November 16, 2014

Getting Recruitment Right!

Posted in Best Practice, Language, Marketing tagged , , , at 2:47 am by Sue Hine

Shackleton advtThe difficulties of volunteer recruitment never seem to go away.  The plaints of being short of people or not getting the ‘right sort’ of people keep on being raised.  I am still seeing notices in community newspapers or on social media and on websites about ‘wanting’ and ‘needing’ volunteers – which do little more to attract people beyond relying on the organisation’s reputation and public profile.

Well if you have not read the small print in the image above take a look at it now.

This notice reportedly delivered 5000 responses to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment of a crew for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914. The original advertisement has never been located so there is doubt about its authenticity.  Nevertheless it is a great story, alongside the subsequent adventures and heroism of the men on the expedition.

Yes, the message is based on men wanted (remember this is pre-Women’s Lib days), but it was the era of Antarctic exploration, and maybe the name of Shackleton drew attention (he had already made a name for himself).  Maybe all those men were looking for adventure, not knowing there was a different sort of adventurous expedition that would be announced in just a few months time.

For managers of volunteers the point of any recruitment advertising is (1) grabbing attention and (2) understanding the range of motivations that draw people to volunteer.  Add to that some basic principles of marketing, along with the organisation’s well-articulated reasons for engaging with volunteers.

What sort of salvo from a voluntary organisation would deliver the impact that Shackleton achieved?

  • Unleash your talents!
  • Want to apply your under-utilised skills?
  • Opportunity knocks!
  • Make friends and influence people
  • Join our fun-filled team at….

It’s the impact that counts – one that attracts attention.  Offer a taste of the kind of work available – which does not have to be accompanied by the kind of conditions Shackleton was describing.  Add in other attractions: the rewards of volunteer work, like Shackleton’s ‘honour and recognition’, or the flexible time arrangements, or the benefits of skill development and work experience.  Yes, you can make much of the worthiness of your organisation’s cause, because many volunteers will sign up to pursue their passionate interests.  But do avoid messages that sound like you are desperate for help. That plea makes me wonder why volunteers are not signing up and to ask if there is something wrong with the volunteer programme.

All of these suggestions tap into standard volunteer motivations.  They are also pretty similar to anything found in Sits Vac columns or job-seeking websites.  Let’s not forget that volunteering is a job, is real work – and not simply stuffing envelopes and making cups of tea.  And we do it for free, for all sorts of different reasons.

Two more recommendations (but note, there is never a last word on recruitment): (1) include a name, a real person to contact beyond the phone number or email address; and (2) ensure a quick response to messages and expressions of interest.  That’s the most important start for a conversation that could lead to a long career as a volunteer.

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September 8, 2014

A Fair Go for Volunteers

Posted in Best Practice, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , at 7:13 am by Sue Hine

images[1]It’s in our DNA.  It’s in our thinking and every-day language.  A Fair Go has been the Kiwi ethos since the early days of European colonisation.  New settlers came to escape from social injustice and gross inequity in their home states.  Then the limitations of climate and soil and natural resources fed the development of cultural norms, social practices and political institutions that encouraged and enabled fairness, sharing and redistribution.  We were living in ‘God’s own country’.

We got votes for women in 1893, a pension for elderly people in 1898, and in 1938 the landmark Social Security Act introduced our distributive welfare system.  Fairness has been a foundation for our health and education policies and public services, and of course in the evolution of community organisations.  But the growth of inequality in recent decades has shaken up our faith in getting a fair go.

Politicians (especially in this election-fevered period) like to talk of ‘ordinary New Zealanders’ in defence of their policies and to rebut critics.  Trouble is, we are no longer an ‘ordinary’ bunch of people: the conformist years of 1950s are long gone.  There is nothing ordinary about income inequality and child poverty.  Ethnic diversity has become extraordinary, along with different cultures and a plurality of values.  Fair Go (a consumer advocacy programme) might be the longest running TV show in New Zealand, consistently achieving high ratings – because it is about righting shoddy practice and unfair dealings – but could the programme’s success indicate a decline in the practice of fairness over recent decades?

When it comes to the community and voluntary sector it does not take much search of the literature to find references to ‘marginalisation’, ‘political interference’, ‘loss of independence’ and ‘contracting constraints’.  There is nothing fair going on here.

I wonder how volunteer programmes fare in this current environment.  What does it take to ensure and to maintain a fair go for volunteers?  There’s a bunch of indicators that could give me some answers.

Recruitment patterns:  Elements of discrimination or exclusion, and recruiting volunteers to fit the organisation mould – or diversity welcomed and potential perceived.

Level of Engagement:  Volunteers assigned low-skill tasks, minimal support and encouragement – or real work contributing to organisation mission; opportunities for job enrichment; ongoing support and training; consulted on organisation change; ideas and suggestions welcomed, and actioned; good relations with paid staff.

Retention rates:  Regular turnover of volunteers – or sustained and involved engagement; resignations due to external factors.

These measures are no-brainers: they indicate the best and worst of volunteer engagement.  Best is the organisation that understands volunteering, appreciates the work of volunteers and the added value they bring to the organisation.  It’s an organisation that never has to hang out signs like ‘Desperately Needing Volunteers’.

And it doesn’t take much to join the dots with the core business of a manager of volunteers.  That’s the person that knows all about a Fair Go, and how to make it happen for volunteers.  So let’s make sure we give the manager of volunteers a fair go too.  Find out how in the Volunteering New Zealand document, Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer Involving Organisations.

August 17, 2014

It Takes All Sorts

Posted in Best Practice, Trends in Volunteering tagged , , , at 3:27 am by Sue Hine

imagesIGCG892CDiversity is the theme of the moment, popping up in workshops around the country, promoted on websites, and a national forum is to be held next week, with a focus on migrant and refugee employment.

New Zealand is now recognised as one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world.  Without overlooking our bicultural heritage we need to acknowledge the 213 ethnicities that are living here in Aotearoa.  You could say we have become a melting pot for the 21st century.  So what does this mean for the voluntary and community sector?

Volunteering is a well-travelled route for new migrants, for offering work experience, for improving language skills, for getting to know local communities.  There are countless success stories, and many continue their volunteer involvement long after they find paid work.

But diversity is wider than including ethnic groups.  There’s a huge range of skills, interests, ages and abilities in our population to contribute to volunteering in our communities.   And when this diversity is set alongside the diversity of volunteer organisations and their members and users we could be entering a golden age of volunteering.

So let’s look at developing further all those different volunteer streams.

Corporate volunteering is increasing in bounds, especially when it is organised through the local Volunteer Centre.   (Find out more hereEmployees in the Community)  Corporate groups can tackle large-scale projects or special ventures for organisations, or offer pro bono services.  Here is a way to introduce people to the excitement, the creative stimulation, the camaraderie and companionship that volunteering can offer, which can then spin-off to a continuing involvement for individuals.

Engaging people with disabilities is not a new source of volunteers, not if you have an open mind and a focus on ability.  Disabled people might need accessible facilities or extra support (see this useful model) – but to exclude them from volunteering opportunities is to deny their participation as members of our communities.   There are plenty of examples where disabled or chronically-ill people are helping their fellows, or working in another field altogether.  Well-planned programmes bring benefits to disabled people and to the organisation, and to our communities.

Gen Y and Millenials get a lot of public attention these days.  There is quite an industry devoted to encouraging young people into volunteering.  Yet I note plenty of examples where these generations are doing boots-and-all stuff in their communities, creating and sustaining initiatives and developing social enterprises, and their own strategies to counter limited opportunities in mainstream employment.  The story of the Student Volunteer Army is a good example.  At the same time traditional volunteer services are proving they are open to engaging with young people.

Internship programmes offer another point of entry to volunteering for young people.  Despite concerns and debates the best programmes will be ensuring benefits to both organisation and the intern.  And if they have not discovered volunteering previously the interns I meet are also discovering community and the world beyond paid employment.

The Boomer generation is another significant population group, yet we hear little about them as volunteers.  Are they being ignored?  As the community movers and shakers of times past is their continuing involvement being taken for granted?  Like all other volunteers older people are looking beyond stuffing envelopes for challenges relevant to their knowledge and skills.   There is still a place for cross-generational mix, and without full representation in the volunteer pool then the claim to diversity is diminished.

It takes all sorts to achieve the best in volunteering.  I’ve said all this before, but some things are worth repeating.

March 23, 2014

Perceptions of Volunteering

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Managing Volunteers, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , at 4:14 am by Sue Hine

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How do we perceive volunteering?  Let me count the ways that people present requests for volunteer help and to offer volunteer time:

  • Can you find a volunteer to clean up after staff meetings?
  • We’d like to place volunteers with you for 15 to 30 hours per week for work experience.
  • This care-giving service agency is being cut back and we’d like your organisation to provide volunteers to do this work.
  • Please can you find volunteers to clean out this house, because commercial cleaners refuse to do it.
  • I’ve got a couple of hours to fill in each week, I don’t mind what I do.  What’s that? (Indignant tone) I don’t need any training or induction, I’ve got experience.  I thought you’d welcome some extra help.
  •  We’ve got a team of volunteers ready to help, anything you need, for tomorrow
  • There’s a fundraising event this weekend – we need several teams of volunteers

These requests and offers can come from internal staff or external agencies and individuals. Each statement offers different assumptions about volunteers and volunteering.  Volunteers are menial hand-maidens, suitable for domestic work; organisations are desperate for volunteer help; and volunteers are readily available at a moment’s notice.  Sometimes it is evident that when contracts are cut back volunteers from another organisation are expected to step up to roles that were formerly undertaken by paid staff.  The eye of many a beholder reflects mistaken perceptions of volunteering.

Of course managers of volunteers are renowned for their flexibility and creative innovation when it comes to engaging and placement of volunteers.  And some of the list above may not be out of tune with regular practice.  More often I am seeing a mismatch between perception and the reality of 21st century volunteering.

Fifty years ago anybody who raised a hand to volunteer would be welcome.  Fifty years ago there were always willing working bees turning out to fix up premises, clear a section, do a paint job or run a fundraising event.  Regular cake stalls did the trick to pay for rented space and supplies.  Fifty years ago there were no interviewing, training or police checks.  Fifty years ago groups of volunteers were available even at short notice.  There was little recognition of a volunteer sector:  organisations were lumped together as ‘voluntary associations’.

This kind of volunteering has not gone away.  Spontaneous volunteers appear in great numbers during disaster emergencies: nobody is asked, they all come to help, to look out for each other in times of need.  People still gather in groups for a cause, an idea, to create a community garden or for a new community development initiative.

It’s the organisations that have changed, and formal volunteering for service provision has become one end of a long continuum covering the donation of freely given time.

Formalised volunteering is accompanied by obligations, regulations, recording, reporting and measuring.  Volunteering has its own international and political associations.  If volunteers are not counted as professional, their managers surely own to professional status.  Volunteering in this context is big business.

There’s a set of rules now, except the rules of engagement can vary, depending on the organisation’s purpose, in-house structure and level of activity.  No wonder there is confusion.  No wonder managers of volunteers are pressed to explain over and over why they cannot meet the requests that fall outside designated programmes and responsibilities.

What to do?

Here’s my list of priorities:

  • A clear statement on why volunteers are involved in the organisation, indicating what roles volunteers undertake
  • A fully-developed policy on the volunteering programme
  • Orientation for all paid staff includes time with the manager of volunteers
  • Full information about the volunteering programme on the organisation’s website
  • Spend time advising details of the volunteer programme to related agencies (Volunteer Centres, funders and corporate sponsors)

There are no guarantees these suggestions will change perceptions of volunteering overnight.  But raising levels of understanding of volunteering under 21st century conditions will mean fewer inappropriate requests for volunteers.

August 11, 2013

A Traveller’s Tale

Posted in Language, Motivation, volunteer experience tagged , , at 11:07 pm by Sue Hine

DSC08014There are always stories to tell after travel adventures.  I did not go looking for volunteers and volunteering on my recent OE, but the following tale was overheard during a long day on the bus.  It was related by a big man with a big voice.  We all got to hear what he had to say. 

I retired about five years ago.  Best thing I ever did.  I’ve got my hobbies and I go travelling pretty much every year.  I don’t miss the grind of work a jot.  Some people say I should be doing some volunteering: no way!  I’m not going in to do drudge work to help an organisation save a bit of money.  If I am going to volunteer I want to make sure it’s for a mission I believe in and want to help. 

Right on, I said to myself.  That’s the way most people are getting involved in volunteering these days.   After all, volunteering is always about giving time freely and willingly, right?

Hmmm…. Free Will is something philosophers have been debating for centuries.  Does free choice really exist alongside all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ learned during our childhood and reinforced throughout a lifetime? 

For quite a while now it has been clear that the free will of volunteering can be generated by self-interest.  I want some work experience, some credits for my study courses, to get out of the house and enjoy some company, to help me learn about my new community, or to practice speaking English.  About the only real freedom is in engaging with an organisation of my own choosing.  Even those sentenced to Community Service (mandatory volunteering) are able to select where they will work out their time.

The ethics of Duty, Obligation and Civic Responsibility do not feature in our language so much these days.  A recent research publication records the decline over the past two hundred years in the use of words linked to duty and obligation, while words linked to individualism and materialism have increased.  This shift in our mind-sets, says the psychologist researcher, reflects the socio-cultural changes effected by urbanisation, universal education and technology.   It’s also worth noting how volunteering has become more formalised and structured – and the emergence of professional standards for management practice.   

When motivation is a matter of self-interest Free Will can still get exercised in selecting an organisation for volunteer effort – though self-interest carries a responsibility to ensure our expectations match the organisation goals and the available volunteer roles.  I would hope recruitment and orientation procedures would help ensure an appropriate match between organisation and aspiring volunteer.   And if the organisation and the volunteer programme offer the best possible experience then further volunteering is encouraged.

So let us not get precious about definitions and the different paths that bring people to volunteering.  Language changes, and the way we think and behave and relate to our environment and in our communities will continue to change over time. 

May 26, 2013

The Neediness of Volunteer Organisations

Posted in Best Practice, Language, Managers Matter, Marketing, Organisational gains from volunteering tagged , , , , at 4:36 am by Sue Hine

Help wanted on clothes lineI’m on my language hobby-horse again, this time on why we should be careful in using the word need.

Mostly I know volunteer organisations are established on the basis of responding to a need, whether it’s for kids sport, disaffected youth, family abuse, or for civic and political protest.  That is, people in the community recognise a gap or a flaw in services and decide to step up and step in to provide it themselves.

I can understand neediness when it comes to funding and resourcing operations.  Even the smallest organisation will be looking to cover costs for stamps and paper, and photocopying minutes of meetings, phone calls and internet services.  Maybe membership fees and dipping into our own pockets will cover the deficit, but that may not be sustainable over time.  The organisation might grow, get some traction through philanthropic grants and perhaps a government contract, though the $$ are never enough to cover total expenditure.

Recruiting volunteers is not the first step in developing a volunteer programme, but it’s certainly the one that trips many an organisation, as reported in the Managers Matter research (2010).  It seems the problem is about posing recruitment messages as needing volunteers.

Twice this week I’ve seen promos for volunteers that are more like begging pleas.  This or that organisation needs volunteers – can you help?  Need and help go together, relying simply on reader perception of these words and possible recognition of the organisation’s brand or logo.  Without indication of volunteer roles and responsibilities and without describing the advantages in volunteering for this organisation I am most likely to offer nothing more than a passing glance to such messages.

NeedHelp – and then add Want, to make a triumvirate of words least likely to attract volunteers.  British World War I recruitment posters no longer have the pull of earlier times: volunteers wanted is just another empty plea.  Empty, because no-one is asking about the skills and experience I could offer, nor describing the potential benefits of volunteering with your organisation.  Help wanted is just another banner fluttering in the breeze of volunteer opportunities.

What does work in attracting volunteers, whether it’s through community networks, a website, Facebook or other social media, or via Volunteer Centre brokerage?

For starters you don’t have to use any of the above: you go ask people.  Not because you need or want them to help.  You ask because they’ve got skills and talents that would be really useful; because the organisation is a fun place to work; because they’ve got a programme that supports and appreciates volunteer work – and a host of other reasons to shoulder-tap and get people interested.  There’s a powerful argument posted this week about Asking being the New Telling.  We’ve known about direct approaches to volunteers for many years, and we need to grow out of relying on begging messages.   Here’s another link promoting the direct ask, and you can’t do better than this compilation of ways to turn your organisation into a volunteer magnet.  Or have a look at Susan Ellis’ run-down on the turn-offs in volunteer recruitment.

I wish we could get past the agonising about needing and wanting volunteers to help organisations.  There is so much good advice available on practical ways to find and keep volunteers we should not have to keep on repeating the begging messages of neediness.

When I get past the neediness pleas I know that volunteering is much more about belonging in and building healthy communities.  And when I find an organisation that offers attractive recruitment promotion I will know there’s a switched-on manager of volunteers who knows how and can do.

It’s long past time to turn on a few more light bulbs.

September 23, 2012

Why Else Would You Volunteer?

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Language, Motivation, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 4:46 am by Sue Hine

At the beginning of this month I was extolling the nature and philosophy of volunteering, quoting words like Citizenship, Engagement, Generosity, and a Felt Sense of Community.  No question, these words represent the best concepts of volunteering.

Except….  Unless….  Until….  I start thinking about the other reasons why, in this day and age, people give their time and skills and energies, for free, for community benefit.

I have banged on a lot about the Gift Relationship, spoken in hushed words about the virtues of Altruism and the Spirit of Community.  You see, all these words (they deserve no less than Capital Letters) are the true representations of volunteering.  Except….  Unless….  Until….

Now it is time to get real, time to see just how inclusive volunteering and volunteer programmes can be, outside the Goodwill and Community Solidarity philosophy.

At the local Op-Shop the customer service volunteers are pretty much all older people.  They tell me their time here is the social highlight of their week.  Yes, they are unpaid, and all there by free will, though their ulterior motive is socialisation, to meet and greet people, have a conversation and a bit of a laugh.  And maybe a chance to pick up a bargain as well.

Also on the staff at this Shop are the sorters and cleaners, a right mix of volunteers.   There are young people looking for work experience to put on their CVs.  There are migrants and refugees practising English language skills.  There are the people working off community sentences.   Others are there as evidence of job-seeking in order to retain their welfare payments.

In the administration office of another organisation I meet the ‘interns’, mostly students on placement for their applied degree qualification, and a fair smattering of new migrants.  Unpaid internships are welcomed as work experience to improve job prospects, especially for these groups.

And then I come across the team of Corporate Volunteers who are out on their ‘day-release’ programme, that annual event that demonstrates ‘corporate social responsibility’.  They have engaged with the Department of Conservation to check out bait traps in a protected reserve.  Whoa, I think.  The exercise is likely to be a whole bit of hiking, and possibly encounters with some health and safety hazards in the not-so-nice parts of the day when dealing with captives in the traps.  It is quite a bit different from their day job.  Next time they might prefer to offer pro bono services of their professional skills in governance, or in organisational management and administration.

Volunteering is not what it used to be.  The ideas of ‘free will’ and ‘compulsion’ have been mixed and stirred in a blender.  (I can even confess to volunteering as an escape from tele-marketing calls.) Take a look at Volunteering Tasmania and how they are describing volunteering for our new age:

  • It has a direct benefit to the community and the volunteer (whether the benefit is tangible or intangible);
  • It is undertaken by choice; and
  • It is unpaid. (However, the volunteer may receive reasonable or appropriate reimbursement for expenses incurred that are associated with the role, and/or may receive a monetary or other incentive/reward.)

That’s the commonsense reality of volunteering in the 21st century for you.  Volunteering is always a two-way stretch of reciprocal benefits.

Because, whatever the reason for volunteering, the experience of working for nothing is also an exposure to community services, to the values and commitment supporting development in our communities.  Many a volunteer has extended self-interest to an employment career in the community and voluntary sector.  Or a corporate volunteer programme has introduced people to organisations and opportunities for on-going volunteering.

Understanding these details gives you a head start in recruiting volunteers, and in knowing how to reinforce the rewards, and how to retain volunteer support.

May 20, 2012

There’s a New One Every Day

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Celebrations, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , , , , at 1:31 am by Sue Hine

In all the gloom and doom of national and international economics the volunteer industry keeps on keeping on.  Numbers of volunteers continue to increase, now spread across a wider age range than in generations past, and across different sectors.    The range of volunteer activities broadens as organisations raise their expectations and the standards of volunteer programmes, as the manager of volunteers becomes recognised as a leader holding a pivotal role in developing and maintaining volunteer services.

There could be quite a number of people wanting to tell me “it ain’t necessarily so”.  Somebody is bound to point out how volunteer recruitment and retention is so often the most wanted topic on Volunteer Centre training schedules.  There are lots of reasons for this: turnover in people working with volunteers, a lack of specific training on management of volunteers, getting behind the times in new ways to attract volunteers, and the different expectations of volunteers – you know, using social media, getting upbeat in advertising, creating new roles for volunteers.

There will always be room for improvement.  And there are always people out there thinking about volunteering who need a bit of encouragement.

Like a conversation I had last week that went like this:

–          I am asked: Are you working, or retired?

–          I talk a bit about being involved in the Management of Volunteers Project, and why.  Of course it’s a great opportunity to do a bit of a sell, on volunteering and on the importance of good management for volunteers.

–          Oh, she says a little wistfully, I’ve thought about volunteering, and I could ‘cos I work part-time.  I do like shopping, she adds, eyes lighting up at the thought of being a volunteer that got to browse the malls and shopping meccas.

–          Well, I advise, it’s really important that you get a job that you like, and managers try to match your interests.

So then I went on about how to connect, how to find out what volunteer positions were available.  Easy as, I said – you can do it all on the computer.  Or you could go to Facebook – there are regular inserts on volunteer opportunities.  Or go visit a Volunteer Centre.  That’s where you can get registered and get referred to places that could meet your interests and expectations.

I don’t know if I have enabled one more person to join the ranks of volunteers, but at least I have taken the opportunity to offer some good leads and some encouragement to give it a go.

In just four weeks’ time New Zealand will be alive with exhibitions and events to promote and to celebrate volunteering.  Volunteer Awareness Week will have something for everyone.  This annual programme serves to illustrate the breadth and depth of volunteering and all the organisations that go to make our Civil Society.

Volunteers are everywhere.  When I go to catch a bus I walk past the Community Centre which is always alive with people meeting for community purposes.  Around the corner I can find the local Community Garden, and further on is the Citizens Advice Bureau staffed by warm and welcoming volunteers.  When I go walking on one of the many trails around Wellington I see the work of volunteers who have been landscaping a desolate environment, restoring native plants and trees, recovering a waterway to re-introduce native fish.  During the weekend I’ll be watching some kids run around a cold and muddy sports field, and I will be admiring the volunteers who are team coaches, managers and referees, and the ones who organise the rota for half-time oranges and the jersey washing.  My weekly community newspapers tell me more, about op-shops run by volunteers, about food collections for Food Banks, or a meal delivery service for new mums.  Volunteers knock at my door, doing their stuff as collectors for a fund-raising appeal.  Email newsletters turn up in my in-box, crafted by volunteers.

That’s the way of my community, just a small part of it.  This year’s slogan for Volunteer awareness week is Building Communities through Volunteering.  That’s what we do, and you can read more here.