Last week a client of mine, whose role is to manage the organisation’s volunteers talked to me about a recent situation that occurred between a volunteer and a line manager.
The line manager had talked with the volunteer manager on a number of occasions about her concerns around how a particular volunteer interacted with him. He said that he found her comments at times in appropriate, however they were always wrapped up in a manner of ‘just joking’. Because of this approach by the volunteer, the line manager had decided to ‘brush it off’. However a few weeks later the line manager walked into the workplace and the volunteer said “oh you here to stick your beak in?’
The story continued with the line manager inviting the volunteer into a private conversation to talk about how he felt when she said this, why it was inappropriate and how being respectful to each other was a core value of the organisation.
When considering the role of volunteers within an organisation key questions are: what are the behavioural standards we expect of our volunteer?; what is our business imperative for having volunteers?; How do volunteers help us to achieve our mission; what is their contribution? As each organisation seeks to achieve its mission, volunteers’ contribution can be central due to their giving of time, expertise, energy and talents. Volunteers come from diverse background (age, race, educational level, social background, income) and can often help bring community ownership of solutions to mutual problems.
The literature argues that volunteers engender eagerness and interest and help to generate a positive image of the organisation within the community. However if an organisation does not take the time to orientate, induct, make clear the organisation’s values and then help the volunteers model the values, their contributions may do more harm than good.
So can anyone manage volunteers? I advocate that the role requires a high level of skills and experience. In the above story the Volunteer Manager realised her need to undertake some ‘values workshops’ with the volunteers to re-set the standards of behaviour.
Improvements to the status of volunteer managers within community organisations in Australia has seen a shift from having the management of volunteers as an add-on position to part-time or full-time paid dedicated positions. This has been reflected in the literature, for examples see “Competencies for Managers of Volunteers: Continuum Indicator” http://www.maineservicecommission.gov/docs/2008CMVOverviewFINAL.pdf which outlines 3 broad categories of skills required by managers of volunteers, they include: Supervision and Human Resources, Management and Operations, and Leadership. The leadership role that the volunteer manager takes can be the key position in leveraging an organisation’s resources. Volunteer management can be the opening into the community the organisation needs. Through this strategy people are provided with opportunities to become more involved in local issues and global causes, or serving as a grassroots source of public relations and marketing.
I advocate that volunteers are the responsibility of senior management. The culture, strategy, atmosphere and tone of an organisation are set by those at the top. Senior staff need to look closely at the way volunteers are inducted, trained and treated to ensure vision, mission and values alignment. Senior staff need to be clear about what key messages are being sent about volunteers and how their contribution adds value to both parties. If you are interested in a conversation about volunteers or volunteering contact firstname.lastname@example.org.