Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Leaders of Volunteers. Stop Work!

“Dear Boss. I need to take a day’s leave. Why? Its International Volunteer Management Stoppage Day.” No no no..It’s not a strike. In fact it’s an annual leave day but I’m taking it in conjunction with hundreds of Volunteer Managers across the globe at my own expense because we feel our sector is unseen, unrecognised, poorly compensated and quite simply it’s a day to demonstrate our frustration after years of attempts to get noticed and to gain respect.  We hope that by taking this action that we can respectfully send a message that may even garner some media attention about our role in society. What was that? Oh yes – of course everything is fine in my organisation but I’m doing this in solidarity with the volunteer leaders around the world:

·         Who Have little or no Executive Support

·         Who are seen as second rate managers or leaders just because they lead volunteers

·         Whose pay is not equivalent to other senior managers

·         Whose value is “devalued” because they “just manage the Vollies”

·         Who don’t have a say when critical organisational decisions are made that effect the volunteers

·         Etc. etc. ad nauseam

No no…It’s not an annual event. It’s just a once off. It goes to the mind boggling frustration evident in our sector. It will be a day when the sector light up Twitter and Facebook internationally and our community gets to talk about the value of effective Volunteer Management. Who knows? We might get the attention of some leaders in other sectors. We will be open to tips and advice from sectors that are valued and recognised. During our day we will actually be working – we will be networking, sharing ideas, debriefing, innovating and maybe coming up with some action plans and Key Performance Indicators moving forward. Yeah – any every time we send a message using #IVMSD we will copy in our local and national media outlets, our politicians and maybe get a slot on a radio or TV show and make some people sit up and take a bit of notice. Because you know what? We have been going around in circles for many years and now we are getting a bit too dizzy. Thanks Boss, I’ll see you the day after.”

The above is a conversation cloaked in satire. Luckily I write from a place where I feel my program and position is currently recognised and appropriately supported. But having a look at some of the current narrative in our sector is disheartening.

Susan J Ellis wrote a June Hot Topic recently that is simply a must read for anyone in our sector https://www.energizeinc.com/hot-topics/2015/may

Ellis opens with “I’ve been writing these Hot Topics monthly since 1997 – which means this is the 217th essay I have tried to say something fresh every month, although some issues circle back around over and over again. One of those recurring themes has been, “Why are so many executives clueless about volunteer involvement…and therefore do stupid things that limit volunteer participation?”

Ellis then lists some great examples and goes on to explore the lack of knowledge, thoughtlessness and arrogance that has severe ramifications for those of us who lead volunteer teams. She goes on to ask some pertinent questions with one of my favorites being:

 “What have our professional associations/networks done to educate others about volunteer management? What might they do moving forward?”

What indeed? And therein lies the crux of the problem – are we not educating the right people about Volunteer Management? It’s not an association’s duty to educate Volunteer Managers about Volunteer Management. When did you last see a fish at a swimming class? Where is the effort from our associations to get other management and executive attention? I’m happy to stand corrected if I am wrong.

 The responses on Ellis’ website to her post speak for themselves:

 “I have not been allowed to educate staff in how volunteers should be processed into our organization”

 “I share your frustration with Senior Management”

 “As a one person department in an office isolated from my supervisor and other administrators, nobody really knows what I do.”

 “They pay "lip service" to the importance of volunteers”

 It’s also interesting to note the amount of people posting their thoughts anonymously. And who can blame them? Some people won’t rock the boat in our sector for fear of been thrown overboard.

Now let’s travel from a post in the United States to a post from New Zealand. Sue Hine has written a brilliant blog post called “Out of Sight Out of Mind”  https://management4volunteers.wordpress.com/

 In it Hine states

 “There’s the metaphoric symbolism of locating the volunteer office, and the manager’s desk, in the basement or down the end of a long corridor. That could really put volunteers out of sight and out of mind.
  • The lowly status of a manager of volunteers becomes clear in the job title (‘Volunteer’ manager / coordinator) and a pay scale that can be 20% below other managers in the organisation – though the numbers of volunteers could be ten times the number of paid staff. And too often the manager misses out on strategic planning meetings or management training sessions because “you don’t manage staff”.
  • We all know how volunteers do not come for free, yet too often there is no budget allocation for programme costs.”

Hine goes on to talk about the Susan J Ellis topic as well but expresses eloquently her own frustration that “the social and cultural benefits of volunteering and its critical function for a healthy Civil Society are totally ignored.”

These bloggers are brave as they bring these matters to our attention. I still meet leaders of volunteers who share the exact same sentiments as shared here but they feel unable, for whatever reason, to voice their much needed opinion.

So where do we go from here? What can we do to ensure bloggers are not having this discussion in five years’ time? Can our Associations pick up on this frustration and articulate a cohesive narrative on it? As Sue Hine has noted we must put a bigger emphasis on our National Standards or Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteer Involvement. We must aim for the goal of having organisations that involve volunteers being accredited. We need to give a national tick of approval to organisations doing the right thing and encourage and educate other organisations to do the same thing. For that to happen successfully our National bodies on volunteering need encouragement and funding. They need the support of the Volunteer Management sector and the associations that represent them. Its time to work together more closely.

In 2015 watching volunteer managers struggle because of lack of organisational support or watching volunteers only receive lip service is simply not good enough anymore. It needs to be called out! It needs to stop! Because it is not right! Volunteers, Volunteer Managers, Peak bodies for volunteering, volunteer involving organisations and Associations representing the interest of volunteer leaders must work together on this. Corporates and Government should also support the national implementation of standards. From lip service to action, from aloofness to interest, from devaluing to recognising how volunteers contribute and how those who lead volunteers are an integral part of the equation.

Failure to do so may lead to International Volunteer Management Stoppage Day. I nominate April 1st as some in the sector feel treated that way!

Over to you.

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