July 24, 2017

Finding Your Feet

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Professional Development tagged , , , , , at 4:11 am by Sue Hine

New Picture (1)So – you’ve got your dream job, managing a volunteer programme. You are all get up and go, until you discover it’s a pretty complex role and all your previous experience and training really was not enough. And sometimes you get tripped up and stumble with what is expected of you.

That’s tough, and you need to find time to figure out what you need and how to get your feet strong on the ground. Will the organisation give you some back-up, and support (with funding) to attend a worthwhile training programme, or to attend a relevant workshop or conference? No such luck if professional development is not included in the organisation’s employment policies, or if the organisation is a small-size community-led operation with minimal funding.

That’s when you need to start thinking about mentoring, that relationship process that will support you to up your skills, to find confidence and generally reach for your goals on your own terms, on your own feet, in your own time.

This mentoring thing is not a new invention. These days it is widely adopted by business and all sorts of organisations – sports, schools and universities, the arts, professions, start-up business projects, social enterprise. It’s a kind of coaching, a sort of on-the-job training, a form of supervision (clinical and administrative) – perhaps an amalgam of all the above. Mentoring has found favour over other terms which imply authoritative oversight. If it’s good enough for all those other occupations, why not for managers of volunteers?

New Picture (2)

When you look at this image it’s pretty much like what you do as a manager of volunteers: you want to sustain volunteer motivation, you are setting goals for them, giving advice and direction, and you are coaching and supporting them in their roles. Just what you are wishing for too?

So how do you find a mentor? Of course there are people who make mentoring a professional career. If that is beyond your means help could be on hand at your local Volunteer Centre. Try them, tell them what you are looking for, and see what they can come up with.

What can you expect from a mentor? A trusting relationship with somebody who listens, but doesn’t tell you what you ought to be doing. It’s amazing what you can learn just by talking out loud. Somebody who can challenge your ideas and attitudes, yet remain supportive while you figure out what will work best for you. Somebody who knows about good resources, as options to explore, not as imperatives.

As an alternative to 1:1 mentoring you could join a Peer Mentoring group in your own locality. Leaders of volunteers get together to find solutions to common issues, to support colleagues in working through what needs to happen, and to identify training needs, swapping notes and resources on best practice and policy procedures. Peer mentoring is thus a more purposeful form of networking. And a Peer Group could also operate as a professional committee to promote volunteering and the importance of management of volunteers within their network.

Peer groups work best when there is a regular facilitator or external leader, but a rotating facilitator can also help participants practice leadership skills.

Now a word for the people who have worked so hard to make the grade of an experienced programme manager and leader of volunteers: can you put up your hand to be a mentor for others? You’ve learned so much, you know the ropes, you’ve been around the traps – why not help others to get a grip on the ground of managing 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.