February 10, 2013

Marketing a Volunteer Programme

Posted in Best Practice, Marketing, Professional Development tagged , , , at 2:48 am by Sue Hine

Content-MarketingI am old-fashioned enough to still be a regular reader of a daily newspaper, one that has not yet turned to tabloid format.  I reckon it’s a more leisurely way to get my fix of the news.  That includes a browse through the business pages: I look for the columnists who can explain the economy or market trends in plain language.  Often there is good advice for retailers and entrepreneurs.  And the funny thing is, the recommendations could apply equally to NFP organisations.

Marketing and fundraising, for example, are important features of contemporary NFP business plans.  There’s a lot of competition for the charity dollar, and gaining sponsorship or partnering with a for-profit business can require a delicate courtship ballet and some well-honed promotional skills.  Here‘s what is recommended for small retailers and for-profit enterprises:

  • Do everything you can to improve your online presence, website and strong social media representation. 
  • Tune in to today’s market – expectations are changing. 
  • Make sure you include ‘stepping stones’, a range of products and price affordability.
  • Make shopping trips an ‘occasion’ filled with experience, service and old-fashioned hospitality.

It does not take much to translate this advice for promoting a volunteer programme:

  • Get cracking with regular social media entries and pics; make sure the website is specially volunteer-friendly;
  • Heed the current trends in volunteer profiles and adapt to changing expectations;
  • Offer a range of volunteer and donor opportunities and defined commitments; and
  • Remember that quality ‘customer service’ can extend to volunteers as well as service users, and to all organisation relationships.

All familiar stuff we have been talking up for a while now – right?

Trouble is, the ascendance of marketing and fundraising in our sector is pushing volunteering aside, ignoring the potential returns on comparatively low-cost investment in volunteer skills and time – and overlooking the salary costs for those well-paid marketers and fundraisers.  Some of the tales that come to my notice – the shoddy treatment of volunteers by fundraisers, or the last-minute engagement of the manager of volunteers for organising an event – demonstrate a kind of discrimination against volunteering, not to mention the exploitation of volunteer goodwill.

So it has never been more important to get switched on to principles of marketing, to pushing barrows and proclaiming achievements, and to demonstrating the value of our volunteer programmes.  I’ll bet the carpet-bag of management skills carried by volunteer leaders will include patience, tact, empathy, assessment and negotiation – all attributes extolled for fundraising and marketing.  I reckon we could teach those teams a thing or two.

We just have to get out there and do it.  Now!

If you think you need a leg-up to get started just get yourself to the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management in Sydney, March 20-22.  Quite simply, and honestly, it is the best ever opportunity for professional development in managing volunteers, being simultaneously challenging and supportive, and fun.  Try it, and see for yourself.

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January 20, 2013

Prospecting for a New Year

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Annual Review, Best Practice, Managers Matter tagged , , , , , , , at 3:43 am by Sue Hine

Happy-2013[1]  It’s that time of year for reflection, to look into the pool of 2012 and to assess the prospects for volunteers and their managers in 2013.

Looking good from last year was the continuing increase in numbers of volunteers, especially from youth cohorts. There was a lot more corporate volunteering too.  I was heartened by the increased support and recognition for International Volunteer Managers’ Day (November 5) and for International Volunteer’s Day (December 5).  And it seemed there was greater and more effective use of the e-waves than previously – for recruiting volunteers, for creative news reporting on volunteering, and for producing better and brighter organisation websites.

Volunteering New Zealand stepped up with the publication of Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations, outlining a steer on supporting managers of volunteers, getting the best from a volunteer programme and enhancing organisational attraction for volunteers and paid staff.  I am looking forward to the next publication, the Learning and Development Pathway for managers of volunteers.

But there is no time to rest on our laurels.  At the top of the search list for my blog, again, is Bad Volunteer Experience.   Again, it shows how many people miss out on good practice in management of volunteers.  More disheartening are the continuing accounts of raw deals for managers of volunteers, overburdened and under-appreciated, by organisations that should know better.  So work on promoting and educating on the basics – the essentials – of managing volunteers will continue to be a priority in the coming months.  Business as usual, you might say.

I picked up some signals last year that are going to be my worry-beads for 2013. I am not alone in my concerns:

Volunteering is becoming more transient, more promiscuous, more blurred

Convergence between NFPs and the business sector is not the panacea for all ills

Volunteering is an unloved child generally but was particularly so in 2012

Volunteers are demanding to be led – not managed 

Resources are being drawn away from volunteering for investment in fundraising

These quotes come from different sources and could all be placed under the rubric of The Great Unsettlement.  Here are the features I reckon are the ‘big-picture’ issues:

  • Corporate social responsibility has spawned corporate volunteering, and also sponsorship and partnerships with NFP organisations.  Good stuff, and sensible in cash-strapped times.  Except there is potential risk to maintaining organisation branding and identity if relations with a corporate business are not well-managed.  Worse is the way volunteering and the management of an ongoing volunteer programme seem to be sidelined in preference to scoring big business patronage.  This is particularly evident in marketing and managing fundraising events.
  • ‘Social enterprise’ has risen in popularity stakes as a business model for social outcomes.   Yes, good for the national economy, and more sexy than ordinary everyday volunteering – which (if you need reminding) has promoted social outcomes for generations.  I sigh, because the definition of volunteering is up for debate, again.
  • Government out-sourcing of social services has turned many NFPs into NGOs over the past 30 years, introducing an active if unequal interface between government and community.   Proposals for new models of funding such as social bonds will put a whole new agenda in front of many organisations, again challenging the place and the contribution of a volunteer programme.
  • Accountability, the business of measuring performance, not just inputs and outputs in dollar terms, has been around for a while now.  The current attention to Social Return on Investment (SROI) is more serious, more intense and we’d better get to know about it.  Except the impact of human service delivery is difficult to formulate, expensive to administer, and risks turning volunteering into a commodity.

The political and economic environment rules – OK?  So it seems, and in the process that part of social structure that is called Civil Society, or the Third Sector, or simply ‘the community’ becomes marginalised.  What’s a manager of volunteers to do?

Top of my wish-list for this year is to get beyond the hand-wringing and to turn questions of ‘what can we do?’ into ‘how do we get there?’  Notice how ‘we’ reminds us of the collective and the collaborative approach to action.  There is the stimulus, to seek out allies in local networks and to enlist support from the progressive organisations that were pilots for the Best Practice Guidelines.  Take some leafs from marketing and fundraising strategies: cultivate news media contacts, and never let up on social media plugs.  Become social entrepreneurs in the sense of community-building for social innovation, for volunteering and volunteer organisations.

There are already pockets of volunteering enterprise in various communities.  Just think what volunteering could become if we stitched those pockets into overalls.  There is our challenge for 2013: to gain a stake in the future we need to stake a claim, on our terms, for the territory of community and for volunteering.

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.

June 10, 2012

The Changing Volunteer World

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Professionalism, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:06 am by Sue Hine

Nothing can be certain, said Benjamin Franklin in a letter written in 1789, except death and taxes.  I am surprised he did not include ‘change’ in his aphorism.  He lived through a fair bit of historical change himself, in his enterprising career and as a Founding Father of United States, and he must surely have seen what was coming to France when he wrote his letter.

Well – change in the not-for-profit sector, and in volunteering, is all around the world at present.  I read the exhortations for managers of volunteers to get up to speed with social media – for everything from organising fundraising events to volunteer recruitment, and for regular organisation promos.  And for networking and conversations on common interests for managers of volunteers.

I read about the impact of generational differences and the statistics on who volunteers and what for and why.  Short-term, time-limited assignments please.  A specific focus, relevant to my skills. Or please, some work experience that will get me a job (when you give me a reference).  There are significant increases in prospective volunteers out there.  They are clamouring for roles – particularly the younger age groups.  And despite the huge bubble of older people, the baby-boomers, newly retired, this cohort is not rushing to fill the ranks of volunteers.

There is no denying the global financial crisis (GFC) is creating change, forcing governments to downsize, to rethink priorities for community support and development.

Change is coming from another direction too: the ethos of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is generating waves of corporate volunteering.  Corporates are going beyond conventional sponsorship and funding grants: active partnerships with non-profits are being pursued.  Even ‘Philanthropy’ gets a new connotation, loses its original glow of generosity, munificence and beneficence.  Now philanthropy is about venture capital for social change.

A whole new way of looking at the community and voluntary sector is evolving.  The social value of volunteering is increasingly seen in economic terms.  We trumpet the significant contribution volunteering and the NFP sector makes to GDP.  We are trying to improve reporting on volunteer impact beyond numbers and hours and donations in kind.  We look for ways to measure the social return on investment (SROI) in volunteering.  The word ‘social’ starts appearing in front of words I thought only bankers and accountants used: capital, innovation,  investment – and even New Zealand’s OCVS has a raft of papers and information social finance and social enterprise.  What will these terms mean for volunteers and
the community sector?  They sound good, but will they really do good?

Well – if we want to get volunteering and management of volunteers properly appreciated and recognised by those holding the purse-strings, then we need to learn and understand this language.  We need to be able to promote our causes and to argue our cases on an equal footing.

Yet in all the heady engagement between the not-for-profit sector and business and government, and with current trends in volunteering, I have not seen specific comment on the future for managers of volunteers.  Yes, we need to ride with changing times, adapt programmes to fit with the expectations of new generations of volunteers, be flexible innovative, creative.  But no-one has raised a direct question of what an alliance between public, private and community sectors might mean for managers of volunteers, and what will happen to volunteering further down the track.

What if CSR becomes the dominant source of volunteers, a formal process that may require a different style of management?  Different from the basic model of engaging individuals who want to ‘help’ add value to an organisation’s services?

That’s when managers of volunteers need to rise to Rob Jackson’s challenge: instead of organisations headed by “someone who knows how to make money … what we need is people-raising skills” (my emphasis).

We have been people-raising for several decades.  We have adapted to major change in the past.  Let’s demonstrate for the new era the know-how and can-do of our management expertise.

April 29, 2012

In the Wind

Posted in A Bigger Picture tagged , , , , , , , , , at 9:44 pm by Sue Hine

I’ve been to a few meetings lately, listened to presentations and viewed the power point slides.  They were not meetings about volunteering or volunteer management, but the information and ideas sure made me sit up and take notice.

Here is my take on some of the straws in the wind that have come my way.

  • Demographic trends indicate a shrinking working-age population

We’ve heard about the dramatic increase of older populations for decades.  On the flip side is a decline in people of working age, which will give us the benefit of lower unemployment.  We are going to get ZPG without even trying. The bad news is a big revenue problem for government and a rise in resource demands.  All this, on top of a national economy struggling to recover from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

NGOs, already struggling to maintain their funding base, will be under pressure to do more with less.  In rural areas where population change will be greater community organisations will face shrinking resources, of both funding and volunteers.  There are serious implications for national organisations providing outreach services in provincial areas.  On the other hand there could be opportunities to work more closely with local government, to develop partnerships with other organisations and subsequent economies of scale.

  • Collaboration, Participation, Innovation

These words are the catch-cry for change in the community sector, the drivers for action.  Proposed changes in both central and local government offer an opportunity for community organisations to articulate a new view, to occupy a new space and to develop new coalitions.  Yes!

Can we do it?

  • Collaboration is the buzzword of the month

There are plenty of models to follow: community development partnerships, through community engagement, the effective use of social capital and linked with social enterprise.  None of these words are new, but they gain increased currency in a time of sector uncertainty.  What is new is the trend towards alliances with the business sector and philanthropic trusts.  But I worry about collaboration, and whether it is another word for the public and private sectors to take control while proffering the hand of partnership.

  • “A new phase of capitalism, where new ways of creating wealth are identified”

In all the talk of Social Investment and Social Impact and Outcomes it is difficult to see who benefits.  Governments can transfer risks to the community sector.  Social investment from the private sector could lead to creaming off the best of NFPs and ignoring others, thus creating new forms of underclass.  It also leads to the Marketisation of Charities.  That sounds more like a death knell for the sector’s capacity for innovation.  When organisations become risk-aversive it is too easy to curtail services in areas where outcomes and impacts are less impressive.  The spectre of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor is resurrected, specially when funding gets tagged to results.

  • “The community sector is not considered a peer of Government

Too true, I sigh, and has been so for decades, despite terminology like Third Sector and concepts of Civil Society.  Volunteers and their organisations might enjoy praise and platitudes of appreciation, but never do they get to be equals at negotiating tables.

So I am disappointed the recent report on public services makes never a mention of relations with NGOs, NFPs or the community sector.  It is like these organisations do not exist.

Well, it is proclaimed, the Government and the community sector need to get to know each other better. They need to build mutual trust and understanding, not stand-off bargaining.  They need to reduce the power imbalance, get a pay-off for both funders and recipients (not to mention the beneficiaries).  I wish.

Yes, I know the NFP sector is complex.  We struggle to establish a common definition and language, and to determine the essence of the sector.  Yet the diversity of communities and organisations means a single voice and a unifying philosophy is unrealistic.

Yes, there is room for collaboration where there are shared interests.  Yes, we need to break down the silos and patch protection.  And Yes, we have been in the business of change for generations.  Except this time it seems like the change is being done to us, and not in the spirit of community development.

To gain a stake in the future it we need to stake a claim, on our terms, for the territory of our communities and their missions.

April 1, 2012

“Volunteer Associations”

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , , , at 4:33 am by Sue Hine

Last week’s review of national awards honouring volunteers pointed up the extent of voluntary activity outside the mainstream not-for-profit institutions, and generally beyond a formal volunteer programme.  I was reminded of my long ago introduction to sociology, and early studies of New Zealand society.

Forty years ago I was reading about New Zealanders as ‘a nation of joiners’.  Research in 1970 in a country town of 14,000 people found there were 200 organisations, and 60% of the population belonged to one or more of them.  You could find similar patterns all over the country, and I was part of them.

Forty years ago academic research and writing never mentioned ‘volunteers’ or ‘volunteering’, despite the existence of health and social service organisations that had been active for many years, largely supported by volunteers.  Organisations were lumped together as “voluntary associations”, regardless of purpose or function.  Or they were pressure groups, sometimes regarded with suspicion by dismissive politicians. Our open political system, said one writer, “has what amounts to an unrecognised fourth estate” [after legislature, judiciary and administration].  Voluntary participation in communities was surely taken for granted.

At last count (2004) there were 97,000 non-profit organisations in New Zealand.  More recent studies (2008) estimate that 67% of the non-profit workforce are volunteers, and that more than one third of the population aged 10 and over volunteer each year.  It seems we are still a nation of joiners, though under changed circumstances.

Over the past twenty-five years Government has devolved responsibility for delivering many services to community-based organisations, and volunteers can play a large part in these.  Government organisations like Sport NZ (formerly SPARC) and the Department of Conservation are directly engaged with volunteers and supporting volunteering.  A formal relationship accord between government and communities of Aotearoa NewZealand was signed in 2010.

Terminology shifted too.  We absorbed new labels and acronyms: non-governmental organisation (NGO); non-profit institution (NPI); and not-for-profit (NFP).  Collectively, community-based organisations are tagged the Third Sector.

The focus on service delivery and ‘consumers’ and on accountability brought an attendant raft of regulations, eroding the real virtues of volunteer-involving organisations.  Their capacity for developing creative solutions and experimenting with new practice methodologies was hard to fit into the new environment, even though volunteering and volunteers remained an essential part of an organisation’s operations.  Neither did the new model enhance belonging and social connectedness in local communities.

“Voluntary associations” never really went away, but somehow dropped under the radar.  We are still joiners, because we are hard-wired to the idea of community, to social connectedness.  The philosophy of community is as old as – well – communities, and history is chequered with examples of community-led development and change on social, political and economic fronts.

So I should not be surprised to observe some winds of change over the past decade.  Concepts of Civil Society and social capital are re-surfacing in mainstream discussion and actions.  Social entrepreneurs are showing us the way to create sustainable change in our communities.  We can even put a positive spin on NGOs by re-naming them Social Profit Organisations.  And wouldn’t you know it: the theme for this year’s Volunteer Awareness Week is Building Communities through Volunteering.

There is much to encourage us in the present state of volunteering.  National and local awards for volunteers are evidence of a depth of experience and commitment to communities of all kinds.  “Voluntary Associations” deserve more air-time because their activities can build flourishing communities.

No doubt the next forty years will record more social and political change. I am in no doubt that “voluntary associations” will participate in that change, if not leading the charge.