March 13, 2016

Staying Engaged

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Recognition of Volunteering, Relationships, Trends in Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 2:46 am by Sue Hine

After the excitement of the recruitment phase and the pronouncements of a new intake of volunteers, what are the factors that will keep them on track and stay engaged?

There are many laments from organisations about the ready dis-engagement of volunteers, and their apparent lack of commitment, as reported in Volunteering New Zealand’s first report on the State of Volunteering.

Yes, you can feel miffed that volunteers go through the application and screening process and then don’t show up for training.  Yes, it can be costly to train volunteers only to find they don’t sign up for a role, or a make short-lived appearance.  Yes, it is disappointing when people volunteer in order to gain work experience only to shoot off when they get a job.

Yes, the nature of volunteering is changing: more people look for task-focussed and time-limited assignments.  But that does not mean volunteer effort is always a ‘one-off’ or short-lived.

It all gets a bit difficult when there’s so much to do in running a volunteer programme and the volunteers come and go. So what are the initiatives that could counter all these glum pronouncements?  Here’s a list of best tips to make the most of volunteers, whether they are short-term or stayers.

  • Being very clear about expectations is a good start, especially with role definitions and time commitment – yet allowing space for negotiation on how and when the time and tasks will be given.
  • Show volunteers, in a hundred different ways, that they are valued and their work appreciated.
  • Exit Interviews can be a means to explore reasons for leaving and feedback on the volunteer experience and programme management.  Whether in a questionnaire format or a face-to-face meeting, finding out more about the volunteer’s experience and inviting feedback on the programme can show where improvements could be made.  You might have to be a bit searching to uncover comments like ‘don’t like the work’, ‘nobody talks to me’, ‘too many rules’, ‘not what I expected’ that underlie the ‘no time’ reasons.
  • Offer alternatives to those who talk of leaving, such as less frequent assignments, or different roles, or ways to keep their interest like receiving newsletters or joining a ‘Friends of’ group.  Because even if those young people and busy parents of young children don’t stay long they have been exposed to volunteering and to the organisation’s services, and chances are they will come back to volunteering at some stage.
  • Develop a plan for volunteer ‘career development’, as in assigning team leadership roles.  Offer extra training, or ‘support group’ meetings.  One of my best volunteer experiences was a regular check-in on how things were going, creating a bonding with other volunteers and enhancing links with the organisation.
  • Work on new initiatives, designed for volunteers to try out new ways of service delivery.  And take up volunteer suggestions and good ideas.  That is how many an organisation got started, and maybe it is time for a re-boot.

Of course none of us take for granted that each new volunteer will stay forever.   The question is: what are we doing to keep them engaged, and how can we adjust organisation needs to maintain volunteer commitment?

Like all relationships, whether romantic engagements or employment contracts, it takes thought and effort to keep volunteers keeping on.  Don’t let them give up with easy excuses.

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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.

October 26, 2014

The Drivers of Passion

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 1:20 am by Sue Hine

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Celebrations for the fifteenth international day for managers of volunteers will happen at a place near you on November 5. It’s a day to acknowledge the skills, talents, leadership and downright doggedness of managing volunteers.  And by proxy, to understand how volunteering makes magic happen in our communities, in organisations and in all the services supported by volunteers.

On Facebook we are spurred to consider what elements of volunteer management drives our passion.  And what is our vision for an ideal world of managing volunteers?

It’s all very well to dream up future scenarios, and to repeat that quote attributed to GB Shaw:

You see things and you ask “Why?” But I dream things that never were, and I ask “Why not?”

Well – Susan J Ellis taught me a long time ago how the history of volunteering is the history of the lunatic fringe: volunteers often work at the cutting edge of change. Managers of volunteers are part of that fringe, forever seeking new chemistry that will enable volunteering to adapt to changing conditions.

For the moment I am keeping my feet on the ground.  I am thinking about the drivers that keep managers of volunteers keeping on.  What is it that the stayers among managers of volunteers love about their work?  Here is my sampling:

  • When the shy and nervous volunteer turns into a confident and well-respected member of the team.
  • When you are charged with organising a huge event, and the volunteers just keep on turning up and turning their hands to what needs doing. They know how to manage themselves.
  • When you find heads nodding in a training session covering organisation mission and values – not because people are falling asleep or because it’s boring – because the mission and values is what has attracted them to the organisation in the first place.
  • When thank you letters from grateful clients are sent to the Chief Executive, and they include volunteers alongside paid staff. It’s even better when they mention the volunteer by name.
  • When a volunteer steps up to manage an unexpected crisis situation, showing how all that training and support pays off.
  • When staff get to understand they have responsibility to support and guide volunteers on their team, and they cease running to the manager with complaints about volunteer performance.
  • When International Volunteers’ Day or National Volunteer Week happen, and staff and senior managers organise an appreciation function for volunteers. Or they set up a Post-it board to pin up messages of goodwill and recognition of good work.
  • When volunteers get due acknowledgement at Annual Meetings, and in the Annual Report – more than a few words or a last page paragraph.
  • When people stop saying how wonderful volunteers are and uttering platitudes – when they start talking about the real work and accomplishments of volunteers.
  • When we finally get a means to measure the impact of volunteer work that is more than a record of outputs translated into $ values.

You will notice this litany is all about the product of managing volunteers, not what has to happen to achieve these credits.  But that’s just it – job satisfaction comes from the outcomes, seeing how the manager’s ground work produces great results. You will also see how volunteering is people-centred, dependent on personal service and performance.   And at last, get to understand how great volunteer programmes do not fall out of the sky: it takes a visionary manager to make them happen.

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

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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.

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.

April 20, 2014

Volunteer Recruitment – the ‘Group Interview’

Posted in Best Practice, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism tagged , , at 3:43 am by Sue Hine

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Screening and interviewing prospective volunteers is that most basic of tasks for managers of volunteers. My take on what to do and how to go about it is a bit different to most of the reams of available information.

I like to get a head start by asking searching questions on the application form, as I described in a previous blog. Get beyond contact details. Ask about motivation, personal qualities appropriate for the work of the organisation, skills and relevant previous experience, and of course availability and preferred time commitment. Not quite a CV, but information that offers a great deal about the applicant.

Of course this approach assumes we are clear on what we want to know about applicants, and why. Beyond their capacity to undertake volunteer roles we will be assessing the fit of volunteer and organisation expectations, and best get the latter sorted before starting the recruitment process.

I gave up individual interviews years ago, mostly because spending an hour with each applicant would have taken up more of my part-time working week than I could afford. I adopted a group screening and orientation process, two two-hour sessions held a week apart. Mostly there are between twelve and twenty participants.

In the first session introductions and ice-breakers and then a couple of key questions on motivation can demonstrate people’s ability to relate easily with each other, and to understand more about the nature of volunteering.   The presence of an experienced volunteer or staff member to act as an observer at this session allows a ‘second opinion’ on the qualities of participants.

Because volunteer roles involve interaction with patients and families it is important applicants can cope with stress, so a role-play engages them in exploring depths of emotion they might encounter in themselves and others. It’s a powerful tool that prepares them for volunteer work. Or else it shows this organisation is not for them.

The other side of screening is orientation to the organisation, helping people understand how it works, a bit of its history and discussion on its values and their meanings.

Few applicants withdraw from this process. They receive a folder of information to reinforce their learning so far. Following referee and police checks they will be partnered with a buddy to introduce them to their volunteer role and tasks. A 16-hour training programme comes later, and this brief experience has primed them for what they want to learn.

Now you have a brief outline of my alternative to individual interviews. It works, on several levels. Applicants are presenting themselves to their peers as well as organisation representatives, and there is less opportunity to fudge answers to direct questions. It is a learning process, about volunteering and the organisation, and also about themselves and each other. There is opportunity for group bonding which gets renewed at organisation functions.

It may not work for all organisations. When volunteers are engaged in extended term 1:1 relationships with clients it is likely further screening is needed, and the group process may not be appropriate.   Facilitating the sessions also requires skilled experience, being able to draw on human resource principles, social work and community development practice – but isn’t that all the stuff that makes a manager of volunteers?

Give it a go – group screening is a great way to discover the best in volunteering potential.

April 13, 2014

Managing Volunteers: The Extreme Sport?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managing Volunteers, Politics of volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:07 am by Sue Hine

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A couple of weeks ago I was at a meeting where a consultant trainer in mentoring declared managing volunteers is an extreme sport. Wow! We are up there with all those dare-devils who go base-jumping, running rapids, going higher, deeper, longer and faster in places I would never venture. I know I’ve advocated being adventurous, taking a risk or two, like bungy-jumping, so we can learn from mistakes, push boundaries and seize opportunities for innovation and creative programme development. Extreme sport? That is something else.

‘Extreme’ in a sporting context means Very High Risk, and death is not an uncommon outcome for participants. I have never heard of a manager of volunteers dying on the job, unless you count burn-out and stress-related resignations. So I go digging for more insight into this comment.

A sport is labelled extreme when there are a high number of uncontrollable variables. Yes, I understand how weather and terrain – wind, snow, water and mountains – inevitably affect the outcome of an activity. Combine uncertainty and risk with human errors of judgement and disaster is a sure result.

So how can the job of managing volunteers be included as an extreme sport?

First there is the sheer number of variables. Numbers of volunteers, their age ranges, the cultural mix, the range of experience and skills they bring as well as the roles they undertake, their flexible time commitment – all these are add up to a mountain of detail that needs to be absorbed into the management process.

Then there are the uncontrolled variables. Human nature in its infinite variety means desired behaviour is not always predictable or guaranteed. This uncertainty applies to relations with staff and organisation management as much as to volunteers. Neither are managers of volunteers immune from errors of judgement.

The environment, in this case the community and social and political context of the organisation can also be unpredictable. In a world of constant change how can we be certain of the efficacy of this policy or that strategy and the intended outcome of a particular programme?

By these conditions I reckon management of volunteers qualifies for membership in the Extreme Sports Hall of Fame. Welcome to the club!

You can’t quite see how you make the grade? Sure, you would never find me gliding in a wing-suit or scaling high rise buildings and doing back-flips on a narrow board when I get to the top. But think about the basic tasks for management of volunteers: they are pretty-much focused on minimising risk. Policies and processes to cover recruitment, training, on-going support and communication – all these are designed to ensure the safety of volunteers and the organisation and as far as possible a programme that functions without hitches.

But of course the hitches and glitches turn up, every day. No amount of planning can guarantee a smooth path. Volunteers and organisations, let me remind you, do not run on prescribed channels like cans of peas on a manufacturing production line. So the constant juggling of multiple demands, the flexibility, the political nous, the mental stamina – all desirable qualities for managers of volunteers – add up to create an extreme sports participant.

I have chosen surfing extreme waves as my image of an extreme sport. After all, managing volunteers is about riding the highs and lows of a turbulent environment, and we keep on climbing back on board after the tumbles.

March 16, 2014

Volunteers, and Organisation Change

Posted in Good news stories, Leading Volunteers, Managing Change tagged , , , , at 1:49 am by Sue Hine

????????????????????????????????????????News media are regularly reporting leaks of information, not always on the scale of an Assange or a Snowden.  This past week an Auckland institution has had some of its domestic linen waved around in public.  The Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) has been around for more than 50 years.  It was started by volunteers and continues to be supported by volunteers who work on restoration and maintenance of exhibits as well as hosting visitors.  Auckland ratepayers contribute $12 million in annual funding.  There is also a history of troubled relationships between the founding Motat Society and the museum’s governance.  This time the headline reads:

Motat boss quits as volunteers walk out

The deputy board chairman at Motat has resigned and 20 volunteers have walked out as troubles grow deeper at the country’s largest transport museum.

The walk-out is related to a confidential review tabled two years ago which has now been leaked, revealing the museum is in crisis, ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘childish’, facing irrelevance and closing if there is no change in direction.  These words are pretty damning, even though a new strategic vision is about to be launched.

Organisation change is difficult at the best of times and needs careful management.  Motat’s director recognises “Not everyone will want to come on this journey. Some will be threatened by it. You get an element of disaffection or insecurity that comes out of change. There are some people who will feel exposed.”

I don’t know details of volunteer dissension at Motat, but I do know how long-standing volunteers can feel they own their work and the organisation as an intimate part of their life.  And I’ve lived through enough organisational change to know how uncomfortable it can be for employees as well as volunteers.

Well, here’s a story that illustrates organisation change and a less-than-disastrous outcome:

There’s an Op Shop that’s been operating for years, a social enterprise and excellent source of funding for a well-known national organisation.  A new manager is appointed.  She’s got business experience and nous for the industry of second-hand, pre-loved, re-cycled goods.  “We’ve got to up our game”, she says to the volunteer staff.  “We need better displays of our goods and we need to offer excellent customer service.  We’ve got to be up-to-the-minute with our marketing because there is lots of competition out there.”  She adds “Our organisation is looking to us to increase the funding base so we can maintain services to clients.

A development plan is presented for discussion.  “Have your say”, invites the manager.

Of course there is much mumbling and grumbling among the volunteers.  “You can’t do that”, one says, “It won’t work”.  Another says “We’ve always done it this way and your way doesn’t look any better”.  There is a tide of objections and opposition.

A bunch of volunteers resign, saying they cannot work with the new manager and certainly not with her new-fangled ideas.  That’s the price of organisation change, though at least there are no redundancy payments for volunteers.  Yes, there may have been some negative tattling in the community, but no newspaper headlines exposed dissension in the ranks of volunteers.

The manager gets on with introducing the changes, engaging volunteers in each step of the way, providing extra training if warranted.  New volunteers come knocking at the door when they hear about new opportunities.  Customer count rises, drawn to attractive window displays, and word-of-mouth conversations about helpful volunteer staff.  And of course the ultimate goal of increased income is a monthly cause for celebration.

And then, in ones and twos, and then more – the old volunteers start to return.  They are impressed with what they see and they hear good things about the new manager – how she listens to volunteers and is willing to try out their suggestions.  They do not ask for their old jobs back: they want to give the organisation another go, to join what looks like a fun place to work.  And they miss the social camaraderie that goes with the job.

This story is not a fiction, though I have embroidered the details.  It does not describe change of the magnitude Motat is likely to be looking at, nor does it give assurance that Motat volunteers will accept the changes ahead of them.  But it does tell me that even if you lose some in the process of change, you can also win them back.

………..

For more on long-term volunteers see this Thoughtful Thursdays blog and discussion.

February 16, 2014

The Power of Peer Support

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Professional Development tagged , , , at 2:55 am by Sue Hine

JohnLennon[1]Stand up the manager of volunteers who does not have a worry about volunteer recruitment, staff-volunteer relations, establishing a new volunteer role, training and equipment for volunteers, getting funding for recognition events, maintaining database records, writing reports, and making time to check out volunteer satisfaction.  OK – perhaps not everything at once, but maybe one or two that are fast turning into Problem Pumpkins.    You come slap-bang up against something related to policy or practice you have not thought about.  Like: you are all for diversity in recruiting volunteers, but are you open to all comers?  Or you encounter that curly organisational infection you wish would go away.  Like: how do I turn around the organisation’s view of volunteers as economic saviours for the organisation?

Oh dear, is there no-one to claim they are worry-free?  So you are all suffering sleepless nights, chewed-off fingernails, failing to give full attention to volunteers, missing important deadlines?  These options are not to be wished on anybody.  What to do?

When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade.

Well, that’s not much help when you have to go find the recipe for making lemonade.  Better go find your local network of managers of volunteers, the peer support group you belong to or your favourite online group.  You ask for some answers, aka solutions.  Do not be surprised if people come back smartly to ask What is the lemon?

That’s the trick, you see, getting to look at the lemon on the outside and the inside, to smell that tangy citrus, to taste the acid of the juice on your tongue.  Your peers are asking questions, getting you to explain, get into detail, digging to find out why this thing is a lemon.  Stick with this process, because you will discover the eureka moment that reveals the recipe for making lemonade.   Now you can see how the solution to the problem was there all the time.

No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking.  (Voltaire)

Of course you have to frame the problem to fit with your circumstances.  It is not for other people to tell you what it’s like for you.  When that lemon fits the frame it’s amazing how clear the picture becomes: you can see what needs to happens, and all you need now is to work out how to get there.  You’ve got some ideas, but let’s go ask your peers about possible actions.

Caution: walk away if people start saying ‘If I were you I’d………’, or ‘What you need to do is………..’   Solutions have to fit with your scenario and your style, not according to other people’s quick-fixes.

A Trouble Shared is a Trouble Halved    

OK – a proverb is not always a truism. Extended metaphors might be useful illustrations of a process, but you still have to get down to doing something, to deal with the other half of the trouble.  Supportive peers will offer suggestions like ‘When I had a similar experience I found this helpful……….’  Someone else might be able to share written material, like a policy or a template.  Another person refers you to useful on-line resources.

Enough!  Time to return to your desk, to draw up the plan and plot the strategy to deal with this lemon once and for all.  Some lemons are larger than others and take time and constant resolve to get them to the done-and-dusted phase.  Some lemons need collective action, so your first step might be to find allies for the purpose.

When you report an outcome to the peer group you will also tell them what you have learned from this experience: No-one has to go it alone.

…………………

The quote comes from Lennon’s song: Watching the Wheels

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