Friday, January 27, 2012

On Volunteer Management Network Meetings!

I have often seen in literature on Volunteer Management (VM) advice to VMs to join a VM network. I am a supporter of this. Volunteer Managers normally work in isolation within organisations i.e. you rarely find a team of volunteer managers and volunteer coordinators in the one building.
There are many advantages in my opinion to a network:

The simple fact of meeting others in a similar role to you
Talking a talk that others should understand!
Ideas, solutions, problems in a safe environment and with people who share the same issues or solutions
Debriefing and support
Good networks can do this.
Professional contact
If you truly value your job as a profession meeting like minded souls can be empowering.
Identifying best practice
Networking encourages you to learn from others who have good ideas or who have implemented great strategies.

A great truism for me is the belief that sometimes we need to experience something negative to truly get something positive!

My first experience of a volunteer management network wasn’t the best. I sat with a group of people who were offloading their issues. And the big issue was ….drum beat…..those pesky volunteers! Yes I kid you not! Story after story was about what this volunteer did and what that volunteer did to annoy this coordinator or that manager. Sure it was an opportunity to vent but where was the balance? There was none. Where was the professionalism? Sadly lacking with this approach I felt. So I quietly disappeared from the group. Instead of speaking up which I should have done! In my defense I was a new kid on the block!

I’ve since been involved in several networks. Plus we now have online networks. That may be a topic for another blog altogether for they blow hot and cold.

So here are my 10 tips on effective networking and network meetings.

1.Serious Structure

A network needs to have terms of reference. There must be a vision. A stated purpose. To “ chin wag” and gossip doesn’t cut it! Volunteer Managers are busy so there needs to be clarity and structure. Agenda items, minutes and all those lovely things associated with committees don’t go astray!

2.Strong chairs

Not the kind you are sitting on! If you are going to have an effective network meeting then the chair needs the strength to keep everyone on topic and on time!

3.Not Social Now

Yes, you are meeting up with fellow VMs but professional network meetings shouldn’t be social occasions. To be sure you can organise social get together’s as part of the agenda but focus is required for professional network meetings


Have a goal for each meeting. What will be our learning? What will we resolve? What will we discover? What can we achieve?

5.Trust and confidentiality

A good network needs to establish a safe environment. Do you feel you can talk on any issue and have it remain within your network group?

6.A full agenda

You must work together to ensure there are many items to discuss. Now come on! There is so much to discuss in Volunteer Management. There is never an excuse to have a network meeting without an agenda!

7.Full participation

A network can’t survive if the same one or two people are giving agenda items or speaking up at each meeting. Everyone has a unique viewpoint and everyone should be encouraged to share.

8.Outsiders and other views

Invite guests to your network meetings. Think outside of your VM square. Look for other successful managers. Leadership and management skills can be universal – explore!

9.Follow up

Network meetings are about networking!! Have you got the business cards of everyone at that meeting? Continue the networking? Ask if they are comfortable sharing ideas and touching base with you on issues on a one to one basis. Ask first though.

10.Thank you and appreciate

Being on a network is a voluntary act more often than not! It could be a Key performance indicator for your job. Whatever the case, a basic tenet of volunteer management should come into place – recognising and thanking the efforts of others. If you get some great advice or tip at a network meeting follow up with a quick email to the individual who helped you out.
Volunteer Managers often spend a great amount of their precious time offering solutions or being good sounding boards. Acknowledge peoples contribution.

Effective Networks can only strengthen our sector. Join one today if you haven’t already or if there are none that you know of – start one yourself! Feel free to use some of the tips above!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

20 reasons why I volunteer

There was some talk on volunteering at the end of 2011. Some commentary that suggested that there was pure volunteering i.e. Simply altruistic and everything else besides!

I believe that volunteering is like the rainbow. Many shades..many colors and that the motivation for volunteering is the same. In my 15 years of Volunteer management I am proud of the many motivations volunteers give for volunteering.

I am not one for pigeon holing. I am of the belief that volunteering does not fit into any category.

Volunteering in my eye is lucid, flowing, powerful and “unshapeable!” Have I coined a word?

And for goodness sake – those of you that conduct research or write articles on what exactly is a volunteer and what motivates a is a tip – ask a Volunteer Manager!!

After 15 years of managing volunteers I write this little piece. Of course you may have much more to add. But this is my experience. I am richer for it!

Thanks for taking to time to read.

20 reasons why I volunteer

I volunteer because I want to give back
I volunteer because I want to take back
I volunteer because I believe in your cause
I volunteer because I need social contact
I volunteer because it’s the right thing to do
I volunteer because it’s the clever thing to do
I volunteer because it helps people
I volunteer because it helps me
I volunteer because my skills can assist people
I volunteer because I want to use my skills
I volunteer because you need me
I volunteer because I need you
I volunteer because it’s a job someone needs to do
I volunteer because it will help me find a job
I volunteer because in a dark world volunteering can bring light
I volunteer because I can pour light on my skills and abilities
I volunteer because it makes a difference to people
I volunteer because I can
I volunteer because it’s important to you
I volunteer because it’s important to me

Thursday, January 12, 2012



That word might not mean a great lot to many people.

Tops of the Parish

An alien term to many.

But for me – its personal!

Allow me to share my “Tops” story. Because it’s a story of volunteering and a story of “fitting in” and a story of sharing talent and a story of belonging.

Tops of the parish was the name of a variety show competition held in my native hometown of Rathmore County Kerry Ireland. It was an event ran by the local Gaelic Athletic Association (The GAA) most famous for Gaelic football and hurling. It helped raise money for the Rathmore GAA.

Tops of the Parish or “Tops” had a great impact on the life of this man.
Huge in fact.

Gaelic football is huge in the county I was born in. County Kerry is to Gaelic football what Manchester United is to “soccer” . Many Kerry men have the gift of the footballer. Alas this writer did not. What made the predicament worse for this writer is the fact that he was endowed with two of his three brothers who were quite talented at football. Two lads who made the Kerry Minor football team! Two lads who went to the same primary school as yours truly. Yet I was hopeless. I couldn’t catch a ball if you paid me. A teacher once informed me that “I was as lazy on the football field as I was in the classroom”. That does a lot for the confidence of an 11 year old!

By the age of 16 I had given up the pretence of liking to play football. Don’t get me wrong – I wished I could play! I followed the Kerry team with just as much devotion as any GAA fan. But I didn’t have the talent of my brothers before me. That made it a little difficult. And then I discovered acting…or as it was known then in my parish..Tops Of The Parish!
My parish was broken into four segments – The Village, Shinnagh, The Bower and my own locality – Shrone!

Each of us on a yearly basis produced a variety show that involved volunteers from their respective communities. The part of County Kerry where I hailed from was already enriched by the glorious talents of singers, writers and musicians. “Tops” encapsulated a local desire to share their talent. It was community theatre at its best and strongest.

And it was magic!

Local youth was heavily involved. My first time on stage was when I was 13 singing a line from a song that was totally in the Irish language. I still remember the director’s name – Daniel Vincent! Shrone won Tops that year! I was never to be part of a winning entry again!

Every year, hundreds of volunteers met in 4 different locations to plot their victory in this comp. And I loved every minute of it. It shaped our youth. We had to be disciplined but we had fun. We respected those who had treaded the boards for years.

It encouraged singers, actors, musicians and comedians. There would be two semi finals and a final. The local community hall in Rathmore would always be packed with hundreds cheering on their own team yet enjoying the efforts of the opposition. It gave birth to so much creativity.
It gave me my interest in acting. Since Tops I have acted with groups for the last 30 years. As an amateur of course. However I once acted in an amateur theatre company with Michael Fassbender in Killarney and sometimes wonder what life could have been like had things turned out differently. I mean he could have turned out to be a happy bloke with a great family in a great country like Australia!!

I write this little piece now because TOPS is dead. It’s been dead for many years. It’s been replaced by fundraisers such as local lotto’s and other methods of raising revenue.

There is a local pantomime group in my old parish and they do a great job. Their volunteers harness local talent and there will always be a place for groups such as this. But TOPS had a difference. A competitive edge. And it made people like me, who didn’t have the prowess in football, proud to support my local GAA through my other talents.

In a world that is so becoming social media there is a longing for old fashioned local interaction.

Tops of the Parish needs to return to give our youth another avenue of interaction. It needs to be there for the artistic side of our community and it needs to be there to carry on tradition which it does so well in so many other areas!

So says the expat in Australia. And if you need a judge for the final all I will charge is the Return trip!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Where you are

I looked on YouTube tonight for “the most amazing place in the world”
And didn’t find you.

So while YouTube might be brilliant

It is not brilliant enough to realise that the most amazing place in the world

And the most amazing person in the world

Is you.

Yes you.

The most amazing place in the world is the place where you are found.

Featured Post

The simple act of kindness.

How we learn from our children! This post was inspired by an act of my daughter. When her mum arrived at work today she found this...