businesses that recognise employees are people before economic inputs, and that ‘work’ is not simply labour in exchange for pay. And this is where I see opportunity to get recognition for volunteers up where it belongs.

For years we have struggled to get organisations and stakeholders to ‘get’ volunteering. In recent times we have encouraged strategic development of volunteer programmes and management as a way to achieve full recognition of volunteer contributions. Now I think business interest in people development over labour units provides an opportunity for a real alignment between volunteering and organisation structure, policies, practice and culture.

This move may involve a bit of a seismic shift, because the role of manager of volunteers will either change dramatically, or be disestablished. Please read on before you rain down hellfire and damnation for such heresy.

At least two large volunteer-involving organisations in my city have changed their ways. Both have diverse spheres of work, with paid staff engaged in different operations. Both no longer have a position for a manager of volunteers directly responsible for the volunteers, and volunteers are directly assigned to different operational teams.  So the team leader is expected to engage, train and oversee the volunteer in his/her charge. Here is where integration and a unified approach to the work of the organisation can begin.  Here is where to find the embedding of volunteers into a people-centred culture. And the bricks-and-mortar strength of this culture goes a long way towards achieving organisation mission and vision.

When volunteers are an add-on, a nice-to-have extra assistance for the organisation’s services there’s a distance between volunteer work and the real stuff undertaken by paid staff. Yes, volunteers can be essential for successful fundraising and promotion events, but these aren’t really the main events for the organisation. It’s like the volunteer programme is a parallel universe to the real life of the organisation.

Yes, I know all the arguments about volunteer management being different from human resource management. Yet increasing regulation in recent years says volunteers are tied to more rules than they faced in the past – think police vetting, health and safety legislation, and even codes of conduct and signed agreements.

Change of the magnitude I am suggesting brings resistance and anxiety for paid staff, not to mention grizzles about additional responsibilities. Organisation change is unsettling at any time.  In this case it is more about staff inexperience in leading volunteers, and volunteers may lament the loss of their friendly go-to manager who could move mountains and do anything. Everyone is obliged to develop new relationships.

But think of the opportunities! For team development, for collaboration and integration of different ways of working; for volunteers to step up to leadership roles in support of paid staff. Think of the potential for relationship-building, improved people-management, and the intrinsic rewards for both paid staff and volunteers.

I reckon this future is like investing in Lego – you know, those colourful interlocking bricks that are endlessly creative and that hold together, no matter how many add-ons. When volunteering is embedded into a well-structured and solid organisation there’s a better chance that both volunteers and paid staff will flourish.

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February 14, 2016

Getting Engaged

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Recognition of Volunteering, Relationships, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 3:52 am by Sue Hine

all_about_relationshipsI take an inward groan when I hear tell of organisations having trouble recruiting the volunteer numbers they would like.  Over the years of my volunteering experience I have found the trouble is not in the nuts and bolts process of recruitment, it’s more about the lack of engagement with the volunteer.

I reckon most managers of volunteers have got the hang of the basics, like policies and job descriptions and training.  We all know (don’t we?) about targeted recruitment, sending out the best message, through a variety of media, and of course asking current volunteers to spread the word.  But what happens next, when the new willing-hands go up, is the critical point.

I’m talking about ‘getting engaged’.  Not in any romantic sense, you understand, simply establishing a relationship between volunteer and the programme manager, between the volunteer and the organisation and its staff.

Except it seems this is not so simple.  Here’s my list of would-be-volunteer songs that are too often left unsung in accepted practice.

I make a call or email the organisation’s contact person, and I never hear back.

If there is an interview it is all a bit perfunctory, concluding with an urgent tone of ‘when can you start?’

If I ask what sort of work there is on offer, either the tasks turn out to be pretty meaningless or the volunteer role is glossed over as being easy to pick up.  A job description is not always available.

When I take up this rather vague arrangement I discover my work shifts are not always regular and there are frequent short-notice requests for extra assignments.

I can get to know a few of the other volunteers, the one’s I work with, but it’s hard to learn the names of staff, and they seem to belong in a different world.

And I’d really like a bit more of a connection than the irregular group message via social media that offers a collective thanks, or (more-likely) instructions to correct errors some volunteers have made.   I never hear why my volunteer effort is important and what we have achieved for the organisation.

Sadly, this litany of bad news stories is not uncommon: see this satirical video for a reality check.  It leaves a sour taste for would-be volunteers, and a bad press for the organisation.  And it does not do volunteerism any good.

So what do I mean by ‘engaging’ with volunteers?  Clearly there are some straightforward steps to counter the negatives above.  Better still, is the effort put into establishing a relationship with volunteers.

This means an interview with a new volunteer is about a welcome and a two-way discussion to see if the interests of both sides are going to come to mutual satisfaction, to meet in the middle.  And that’s just the beginning.  Yes, police and referee checks might need to be done, but that relationship-building continues with orientation to the organisation, introductions to staff, and to a training programme.

We could say this is the ‘courting’ stage of an engagement.  All the time we are getting to know each other, checking out likes and dislikes, strengths and vulnerabilities.  We are building mutual trust and respect, and when volunteers share their personal circumstances and other commitments we get a steer on how they will fit into the organisation and how to draw on their skills and experience.  When you think of the variety of volunteer backgrounds, and their range of motivations, this relationship-building period becomes even more important.

Of course the engagement is just the beginning.  Any relationship needs regular maintenance, and for volunteers that means enjoying their work and knowing their efforts are appreciated.  Paid staff will welcome volunteers by name when they begin their shifts, and offer a sincere thank you when leaving.  Volunteers are invited to give feedback and to contribute ideas and new initiatives to the organisation.  In turn, volunteers are supported in their work, know the process for resolving disputes, and are kept informed about organisation developments.

None of this stuff is over-the-top difficult to accomplish.  It does imply that a manager of volunteers needs to be a ‘people person’ with well-honed communication skills.  But aren’t these qualities what everyone needs when they are involved in the community and voluntary sector?  And while some organisations have grown to corporate size, and as pressures increase for businesslike operations, engaging volunteers  and maintaining healthy relationships with them will never go away.

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.

November 10, 2015

Another Way of Seeing

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Civil Society, Politics of volunteering, volunteer experience tagged , , at 7:52 pm by Sue Hine

290411 News Photo NASA Runoff from heavy rains, combined with wave action along the coast, increased the turbidity of New Zealand’s waters when this image was acquired on April 29, 2011. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this view of sediment flowing in the Pacific Ocean. The volume of sediment in the water hints at rough seas. Distinctive plumes arise from pulsing rivers, while the halo of turquoise around both islands is likely sediment swept up to the ocean surface by powerful waves. The plumes fan out and fade from tan to green and blue with water depth and distance from the shore. Cook Strait, the narrow strip of water separating the North and South Islands of New Zealand, has a reputation for being among the world’s roughest stretches of water. The islands lie within the “Roaring Forties,” a belt of winds that circles the globe around 40 degrees south. The westerlies hit the islands side on and run into the mountain ranges. Cook Strait is the only opening for the winds, so the channel becomes something of a wind tunnel. Strong winds produce high waves, and they erode the shore as shown in the image. However, sediment may not be causing all of the color. The waters around New Zealand are rich in nutrients, so it is likely that phytoplankton are contributing to some of the fanciful swirls in the image. Mixing currents bring nutrients to the ocean’s surface, providing a prime environment for plankton blooms. Made up of millions of tiny plant-like organisms, the blooms routinely color the ocean with broad strokes of green and blue. Phytoplankton are important to New Zealand because the organisms are the base of the ocean food chain. In places where phytoplankton flourish, fish also gather. Commercial fishing is New Zealand’s fourth largest industry. References Ministry for the Environment. (2007, September 17). Importance of oceans to New Zealand. New Zealand Government. Accessed May 13, 2011. New Zealand History Online. (2009, January 12). Rough crossings—Cook Strait ferries. New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Accessed May 13, 2011. NASA image courtesy Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Team. Caption by Holli Riebeek. Instrument: Aqua - MODIS

A couple of months ago I spent a few days in Iran, a country of different culture and politics from my own.  I was wowed by the friendliness and hospitality of the locals, always interested in where I had come from, wanting to know what I enjoyed about Iran and where I was heading to.  Visitors to New Zealand get similar questions.

Which has given me pause to think about the similarities and differences in our community and voluntary sectors, and to look at New Zealand through the other end of the telescope.

Iran has been out of international favour for three decades now.  Its nuclear programme brought sanctions from USA in 1979, and later from UN and EU.  The country has been ‘demonised by the West’ says one commentator, with devastating effect on Iran’s internal economy.  This troubled history does not tell us much about their civil society.  We have heard little of the pressure of women’s groups, a major voice of dissent and a thorn in the Islamic regime’s side.  Widespread protests in 2009 against presidential election results brought a government response in which hundreds were killed and thousands imprisoned.  These events did not register on my radar at the time.

The number of non-profit organisations in Iran and the informal support at community level is comparable to what we would expect in Western civil societies, though rights and restrictions on charities and non-government organisations have fluctuated over time according to presidential decree.  The current president, Hassan Rouhani, declared on election that he would prepare a “civil rights charter” and restore the economy, yet the struggle for a more robust civil society is stifled by hardliners in the Iranian parliament. The population becomes more submissive and cautious, and fearful about the chaos across its borders and government repression of protest.

The high rates of drug addiction and prostitution, and the highest rate in the world for internet pornography are not statistics Iranians want to proclaim.  On the other hand the recent détente of sorts with the US is a significant achievement.  Iranians I met were excited about the potential to free up trade and improve the economy.

So where are the connections with New Zealand in this scenario?  On one hand we enjoy a history of social and community achievements, votes for women and introduction of old age pensions in the late 19th century, and for Welfare State provisions from 1935.  The community and voluntary sector has been active right from colonial times, and just keeps on growing and adapting to changing conditions.

On the other hand, New Zealand has had its moments of insurrection and protest.  Think Land Wars of the 1860s, Te Kooti’s rampage in 1868, the invasion of Parihaka in 1881, and the police raid on Rua Kenana’s settlement at Maungapohatu in 1916.  Yes, there has been armed opposition from government (Massey’s Cossacks in 1913), shootings and injuries (Waihi Miners’ Strike), and plenty of arrests.  Political and civil rights were suspended in 1951, in the course of crushing the strike by the Waterside Workers Union.  In modern times we have had the Land March (1975), and the long occupation of Bastion Point (1977).  We have protested loudly against nuclear warships, the Vietnam War, changes in employment law and latterly the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty and Inequality.  The Tour (1981) still represents a benchmark for real civil unrest.   Serious enough for our small islands, though nothing like the wholesale deaths and arrests and ongoing repression which occurs in Iran.

But serious enough for me to consider what is presently at risk for Civil Society in New Zealand.

Protest by community and voluntary sector organisations has taken a muted tone in recent times.  When organisations rely on government funding contracts which include gagging clauses there’s a full stop, period.  When contract requirements are so onerous (though recent changes negotiated with the sector are welcome) there is no time or energy for protest.  There is little consideration for the impact on communities when organisations are forced to close because government priorities have changed.

We are weary from the effort of presenting submissions on relevant legislation or regulation and then finding the interests of the community are ignored.  Words like ‘democratic deficit’ or ‘disconnect’ get spoken and written about, and low voter turnout at both government and local body elections means democratic apathy is all around.

The thing is, I have always thought civil society as ‘the third leg of the stool’, up there with the public and private sectors in creating the sort of society and communities we want to enjoy.  Civil Society – all those organisations that deliver services, run the sporting sector, create healthy and resilient communities, foster neighbourhood groups – represents a different perspective from the economic and the political.  Which is not to assume civil society should be apolitical – Courts are deciding that yes, charities do have an advocacy role to play, as this quote argues:

An ‘effective’ (often known as ‘vibrant’) civil society is fundamental to any society’s capability to provide for its members’ needs and meet their aspirations, guide and hold its political and economic leaders and power-holders to account, and to embody the complex web of interactions between and among people and peoples, and between people and the state, which is such an essential feature of resilience in the face of political, environmental, social or economic shocks.

In today’s reality civil society has been drawn into the public and private sector practices.  Community and voluntary organisations are marketised, and volunteers used to deliver services, for government purposes.  Corporate sponsorship, even with the best intentions and some welcome funding, can turn into a re-branding exercise for an organisation.  A flow-on effect for civil society organisations is falling confidence in their accountability, level of trust and ethical practice (Dominion Post, November 4), and consequently less donor support.

None of these views are new, and for a really good global summary see State of Civil Society 2015, which includes the following statement:

The power of civil society is recognised through a back-handed compliment, when elites try to suppress civil society’s essential role of speaking truth to power. In many contexts, civil society is attacked when it seeks to uphold human rights, advocate for policy change or exercise accountability over political and economic elites.

Or take in the introduction to the State of the World Volunteering Report 2015, where our former Prime Minister Helen Clark says:

The report suggests that the ability of volunteers to support development progress depends on the willingness of national governments to ensure that the space and supportive environments which encourage their participation and initiatives are available. (Emphasis added)

So there we have it.  We may not suffer the extremes of repression experienced by civil society groups in Iran, but in New Zealand we too are burdened by elements of control.

January 18, 2015

Understanding Voluntary Organisations – A Book Review

Posted in Leading Volunteers, Managing Change, Organisation Development, Organisation responsibilities, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , at 3:27 am by Sue Hine

Charles HandyFrom time to time I have wondered about absence of ‘organisation theory’ in training courses for managers of volunteers.  The focus continues to be devoted to the components and processes of a volunteer programme and getting them right.  Yet all the while we live and breathe within a structure that contains and at times constrains the work we do.  The struggles a manager of volunteers can encounter are well-recorded and debated, but rarely set in the context of organisational realities.  It’s as though we should know about organisations by osmosis – after all, we live all our lives in one form of them or other.

So when I discovered recently that Charles Handy had published a book outlining the characteristics of voluntary organisations I pounced on the old and tattered copy found in my public library.  Handy was a go-to management guru of the late 20th century, the person who did for organisations what Myers-Briggs (and others) has done for our understanding of personality types.  Who could resist Handy’s typology of organisations based on the characteristics of ancient Greek gods?  (See Gods of Management, 1978.)

You can find out a bit more about these gods in Understanding Voluntary Organisations.  And so much more about how to make organisations function effectively.  This book is about organisations, not management, on the principle that better understanding will lead to better practice.  As Handy suggests in this advice:

It is as foolish to try to run things without organisational understanding as it would be to go mountain climbing without the proper clothing and equipment.

The first part of the book is devoted to people in organisations.  Handy writes about individual motivation, casting aside conventional theories on volunteering based on needs and focusing on our self-concepts.  He reminds us that people like targets, they like to feel good and that we are all different: truisms that fit well with what we learn very quickly about volunteers.  When it comes to ‘roles’, Handy shows how complex they can be: overlapping, confused, ambiguous, conflicting, and overloaded.  “People in roles talk to other people in roles”, affecting our thinking and behaviour.  When we slot people into role pigeon-holes we can get blinded by our expectations and forget to see the person in the role.  There we have an explanation for the sometimes poor relations between paid staff and volunteers.

The chapter on groups covers standard theory and practice on teams, committees and group process, putting a framework on the do’s and don’ts of group work.  The longest chapter in this section is on power and influence – forbidden topics, according to Handy, “especially in voluntary organisations”.  Handy brings them into the light, both the negative and positive aspects, and calls for a better understanding based around democracy.  There are plenty of cues here to support the practice of managers of volunteers.

Part Two is all about organising the organisation.  Here you can find a chapter on the cultures of the Greek gods, with the proviso that organisations are not culturally pure, just like one’s dominant personality type is infused with others.  Factors of size, work flow, environment and history can influence the cultural style.

The shape of organisation structures is determined according to division of labour, accountability and coherence.  A structure is the skeleton which comes alive with people and groups and tasks “to get the blood running and the nerves and sinews working” – which implies the need to find ways to integrate different parts of the structure, something well-understood by managers of volunteers, even if we do not always know why or how to achieve integration.

Organisation systems are never more at risk of fall-out than when communications are distorted, by either sender or receiver, or a lack of clarity and distance.  (How many volunteer offices are located down the far end of the building, some distance from the executive wing – and what does that communicate?)

The numbers game for accountability is just as fraught, depending on different levels of success and how to measure them.  Handy’s answer is to be very clear about purpose; to be specific about tasks related to that purpose; and to establish a set of measures indicating what will mean success for each task – that’s the role of numbers.  He emphasises the importance of numbers: neglecting this part of the system will distort organisational effort.  There’s a message here for organisations struggling to find ways to measure outcomes and effectiveness.

The final chapter covers organisational change, that drive for growth and development that can also bring dislocation and disruption.  We adopt blinkers to block change; we prefer predictability – and organisations rely on predictability to ensure efficiency – which just inhibits experimentation, innovation and creativity.  Handy sets out the ‘levers of change’ which are the key elements of an organisation he has described previously: task, systems, structures and people.  They are all interconnected, so change in one part will impact on all others (that is basic systems theory).  He does not present a manual for change but does say:

If you want an exciting, developing, changing organisation, look for one where the individuals are themselves encouraged to be exciting, developing and changing.

Leadership, in case you are wondering, permeates all chapters in the book.  It’s there in discussion on groups, on power and influence, on communication, and on organisational change and development.   Handy points out that the word ‘management’ is found only in English, and its use in everyday contexts is not confined to organisations or running a business.  Management theory is based on engineering models, he says, implying that “control of people is similar to the control of things, that people are resources to be counted, deployed and utilised.”  Non-profit organisations are not immune to treating people this way.

Handy urges us to adopt the new metaphors of political theory, in thinking of organisations as societies or communities rather than as machines or warehouses.  Look how we are currently investing more usage and practice on words like ‘networks and alliances’, ‘shared values’, ‘power and influence’ and ‘leadership’.  Is it time to drop the word ‘management’ from our understanding of volunteer programmes and our job title?

Handy offers an explanation of voluntary organisations that tells us why things are as they are: he is not just repeating what we already know.  There are times when lines between formal and informal organisations are blurred.  Perhaps the book sketches the world we inhabit rather too lightly, and its publication date means there is no account of sector developments over the past 25 years.  Yet the key messages resonate still, about people, tasks, structures and systems that make up our organisations.   Understanding Voluntary Organisations is a short and easy read with plenty of examples and box inserts.  Go find a copy if you can – it’s worth a read.

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Handy, Charles (1988) Understanding Voluntary Organisations: How to Make Them Function Effectively.  Penguin

November 2, 2014

To Care and to Clap

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 3:10 am by Sue Hine

volunteer-appreciation[1]

We all know there are a few principles (quite a few!) to follow in leading volunteers. So when you are asked for your best tips, what you have learned from experience, what would you be putting at the top of your list?

A couple of people presented me with acronyms recently. Just a couple of single-syllable words that say pretty much everything we need to note in relationships with volunteers.

CARE: Communicate; Appreciate; Respect; Engage

CLAP: Communication; Listening; Acknowledgement; Participation

Pretty simple, huh? We care about volunteers, right?  And we want to clap and cheer them for their work?  So what do we need to know about the words that make up the acronyms?

Communication comes at the top of just about everybody’s list.  Volunteers want to know and understand what is expected of them.  Some volunteers work well being told in person what the specific tasks are, others enjoy working off a list on the whiteboard. Some (oh joy!) like to use their initiative to identify other tasks that might also need to be done – that is when you chalk up real value-added service.  A huge part of communication comes from the manager knowing and understanding the volunteer, in listening and really hearing what is being said, in getting to know the person, warts ‘n’ all, not simply as more grist for the organisation mill.  Communication is the art of connecting with people, more than regular news updates about organisation matters.

The importance of showing appreciation and acknowledging the work of volunteers can never be underestimated.  Saying ‘thank you’ with meaning, in as many ways as possible should never be an add-on chore.  A special email sent out after a particular job is completed, a small note left on the board with a smiley face or a surprise plate of biscuits can all remind a volunteer that ‘yes’ the organisation appreciates their contribution.

Treating everyone with respect, regardless of their position or the hours and the effort they put in goes without saying. When the manager leads by example in demonstrating respect, the standard is set for everyone else.

Engaging with your volunteers shows that you are an integrated team, working towards the same goals. That means you don’t shy away from working alongside them, or checking in on how the weekend went or what the family is up to these days.

Because ultimately, volunteers are in and of the community, and participation in a community-based organisation enhances the connection between them.   Volunteering is a way to realise our existence in a wider world.

So here’s a big thank you to Tara and Laura for encapsulating a big part of the role of managers of volunteer in well-crafted acronyms. Here is an alliterative last word from Tara:

Clap for the victorious vital volunteers, for their valued vigilant vivaciousness!

And when it comes to November 5 this week, we will be letting off a few fireworks in praise of managers of volunteers in our communities, and doing some clapping for the way they care for volunteers.

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.

November 24, 2013

A Letter to Volunteering New Zealand

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

collab korero

Dear Volunteering New Zealand –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely –

Your Independent Advocate

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 29, 2013

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Managers Matter, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , at 3:33 am by Sue Hine

IVMADAYLOGOTo all Managers / Coordinators of Volunteers, full-time, part-time, paid or otherwise:

In just four weeks International Volunteer Managers Day will be all happening.  Volunteer Wellington will kick off the day with their usual fun-filled breakfast event, and Volunteering New Zealand is into the act already with their promotional material.

2013-IVM-Day-Website-Banner_Hi-Res

The international theme of Connecting and Inspiring is illustrated in this banner and whakatauki.  Here is the inspiration to practice the art of the possible.

Why should we have a special international day? Take a look at what the International Committee says:

We celebrate the profession of volunteer leadership because:

1. Volunteer Managers have the skills and knowledge to help people be part of the solution in meeting community needs. Even in cynical times, they practice the art of the possible.

2. Volunteer Managers change lives — both the lives of volunteers themselves and of those served by well-led volunteers. It is a life-changing profession. Volunteer managers provide the leadership and direction that allows people to build a good and just society and to mend the social fabric. Without professional leadership, people’s time, talents and efforts could be wasted.

3. A well-run volunteer program shows the community, including potential donors, that the organization is not afraid of public scrutiny and involvement and endeavors to make the most efficient use of monetary assets.

4. Well-led volunteers become an advocacy and public relations force for an agency or program — a force no amount of money could buy.

What can you do to celebrate your profession?  It’s pretty hard to pat yourself on the back: somehow the shoulder joint won’t oblige properly.  Much nicer if other people would come along and do it for you, showing how they respect and value the work you do.   But take a leaf out of an activist’s book and do some creative promotion.  Here are some ideas:

  • Be not-so-subtle by taking copies of this post (or somesuch) to distribute round your organisation so they get to diary this celebration.
  • Get volunteers on your side to do some trumpeting.
  • Invite a staff member to give a few hours to shadowing your daily routine, so they can learn more of your work and the skills required in the job.
  • Put up a message on Facebook, or even a video.
  • Call up your network of colleagues to collaborate on some event planning.
  • Connect with community radio and newspapers to get an interview.  Or at least send them a press release.
  • On the day, e-mail a jaunty message round the organisation: Do you know what today is, and why it is important?
  • It’s not too late to enter the AAMoV Volunteer Manager Award for Excellence.  Be quick: closing date is now October 11.   Besides the individual award there is also a new team award to recognise a team or group of volunteer managers who have worked together on a programme or special project.

Go, Managers of Volunteers!

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