November 3, 2013

The Adventurous Manager of Volunteers

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Leading Volunteers tagged , , , , at 3:27 am by Sue Hine

new_zealand-bungy_jumping[1]Taking a leap, despite a safety harness and all the instruction is always a risk.  But look how much fun it could be, what a different perspective to be gained, and how one achievement could lead to new adventures.

Taking tips from the business world could be another version of bungy-jumping for managers of volunteers – a leap of faith beyond experience.  I’m taking tips from a former corporate chief executive this week, ideas that can apply equally well to community organisations and the practice of managing volunteers.  Here are some quotes from a recent newspaper interview.

“I suspect many smaller companies hit a barrier, where they can’t unlock that next phase of potential growth. They can’t get past that ‘Kiwi-ness’ and they can’t get past the founder who wants to be part of everything and can’t let go.”

Well maybe we are not all into business growth and export markets, but keeping our organisation alive and flourishing is important.  So configuring a strategic plan that strengthens what we do well is important.  Take a visionary look into future development for the volunteering programme, cultivate the art of the possible.  That means responding to trends in volunteering, population change and social change, and being alert to shifts in political winds.  We cannot rely on the same-old ways forever.

 “I like to be accessible.”

This ex-CE was head of around 11,000 staff.  There are no reports on how many employees got to meet him, but he built a reputation for being communicative and approachable.  That’s how managers of volunteers like to see themselves.  So best practice will include an open-door policy, regular communication through a variety of media, and being responsive to emails and telephone messages.   Those leadership and people skills really do matter.

What is needed is a leadership mentality based on risk-taking, innovation and “disruptive change”.  Too often management gives employees “permission to fail”. Too many New Zealand organisations have a fear of failure in innovation. It’s human. I always said: ‘It’s much better to get out and try new ways of serving customers and to stuff up, than to do everything right’.

There’s a challenge for organisations and managers of volunteers!  Sometimes it feels like we have become so risk-averse we dare not step outside a safety zone.  We hesitate at pushing boundaries, seizing opportunities and creating innovative services.  We have lost the crusading zeal that established many a community organisation and community services.  Do we really fear failure and stuff-ups, or is it the fear of losing funding and service delivery contracts that matters most?

‘Push for change. We need to make more mistakes, because from them we learn so much about what particular customers value’.

Of course!  Making mistakes is the best teacher in managing volunteers, as in life.  So be honest, acknowledge the error, apologise, and rectify.  And move on.

And if you are thinking this is all too much, take courage from recent UK postings.  Be an adventurous manager of volunteers.  Go bungy-jumping.

And don’t forget to make November 5 Your Day!

April 14, 2013

“Getting” Volunteering

Posted in Best Practice, Organisation responsibilities, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 4:39 am by Sue Hine


For too long I have been listening to these words, how “they” just do not understand volunteering and management of volunteers.  Now I am sitting up to ask the question “What do we mean by getting volunteering what do we want ‘them’ to get?”

And I’m running into trouble when I go looking for answers.

I could recite the litany of volunteer motivations; describe the history of community organisations and their rise to national and corporate status.  I could tell the stories of volunteers, and there are millions to document ‘making the difference’ for individuals and communities.  I’m not so keen on citing the record of hours worked and assumed $$ contributions, because that information does not seem to wash further than input/output statistics in the annual accounts – volunteers are just another resource to draw on.  And anyway, we have gone down all these roads, many times.

What is it, what is the real deal that would get staff and organisation executives and government departments and corporate bosses to open their eyes to a real Ah-Ha moment about volunteering?

For starters it would help if “they”

Have had personal experience of volunteering and an understanding of the relevance of community in the wider fields of political and social action.

Work in an organisation structure and culture where volunteers are physically located in staff work-spaces, and which integrates the volunteer programme in service delivery plans and processes.

Employee volunteering is another option to open eyes to the richness and diversity of community organisations, and to their needs.

Yet these experiences do not seem to work for everyone in all places.  The stories keep recurring about a lack of support for volunteers and their managers, and about organisations not taking volunteering seriously.  It’s a low cost investment, nice to have, but not something to be worried about nor included when it comes to planning and strategic development.

Of course what the bosses and bureaucrats should be doing is paying attention to Volunteering New Zealand’s Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer-Involving Organisations

It is encouraging to note increasing awareness and activism among managers of volunteers and associated groups.  We are talking up impact and outcome measurement of volunteer services, advocating for volunteering within our organisations.  But following this path is simply trying to prove the worth of volunteering on “their” terms, a linear logic that can be described with numbers on paper.

If only “they” could look the other way to see the true value of volunteering.  Here is what I would want “them” to see:

Volunteers complement the organisation’s delivery of services.

Volunteers add value to services, providing extras that are never going to be funded, and which enhance the holistic experience of users/clients.

Volunteers are ambassadors for the organisation.  With a good experience volunteers can be the best marketing agent ever.  If that experience is not so good they will do the worst possible damage to your reputation in the community, making it difficult to recruit new volunteers, and putting significant limitations on the success of fundraising projects.

Community organisations are said to be driven by values.  No matter the mission you will find words like respect, dignity, communication, family-whanau/people-centred, community inclusiveness featuring on the masthead.   Values represent beliefs and attitudes we hold dear, and we know them by the way they are exhibited in behaviour.  Regardless of the reasons why people volunteer their behaviour generally reflects the ideals of the organisation.

So when we try to measure volunteering according to business plans and key performance indicators and impact measurement we get stuck on things like courtesy and goodwill, like relationships and understanding, like social connections and community development and individual and collective strengths.  Volunteering is about people, by people and for people.

The value of volunteering is not less than the organisation’s ability to reach targets and to show a return on investment.  Volunteering is a different sort of value.  So, for “them” to ‘get volunteering’ requires understanding a different culture.

The beauty of understanding and accepting cultural difference is the new relationship that forms, based on each others’ strengths and a willingness to learn how to work together.  That’s when I shall know “they” really get volunteering.

November 25, 2012

A Passionate Affair

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

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

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

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

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

Show us your passion

Your passion, our nation, volunteer now!

Volunteer leadership is “passion management.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 1, 2012

Top Tips for Managing Volunteers

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

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

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

Here is what is required for the last assignment:

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

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

 The Golden Rule

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


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


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

Care for your Volunteers

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

Be inclusive

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

Be creative and innovative

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

Be professional

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

 Make Volunteering Fun!      Enjoy having a good laugh!

Be humble 

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

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

May 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. 


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.


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)

April 22, 2012

Minding Our Values

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice tagged , , , , , , at 4:12 am by Sue Hine

It’s always enlightening to bone up on organisation missions and visions.  The office reception or the organisation’s website or letterhead is the place to go.  That’s where I also look out for the values, the words that act as the moral compass to guide the organisation’s operation and practice.

Many NPF organisations claim they are Values-Driven, drawing on their foundation manifesto.  But organisation values are not exclusive to our sector.  Basic manuals on organisation development will include reference to the importance of developing a Mission, Vision and Values.  Corporate businesses and government departments can spend time and a lot of $$ pinning the right words and statements to their mastheads.  The mission describes the intention of an organisation’s design and plan, and the vision defines the desired end-state.  The values express ends and means underpinning both mission and vision.

That is, the abstract words that name our values become real in our behaviour, the way we do business and in our relationships.

One writer* calls values “the DNA of an organisation, the glue that holds culture, leadership and strategy together”.  So even if there are no values identified they will be operating under the radar.  Much better to have them up front.

Many an organisation has failed because it got diverted from its mission and the vision got blurred. But none failed so spectacularly as the energy corporation Enron, in 2001.  Engraved in granite at head office reception, Enron’s values were Communication, Integrity, Respect, and Excellence – decorative words that came to be a false deal in the company’s business practice.

This cautionary tale might be an extreme example, yet is a reminder to pay attention to organisational standards and everyday practices.  And to go about identifying values if not already established – involving all staff and volunteers.

Choosing particular value-words is the fun part. What does this organisation stand for?  What words represent the way we want our mission and vision to be understood?  And more particularly, what words will inform our actions and behaviours?  Yes, but value-words are abstracts that have no substance until we put meaning and actions to them.  And then we have to understand how commitment to a particular value can operate on a continuum: people will put different weights to the meanings, depending on their own beliefs.

Let’s take Respect as an example. A discussion might go something like this:

Q:        Why have we selected this value-word?

A:        Because … we believe in the fundamental dignity of all people; people have rights; we are a people-centred organisation; because it fits with our mission.

Q:        How can we live up to this value?  How can we demonstrate ‘respect’?

A:        We listen, actively; we want to empower others; we answer messages and queries promptly; we can agree to disagree; we accept differences.

Clearly such questions involve extensive discussion of the ‘makes you think’ kind.  Values then become embedded in organisation planning and policies and operations.  Values will be on the agenda in recruitment interviews.  And the pay-off will become evident in organisation culture, staff and volunteer cohesion, and flow on to reputation in the community.

This piece is a very brief introduction to the business of values.  A recent UK survey of NFP organisations will take you a bit further, under the title To Practise what we Preach.  Exactly!


* Henderson, et al. (2006) Leading Through Values: Linking company culture to business strategy.  Auckland: HarperCollins.