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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September 8, 2013

Speaking Out and Taking Action

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a shorthand version of survival strategies:

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

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

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

February 3, 2013

A Back-Handed Lesson (2)

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professional Development tagged , , , , at 3:22 am by Sue Hine

if-not-now-then-when-1024x764I did not intend to write a follow-up to last week’s entry, but here’s a real-life story just come to notice.  I think it can teach us a thing or two.

Molly has volunteered for 25 years, delivering meals-on-wheels in a small country town.  She took her turn once a week for two months each year.  She’s a farmer living thirty minutes out of town and unable to volunteer more frequently.  Molly enjoyed the work and the folk she came to know.  Always her work was completed on time, no-one missed out and there were no muddle-ups.

Now Molly is 80 years old and would like to give away her volunteering days.  She is all set to advise the volunteer coordinator accordingly.  But the coordinator has not phoned, has not made contact, has not enquired about Molly’s well-being or otherwise.  So Molly has been cast adrift with never a thank you note to acknowledge the years she has been serving in this rural community.

Too often we hear the tales of agony from managers of volunteers faced with scenarios of elderly volunteers who avoid recognising their age-related deficiencies.  But to abandon a volunteer who has not put a foot wrong by simply ignoring them?  Not on, I say.

Of course Molly might have picked up the phone herself to let the coordinator know she would not be coming back.  Well, I’ve been on the end of such conversations with managers of volunteers and felt the pressure to change my mind, to keep on volunteering because the organisation needs me so badly, is so short of volunteers, and I’m so good at what I do, and the clients just love me.  Molly doesn’t need such flattery.  Nor is she feeling aggrieved, and is not about to blab about her experience to friends and neighbours.  That’s a blessing, because in small town rural New Zealand where people and their business is known to all, that would spell damnation for the coordinator and the service.

The irony is, the coordinator is now delivering meals herself because she is unable to recruit more volunteers.  That’s what we should really be concerned about – the colleague who is struggling, who needs support and probably a heap of good advice.  And there is no Volunteer Centre to call on.  What should we do?  Stand back and watch everything go from bad to worse?  Or take time, find some resources to lend a hand, or at least offer support?

I’ve got some ideas, because I know the area and there’s one or two contacts I can call on.  OK, it could be tricky, but it is important to try.

Because one person’s plight is a bell tolling for all of us in this profession.  Managing volunteers is more than running a good programme – it’s also an occupation that needs muscle and political strategising to maintain respect and value for volunteering.  We need to look out for each other as well as the 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.

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)

January 15, 2012

A Year in Review

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

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

Now it is time to issue the report card.

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

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

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

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

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