Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why Volunteer Management must respond to Volunteer Rights Inquiry In England

To me, being a professional in our sector involves keeping abreast of what is happening in the world of volunteering. Its important that we know what is happening in volunteerism globally. Why? Because something that may be happening on the other side of the world may someday have an impact on what is happening in your part of the world volunteerism wise.

Take episodic volunteering as a case in point. When was this trend first spotted and in what country. 10 years ago I had not heard of this. Today it has the biggest impact on where I work and in how I manage my volunteer program. I don’t have the hard evidence at hand to say where the trend first emerged but if it was say Australia, then professional volunteer managers in the USA would or should have taken notice and the reverse applies. Whether it was Switzerland, Singapore or New Zealand, such happenings should be noted and studied and prepared for before becoming a trend in our global village.

I have been watching for quite some time the lead up to a volunteer rights enquiry in England. Ive been fascinated by the need for such an event to take place. I remember a few years back there was talk of forming a union for volunteers in Australia!

Instead of editorializing too much on the interim report in England I feel it is important for volunteer management to take a close look at this and come to their own conclusions on what is a very complex issue.

I have read the interim report and what stares me in the face is the fact that there is a real and urgent need to have good volunteer management in place to address many of the issues. I feel the report doesn’t highlight this strongly enough. Read the report yourself and you may agree with me that it presents an ideal opportunity for our sector to argue the case for effective and good volunteer management and management with strong ethics as well as an advocacy role for volunteers.

I am sorry, but volunteer management to me should no longer be “Sheila from accounts looking after the vollies” or a two day a week position “looking after 300 lovely volunteers”.

So if volunteer management is scrutinized in this report I ask is it Effective Volunteer management.

Is it professional volunteer management?

Is it best practice volunteer management?

I look forward to the full report due out before year’s end. I commend Volunteer England for their groundbreaking efforts.

Because this is something that needs to be studied by every volunteer manager, consultant, trainer and professional association around the globe. What can our sector learn from this? What strategies can we implement to prepare for or indeed prevent such an occurrence in our own nations? Or because of precedence do we need similar inquiry’s worldwide?

As a profession we need to have an ear to the ground. We need to have a global eye.

The flap of a butterfly's wings in Central Park could ultimately cause an earthquake in China. So say the proponents of chaos theory, who use 'the butterfly effect' to describe how simple and apparently straightforward processes can combine and set in motion a chain of events with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences.

Whether or not you concur with chaos theory I would wager a bet that the ripples of this enquiry will flow globally.

It’s important that Volunteer Management articulate a response. I assume and hope that the Association of Volunteer Management in the UK speedily comes up with some response and reaction. It would be a forward looking move if other associations around the globe could comment and develop position statements on this.

Failure to do so will demonstrate inertia. Simple as that. The reason why we need to talk out are demonstrated in the following article published by Third Sector Online in the UK

It is my view that they have sensationalized the story a little and cherry picked by placing volunteer management at the heart of the ‘shocking story”

Interim results of Volunteer Rights Inquiry reveal 'shocking stories'

By Kaye Wiggins, Third Sector Online, 8 July 2010

'Numerous' volunteers have reported grievances, including verbal abuse and sexual harassment The standard of volunteer management in charities is low, according to an interim report by the Volunteer Rights Inquiry, the panel set up by Volunteering England to examine the treatment of volunteers.

The report, published yesterday, says that during three evidence-gathering sessions and as part of an online consultation, "numerous" volunteers had reported verbal abuse and sexual harassment.

It says people giving evidence recounted "shocking stories of bad management, poor governance, bullying and improper behaviour" and cites intimidation and sexual harassment as examples.

"Despite the preponderance of codes of practice and guides on managing volunteers, standards remained low, especially in the voluntary sector," the report says.

"Clearly, organisations need to become better at preventing and resolving problems internally."

The report also raises the idea of a volunteer complaints commissioner or a volunteering ombudsman whose role would be to settle disputes.
"Overwhelmingly, volunteers expressed the need for an independent means of obtaining redress when things go wrong," the report says. "Deep commitment to the cause constrains volunteers from wanting to engage in whistleblowing or make external complaints."

A Volunteering England spokeswoman stressed that the organisation was not advocating the establishment of a complaints commissioner, but said it was outlining it as one possible solution.

She said the inquiry would publish more detailed recommendations in November.

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