I am thoroughly enjoying my current role in the volunteerism world. Working with the largest volunteering organisation in my state, my role is to design and implement a renewed volunteer framework, policy, standards, guidelines and tools. I’m like a kid let loose in a candy store! It’s a good place to be with my career at the moment. I’ve been managing programs and leading volunteers for over 21 years. To this role I am bringing much experience and it’s a learning curve for me also. It is also empowering to get organisational support and resources for such a big and important project and I do believe that organisations that invest in excellent volunteer management systems truly value volunteering.
It has been a reflective time for me as well. A part of me still misses the day to day contact that can come with managing volunteers. ‘It’s all about the people” is a mantra I often use for myself and it keeps me “real” in my current work.
Personally it is satisfying to be doing this current project and it goes to what we can do, as volunteer leaders, with our skills and knowledge. Too often, volunteering strategy and policy is designed by people who do not have subject matter expertise. While the involvement of HR in a collaborative way, along with other stakeholders is important for project design and input, delivering projects like these without volunteer management expertise simply does not make sense and can in fact be detrimental to volunteering.
Too often I see Volunteer Managers underselling and undervaluing their own skill set. There remains an unconscious bias, to some degree, that they are after all “just” managing volunteers. Yet, we should all know by now how complex effective volunteer management is. We should know how many skills it requires and that a skilled volunteer leader is worth their weight in gold!
What I love about volunteering the most is that it is ever changing and fluid. The volunteering space can be a breeding ground for innovation. The volunteering world is one of opportunity as well as hope. Shifting volunteering trends, customer experience and sustainability drivers require us to build and implement the appropriate standards, systems and processes to support leaders to manage volunteering resources responsibly, fairly, effectively and creatively. As trends in volunteering show, the volunteering marketplace is becoming increasingly competitive. So now is the time to be reviewing your volunteering strategy!
This is the opportunity for Volunteer Managers to step up to the plate. Maybe your organisation does not have a strategy to begin with? If not, it can all begin with a conversation and a chance for you to influence up or across in your organisation. If you have a current framework check to see if it is still current!
I still remember clearly a Volunteer Management network meeting I attended about 10 years ago. Present amongst the large group were 3 Volunteer Managers from a hospital group. They wanted to discuss a new policy their organisation had released about volunteering. They had some serious concerns about aspects of this policy. When I asked if they had been consulted about the policy before it was released they said no and actually seemed surprised I had asked! This brings me to the crux of the matter. It’s not about power and it’s not about status. As Subject Matter Experts we should have a thorough understanding of the history, culture, objectives and priorities of volunteering in our organisations. We are the ones who should have the thorough understanding of the world in which volunteering operates.
I would go as far to say that effective volunteer leadership needs far more than the operational day to day duties that go hand in hand with volunteer coordination. It needs collaboration and design skills and a strategic overview that aligns your volunteering service to your organisational mission. In the process you have the opportunity to tick the boxes of recognition, renewal, and innovation and enhancing the service you provide to the people we are helping in our communities. And at the end of the day that end result is what it is all about.
To sum up I am encouraging you to step up. Volunteer Managers should have the opportunity to influence and impact your organisations volunteering practice strategically as well as operationally.