Friday, June 29, 2012


Martin J Cowling, trainer, consultant and blogger on Volunteerism stated in a recent blog post about THE National Conference Volunteering Service in Chicago, Illinois, USA. recently

“The glaring absence for me, was the absolute non mention at any time of managers of volunteers”

It seems to be a global trend.

I recall attending a National Conference on volunteering. I remember in the opening address the CEO of the national body on volunteering making a long speech on volunteering. I remember deciding to count the amount of times ‘Volunteer management” was mentioned. As far as I recall I was on the board of the association of Volunteer Management at the time. That’s why it had a special meaning for me back then. My continued passion for the role of volunteer manager and its recognition is the reason I still talk about it today. I don’t think it got a mention that day. I remember saying to someone else attending that I couldn’t believe Volunteer Management didn’t get a mention. I was rebuffed. ‘The conference is about volunteering, not Volunteer Management.”

It’s like the volunteer managers I’ve occasionally met who’ve said the same thing. When I talk about promoting their profession, promoting their skill set, promoting their value, promoting the integral role they play in their teams success I often get- “No – it’s about the volunteers, it’s not me”

Look! I get that. Truly. I know where they are coming from. But it’s the kind of humbleness that sticks our profession in a rut.

“We should be out there promoting our volunteer teams, singing their praises and broadcasting the fantastic work that they do”. Yes yes and yes. But they are a fantastic team because someone has planned their activity. Someone has strategically planned. Someone has coordinated their shifts. Someone has engaged in good people management skills. Someone has worked towards strong volunteer retention. Someone has devised excellent orientation and training programs. Someone has facilitated feedback. Someone has ensured job satisfaction; someone has ensured volunteer effort is recognised and valued on an organisational level. Someone has understood the value of building social capitol. Someone has enabled community participation. Someone has been a leader. Someone has advocated for volunteers.

That someone is the volunteer manager or coordinator. That someone matters too. Organisations that ignore this do so at their peril. Organisations that value volunteer management value volunteers and visa versa. It’s a key formula in successfully engaging volunteers in your organisation.

There are changes happening with National Volunteering bodies worldwide at the moment. Now they have an opportunity to finally engage with the volunteer management sector. Let’s not waste the opportunity. Let’s share and talk like we should have been from the get go! Because at the end of the day our goals are the same.


We must stop sitting there waiting for this to happen. .

I’ve been advocating for this for years. I’ve been advocating for other changes for years. Some of these changes are now happening and I will blog on some other successes in the future.

I have learnt though that sometimes you might feel like a lone voice. It does not mean that the support isn’t there.

More and more people are standing up and speaking out for volunteerism and volunteer management.

They are on Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

And this is progress. Thanks to those who are leading and being brave by writing and commentating first.


  1. Great post DJ. Volunteers’ time is valuable. They deserve well run, coordinated volunteer programs. Innovative volunteer programs do not just happen. They are the result of collaborative discussion, planning, development, implementation, observation, coordination, management, inspiration, innovation, understanding, change management, evaluation and good leadership. So why then do some volunteer managers and coordinators struggle with accepting that they have many of these skills and talents? Perhaps it’s time we valued our own abilities and talents because in doing so we in turn value volunteers and the time which they contribute though volunteering.

  2. I work with over 500 volunteers who all say they need their VM's to enable their work to take place, to help them develop. Volunteers do not just happen around the world, they are the result of a wide range of strategic thinking and planning, investment in tools and people, evaluation and appreciation. As a VM I know I am using much of my life portfolio to run this position and ensure our volunteers and future volunteers have a great experience. What is often under-appreciated is volunteers are the most important marketers an organisation will have.


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