Thursday, May 20, 2010

What shapes us?

I don’t see much about this topic when it comes to volunteer management. Perhaps there is research there that I have yet to find. I am no academic. Academia may have pages on the topic somewhere.

But in my short 14 years of volunteer management I have come across so much “stuff” to learn, to talk about, to decipher, to debate about the field of volunteer management. Heck – we still debate whether we are a field or not!

But I won’t get into that again. Not now anyway!

I’ve attended many conferences on volunteerism and many retreats on “advanced volunteer management” all learning experiences. In fact I am one who believes that the learning process is never ending. A simple philosophy maybe but one that is very close to my heart. I have learnt never to call myself an “expert” in anything and have become wary of those who will take that title. Oh but that is for another blog!. Simply put I have a feeling that volunteerism and volunteer management is ever evolving and that quite frankly it is a rare area where “experts” and academia” will have trouble keeping up.

Nevertheless I am extremely grateful to be involved in this field. I still love my job. Yes, I have my off days but I do love what I do and I don’t wake up thinking “oh no – not another day” and I am not the type who proclaims “thank God its Friday” at the end of the week.

Where am I going with this? Setting the scene. I’ve been to many “advanced’ retreats for volunteer management here in Australia. And I cannot fault them. They have certainly “advanced” my thinking and my career.

Recently though I had an email from another volunteer manager. They told me that their idea of advanced was some type of concept or learning that they had never heard of before. They wanted, in essence, to see something completely new presented to them.
I kinda get what they are saying and kinda not. In short I think that just because its new, doesn’t mean its advanced..But I get the jist of what they were trying to say too.

New ideas…new thought etc

So here’s my theory…

Is it worth looking at what shapes us? By that I mean to say, is it is worth examining what forces have driven us into volunteer management.

I am no psychologist or anthropologist but wonder if we can have this discussion? Indeed, I wonder if we ever have had this discussion.

In short

Why are you a volunteer manager?

We, so often, so care about finding out about the motivation behind why our volunteers volunteer? Can we not ask why we volunteer manage? 
To say “I just fell into volunteer management” won’t suffice here. Some research states that this may be a significant portion of us. I know that I “fell” into this career! But that is not the reason I’ve been in this career for 14 years!

If there isn’t a study – there should be. Why? Well, if like me you care about the future of this profession then it makes sense to have an idea about the history of the profession. Now I know there are some who have a passion for that aspect. Many of the editors of e-volunteering have not only captured some historical aspects of volunteerism but by the very nature of their exploratory articles on volunteer management have captured in a sense an historical essence of volunteering management! The very editors may well disagree but that at least has been my personal perspective.

So, I believe that our profession will come of age when
1. We understand what we do
2. Why we do it
3. Where we have come from
4. And where we are going

As a profession I think we are getting, slowly but surely, a handle on Number 1
I think we are generally ignoring points 2 and 3
I think we try to believe we have a handle on number 4 (what with our retreats for advanced management and the formation of our so called “professional associations”)

I propose we are not advancing as a profession because we have not given enough attention to points 2 and 3

Why am I a volunteer manager?
And where have I come from that led me into this career?

They are very similar.
But they differentiate

For example I can answer `point 2 thus

I am a volunteer manager because this job gives me immense satisfaction. Not only do I love working with volunteers to make significant change in society I am in a career that I have seen firsthand enables change and makes a difference to the lives of the people who are stakeholders in volunteerism. That is the community, society, the recipient of volunteering services directly, the agency that utilizes volunteers, the country where the volunteering occurs, the volunteer themselves and the person who manages the volunteering effort! Wow! What’s not to love here?

And then I would answer point 3 thus:

I grew up in a rural setting in 1970s Ireland. I lived in a community. I witnessed community growing up. Neighbors looked out for each other. I joined a group called the Social Action Group at 13. I cut peat for fuel to keep the elderly warm in winter. I helped raise thousands of pounds for communities in Africa where such money meant the difference between life and death. I and my family volunteered to host children from strife torn areas of Northern Ireland in the height of the troubles. Our families, through this Social Action group provided basically a sanctuary for troubled kids from Belfast and Derry whose daily existence was made up of bomb scares, bombings, shootings and sectarian strife. I still recall vividly being an innocent 13 yr old myself watching my 13 yr old guest jump with fright from his seat in my home when the doorbell rang. In Derry, at the time when the doorbell rang, people were frightened. (There were many doorstep shootings at the time).

So this experience shaped me.

Another experience that shaped me was the fact that I ended up homeless in London when I was 20 years of age! A story for another day. But the fact that anonymous people helped me out was a great motivator for me to get into a job that involved community service

The other experience that shaped me was the fact that I came from a family of 8 kids where everyone of those kids went into a career of community service. Every one! All eight! Counselors, psychologists, police, volunteer managers, nurses, teachers, carers, diplomats!
That’s bound to shape you!

I think that a combination of experiences have made me who I am today. I believe that some life experiences have made me the Volunteer Manager that I am today?
Is this true of any of you?
I think we need to know where we come from

I think our profession needs to know too

Just my opinion

Thank you for sticking with and reading this very personal blog entry!


1 comment:

  1. Perhaps there should be a study on why we become volunteer managers. So here is my contribution to the study. I believe that it has been my destiny to manage volunteers though I perhaps did not know this until recently.

    For me I think that volunteering is in the blood. I was very close to my grandmother and people have often commented that I am very much like her. On retiring as a commercial teacher, my grandmother was asked by a friend if she could teach typing to blind people just for 6 months. So my grandmother, a generous and very giving person by nature, volunteered. Some 20 years later when she was in her 80s she was still teaching blind people to type and also taught herself Braille so that she could also teach them to use a Braille machine. So I grew up meeting lots of blind people, or visually impaired people as is more politically correct these days. My grandmother would often have her new found friends over to visit as they had become so much a part of her and our lives.

    My parents were very involved in volunteering in committees and auxiliaries for schools and Girl Guide groups. Volunteering as badge testers or assisting at guide camps, being on steering committees, working bees etc. Later they were involved in community groups. My mother was involved in Altrusa, a women’s only service group who fundraised for many worthy causes and my father was involved in Nadow, an organization which assisted disabled people to get back into office work.

    For me I can’t remember a specific age when my volunteering began but I know that as a brownie guide there was an awareness of assisting in the community that was very much a part of the Girl Guide culture. Later in life I not only volunteered on committees for schools, sporting bodies and other community organizations, but I also coordinated volunteers without even being aware that this was to become my destiny. My tertiary qualifications were in computing and administration and I had a number of jobs which utilized these skills as well as sales and marketing skills. I had worked as a computer operator, a scheduler, a help desk coordinator, a medical receptionist, a sales consultant, a ward receptionist, an administrative assistant and finally a volunteer coordinator.

    I have always enjoyed talking to people and being able to assist people. Volunteer management empowers us to delegate to volunteers to assist people and provide a service to people in need. As volunteer managers, because of where we have come from, our natural propensity is to give all that we can give, do that little bit extra. Customer service to the extreme!!! And perhaps that is why we do it as there is an expectation that we will do that little bit extra and go that extra mile for no additional payment because after all we are looking after volunteers.


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