November 25, 2012

A Passionate Affair

Posted in Best Practice, Language, Managers Matter, Motivation tagged , , , , , at 3:24 am by Sue Hine

Scenario: you are interviewing a candidate for a position to manage volunteers, and you want to check out the level of passion they would bring to the role.  How would you frame the questions?

I am not looking for answers right now.  I’m going off on a tangent to investigate the meanings of ‘passion’ and ‘passionate’.  I want to question why these words should feature so frequently in the context of volunteering.

They turn up in promotional material, in organisation newsletters and in recruitment adverts.  ‘Thank you’ speeches at Volunteer recognition functions are peppered with references to appreciation for volunteers’ ‘passion’.  Volunteer Centres and national umbrella organisations and even international leaders in our field find ways to insert ‘passion’ and ‘passionate’ into their writing.  Even government publications don’t shy away from such emotive language where volunteers are involved.

Here are a few examples of slogans you can find without looking very far:

Show us your passion

Your passion, our nation, volunteer now!

Volunteer leadership is “passion management.”

They are examples of language used to attract and encourage volunteering, and to proclaim the good intentions and aspirations of managers of volunteers.

‘Passion’ means an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.  It comes from the Latin word pati meaning ‘to suffer’.  OK, I know how ‘intense desire’ can be experienced as suffering, though this interpretation is better applied outside the province of volunteering and management of volunteers, despite frustrations experienced too often by the latter.  The passion of volunteering and the management of volunteer services is more about ‘intense enthusiasm’.

There is nothing the matter with being passionate, and to be fair, the word is also prominent in the for-profit sector.  But we do need to be clear what we mean, otherwise the word becomes a cliché and its currency devalued.  ‘Passion’ risks turning into a platitude, like ‘commitment’ and ‘making a difference’.  ‘Passion’ is a word too big and too important to turn into a shorthand slogan.

When we use ‘passion’ and ‘volunteering’ in the same breath we are referring to values held about people and communities and belonging and relationships, about service and mutual support, and about meeting needs.  Values are those beliefs and principles that are prized and cherished, and they are demonstrated every day in our behaviour.  We don’t have to declare we are passionate about volunteering: we can show you, all the time.

Being passionate about volunteering is relative to the cause of the organisation and its mission.  That’s how many a community organisation started in the first place.  Of course these days people can be more pragmatic about why they volunteer, yet there’s many a story about less-than-enthusiastic volunteers finding their ‘passion’ and becoming ardent supporters of an organisation.

Why should ‘passion’ be an important attribute for managers of volunteers?  For starters you have to be pretty keen (if not ‘intensely enthusiastic’) about volunteering to make the most of the position.  Passion contributes to raised performance standards, job satisfaction, and effective leadership of volunteers – which may include harnessing their passion when it becomes indiscriminate.  Sometimes passion is needed in gaining a recognised stake in the organisation.

But what if you overplay your hand?  There’s a fine line between being enthusiastic and becoming a fanatic.  It’s a line between getting people to listen to well-reasoned arguments and in the way the emotional speech can turn into an eye-rolling, here-she-goes-again response.  Too much overt passion can end up like Oscar Wilde’s aphorism: Each man kills the thing he loves.

So when it comes to interviewing prospective managers of volunteers I would be steering away from emotional rhetoric and asking about practical applications. Examples of practice will demonstrate just how ‘committed’ to ‘making a difference’ and the degree of ‘passion’ is held by the candidate.

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August 26, 2012

Enlightenment (Take 2)

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

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

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

Here’s the Big But:

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

• Volunteering and management of volunteers did not get a mention

• And everybody ignored history

Here are my Reminders:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 12, 2012

Possession …

Posted in Best Practice, Language, Leading Volunteers tagged at 4:39 am by Sue Hine

… Is a grand novel by A S Byatt, which turned into a pretty good movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow

… Is the title of several other movies, and songs

… Is a word of many different connotations, like:

Possession is nine-tenths of the law.  (That is, the question of ownership is more likely to be settled in a legal context by ‘possession’.)

We have pronouns, my / mine, your / yours, our/ ours and theirs, to indicate ‘possession’ or ‘ownership’ of everything between material property and ‘things’, to inspirited passion and hearts’ desires, to great ideas and intellectual property.

The question is: who owns volunteers?

Ughnnnnn??

I am asking because twice in one week I have been at workshops where I was hearing about my volunteers, my board of trustees, my volunteer programme.  That possessive pronoun was working overtime.

Here are my arguments on why we should avoid talking about my volunteers:

  • “Owning” people went out with the demise of feudalism.  Slavery is outlawed too, though we still have to be vigilant re People Trafficking.
  • Volunteers are their own persons; they are exercising their free will to engage with the organisation.
  • They engage with the organisation, not exclusively with the manager of volunteers.
  • Volunteers undertake a range of roles, tasks and responsibilities across the organisation, generally accountable to different section or team managers, not directly to the manager of volunteers.
  • Even where the manager of volunteers is leading a team, this happens on behalf of the organisation.  So better to refer to ‘our’ volunteers, or the more neutral ‘the’ volunteer programme / service.
  • ‘Our volunteers’ still hints of possessiveness, yet embraces volunteering as an integral part of the organisation.  And if you say ‘our volunteers’ with pride in your voice you are saying heaps about your sincere appreciation of their work.
  • Relationships and Communication are key elements of leading volunteers.  Yes, managers of volunteers need to establish personal connections with volunteers, but we also need to set the boundaries of these relationships.  Becoming ‘over-involved’ is a sure route to trouble, and a big no-no for professional reputations and credibility.

So this is my litany.  I am quibbling with a simple linguistic usage.  Yet if we can change a few simple words in our language we can change a whole lot of perceptions and make a world of difference.  Read Alison’s story to see what can happen when you drop my from your references to volunteers.

July 8, 2012

The Care-Taking Industry

Posted in Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professional Development, Professionalism tagged , , , , at 5:08 am by Sue Hine

I wonder how many readers noticed the tenor of last week’s post.  How the Top Tips are all about relationships, about respect and communication and support for volunteers.  How being a manager and leader of volunteers is about nurturing and caring for a valuable resource.  The tasks of organising and advocating and programme administration can take second place in the scheme of things.

Well – that might be a debatable premise, though we all know (don’t we?) that the best designed and administered volunteer programme is not going to get off the ground if we cannot demonstrate the attributes needed to lead a worthy team of volunteers.

That’s where the people-skills kick in. Volunteers are not ciphers on the annual accounts, nor cans of peas in the production line of a community service.  Volunteering is a human service, and needs to be treated accordingly.  Yet all too often organisations can overlook that managers of volunteers are human too.

I have been nudged by another blogger, when I read her take on the unintentional selflessness of managers of volunteers.

We have to be concerned with the wants and needs of clients, other staff, administration and all of our volunteers. We juggle these wants and needs continually, listening closely to volunteer stories, soothing hurt feelings, and probing for motivations. We are on heightened alert at all times.

And the ultimate message is: “Volunteer managers can run the risk of losing themselves in the job.”

Many years ago I was occupied as a ‘counsellor’.  It was a volunteer position in a provincial town, for an organisation that operated nationally.  In the course of this work I encountered women struggling to do their best for their families, struggling with relationships and parenting and many with poverty as well.

I could offer empathy and challenge assumptions and suggest strategies for change, and there was always a startled look of recognition when I proposed: “If you do not look after yourself then you will not be able to look after others”.

Taking care of yourself remains a concern.  How can you keep in good shape to manage the volunteer programme, and to lead volunteers?  Working-out at the gym might do wonders for your physical fitness and percolate the endorphins for a feel-good high.  But what about the work-related niggles that keep you awake at night, the on-going tensions and responsibilities that never go away?  And never mind the push-me/pull-you stresses of time management.

Back in my counselling days there was always a ‘supervisor’ to support, encourage and monitor my professional practice.  I graduated to being a supervisor too, and have continued to offer a supervisory and mentoring role to people working in NFP organisations.

Years later I am still hearing the agonised stories of managers of volunteers under stress, and I am still asking the question: If you do not look after yourself then how can you look after others?

I have been plugging away at professional development and professionalism for managers of volunteers for a while now.

To avoid “losing yourself in the job” go look for formal supervision or mentoring, or get together with colleagues, either 1:1 or as a group.  Or join a webinar discussion.  Time spent thus can be time saved in problem-solving, in new learning, and in being forced to take time-out.  The pay-off, remember, is the flow-on benefits for volunteers and for the organisation.

July 1, 2012

Top Tips for Managing Volunteers

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Professional Development, Professionalism, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 5:16 am by Sue Hine

One of my pleasures these days is learning from others, while being a de facto teacher.  That’s not such a contradiction of terms when you think about teaching as the means to assist and support others in their learning and in their development as managers of volunteers.

That’s what I do as tutor for the on-line introductory programme on Managing Volunteers.  The core information is laid out in easy-to-read web pages (with all the nice extras of side-bars and video clips and personal experience stories).   Participants are required to complete weekly assignments and to post them to the on-line forum, for all to share, and to learn from each other.

Here is what is required for the last assignment:

Think of your dealings with volunteers and give your very best tip, hint or advice – your hard won experience, some approach that really worked for you.  Maybe it’s the knowledge you wish someone had told you before you had to go and find out for yourself!  If you can, distil your wisdom down into a few words or a couple of sentences.

Always, this assignment generates sincere personal testimonies, showing me there is a lot of wisdom out there, and that volunteers are managed by pretty good hands.  I have collated responses from the most recent course, and reproduce them below (with permission) to offer their best tips to a wider audience.

 The Golden Rule

  • Always treat others how you would like to be treated
  • Always look for the good in other people
  • Do not expect volunteers to do anything you would not do yourself
  • Treat people with the respect, communication and action(s) you expect to receive.

Communication+++ 

  • Be open and available
  • Regularly
  • By email
  • Pick up the phone and actually talk to people
  • Listen, more than you speak!
  • Give feedback

Appreciation

  • Positive interaction
  • Acknowledge length of service
  • Annual awards function
  • Smile, say thank you, then say thank you again

Care for your Volunteers

  • Encourage, reward and praise
  • Make them feel special
  • Take time for a chat
  • Be open and available to support volunteers
  • Work alongside volunteers

Be inclusive

  • Involve volunteers in staff meetings, planning and policy development
  • Give volunteers a chance to contribute their views

Be creative and innovative

  • Encourage skill development
  • Provide opportunities for learning
  • Create new positions relevant to volunteer skills and interests
  •  Find ways to engage with the rising numbers of young people

Be professional

  • Be organised
  • Be consultative
  • Be consistent in applying standards, and in your approach
  • Show integrity to engender trust

 Make Volunteering Fun!      Enjoy having a good laugh!

Be humble 

Here are reminders of the wide scope and range of responsibilities for a Manager of Volunteers.  You are not just planning and implementing a Volunteer Programme; you are not just serving the needs of the organisation.  You are not ‘just’ anything!  You are the leader of people who are the champions of the organisation, the go-to and can-do people who make the real difference.

I am humbled by what I learn from volunteers, and by the wealth of knowledge and skills that people bring to management of volunteers, or what they learn in short order on the job.  I am also very proud to belong to an occupation that knows, without the trappings of orthodoxy, what it means to be ‘professional’.

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.

May 13, 2012

Management, or Leadership of Volunteers?

Posted in Language, Leadership, Leading Volunteers tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:23 am by Sue Hine

Are you a manager, or a leader of volunteers?   How would you answer such a question?

Yes, and no. 

Both-and. 

What’s the diff?

I guess most of us will skip over such a conundrum to keep focused on the important issues of recruiting and training a new bunch of volunteers.  Spirited debate on management of volunteers disappears over the horizon when you are time-poor and multi-tasking and trying to prioritise today’s to-do list.

Please keep reading, because you might just find a germ to keep you motivated as a leader of volunteers.

I know, we have struggled for years to get our management skills recognised, and now we are inserting leadership in the way we talk about running volunteer programmes.

I use ‘management’ for convenience and brevity, instead of a long-hand mouthful of manager / leader / coordinator, and having to explain the differences.  I use the word as a collective noun, including the notion of a ‘volunteer’ volunteer manager/coordinator.

That’s because I am a Both-And kinda person.  A fence-sitter, if you must.  I prefer the metaphor of a boundary-rider up on the range, being able to see both ways.

A manager needs to attend to systems and processes, to get the job done in a timely fashion by the best person, according to the organisation’s strategic plan and operational policies.

A leader needs to stimulate, encourage, inspire, facilitate and enable other people to fulfil a mission, to promote a cause, as in the organisation’s strategic plan and operational policies, as I encouraged last week.

As a both-and person I see virtue in both approaches.  Management is practical and task-focused; leadership is people-centred and focused on relationships.  Surely management and leadership are both important and relevant in managing volunteers?  Well – Peter Drucker, the 20th century management guru, had the answer:

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

Notice how value-laden “the right things” could be, and how you have to think carefully about what you might include in such a category, and how ‘the right thing’ could be different for every organisation.

There is a huge literature on leadership.  Sociologist Max Weber might have been the starting point in his classification of authority: charismatic (personality and leadership), traditional (patriarchy and feudalism) and rational-legal (bureaucracy).  Contemporary theorists talk about transactional and transformational leadership styles.  The former is process-driven, as in the description of a manager above.  The latter is about values and purpose and meaning – about behaviour, about people and their capacity for change and their desire for development.  That sounds to me more like what we do in leading volunteers.

Take Transformational Leadership one step further to Emotional Intelligence (or EQ, as it is often referred to), and this is what the characteristics of an EQ Transformational Leader might look like:

  • Self  Awareness – understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, and your values
  • Social Skills – building rapport and relationships
  • Empathy – ability to understand another persons point of view
  • Motivation – a drive to succeed, to develop the best ever volunteer programme.

Yes!  That’s what we do every day isn’t it?  Or where you would like to be?  And where peer  support groups or a leadership training programme could support you into being the best leader you want to be, understanding and using the language of leadership and a whole lot more.

Confession

I have done a lot of study in my time.  It included only a brief introduction to formal business management and social service administration, and that was a long time ago. Leadership never entered the frame back then.  But I did learn about, and to practice, a philosophy of ‘helping people to help themselves’.  It was, I thought, “leading from behind”.  If you think that sounds like pushing, as I was firmly told by a colleague, think about what you have to do every day to stir and encourage volunteers, to get paid staff to give a bit of appreciation for volunteer contributions.  Your praise reinforces and shapes behaviour that leads to great things for your organisation and for volunteers.

Here is the platitude you could pin on your wall:

The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his 0wn.     (Benjamin Disraeli)

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