OzVPM HOT TOPIC – OCTOBER 2003
by OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
Let me begin this Australasian Hot Topic by sharing an experience I have witnessed unfold over the past few weeks.
A colleague of mine, recently left the position she had worked in as a Volunteer Program Manager (VPM) for the past several years.
In this role, my friend had been responsible for the
management, leadership and development of a large and complex volunteer program that stretched across four private metropolitan hospitals which had amalgamated several years ago.
The role involved the responsibility of having to pull together a diverse range of volunteer groups under one umbrella, a task she had completed in a professional and organisational enhancing manner.
For all intensive purposes, these organisations had well functioning and structured volunteer programs for the first time in their existence.
Recent management changes in these hospitals had seen the decision reached to de-amalgamate the union of hospitals, effectively meaning they would become independent health units once again.
Having accepted her new position and made recommendations before leaving, my colleague sat back to watch the way that the different hospital sites would go about replacing the role of VPM in her absence.
What happened next was staggering, as the responses of the different hospitals proceeded to be as varied as chalk and cheese.
One health unit created a half time VPM position as per the recommendation left by my colleague, while another decided that the best way to fill the void left by my friends departure was to allocate one hour a week to the department head in another area! It goes without saying that this person had no volunteer management experience.
Putting aside my initial reaction of frustration, I started to view this situation as both a unique case study and a great learning opportunity.
- Why such a diversity of responses to filling the vacancies, when the volunteer programs had been managed in the same way and by the same person across every site?
- What lessons does this situation teach us about how we manage our volunteer programs?
- What were the deciding factors that led to such a variety of responses?
These are just a few of the many questions this situation raises and while I could make an exhaustive list, I’d prefer to concentrate this hot topic on two of the key elements in this whole scenario.
Firstly, let us acknowledge that this example highlights the significant impact senior management have on an organisation’s volunteer programming. After all, the different strategies employed in replacing the VPM role in each of these hospitals were determined by a decision at executive level.
Secondly, I am reminded of just how important it is that we view the management of our volunteer programs as being more than just the recruitment, training and placement of voluntary workers. If we are fully committed to the development of volunteer program management as a profession, then I firmly believe that all VPM’s have two extra and essential responsibilities to undertake as a part of their workload – whether it is stated in their job description or not.
The first of these is the task of ‘educating up’.
- In what ways do you communicate the importance of the role of your volunteer team and YOURSELF to senior management?
- If you left tomorrow, do you believe that the senior management of your organisation understand the significance of your role well enough to put strategies into place to safeguard the future of your department?
- Do you have allies within the organisation who can advocate to senior management onyour behalf?
These and other questions are important in helping to ascertain how well you have established the volunteer department as an integral component of your overall organisation.
At this point, allow me to digress and make mention of one excellent resource to further develop your thinking on this topic. I highly recommend Susan Ellis’ book, ‘From the Top Down’, which has for many years been the benchmark publication on how to educate decision makers about the importance of your (and their) volunteer programs.
Hand in hand with ‘educating up’ comes the second task I believe is essential, in ensuring the longevity of volunteer programs. It is the responsibility that VPM’s have to ‘delegate down’ or sideways or upwards or anyway that makes sense in their own organisational context. Delegating responsibility and ensuring that procedures and processes are clearly documented and understood by people other than the VPM is essential in ensuring that your volunteer program lasts beyond your own tenure.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- If you dropped dead right now, what would be the effect on your volunteer program?
- Would adequate information be available to enough people to continue the program running in a smooth and seamless manner?
- Are procedures and processes adequately documented to allow your successor an easy transition into every aspect of your role?
If your response to any of these questions is anything less than “yes things would run smoothly” , then perhaps now is the time to take stock of your program and consider how your management style fits with the long term goals of sustaining a volunteer program in your organisation.
The experience of my friend has certainly highlighted that there is not a ‘one size fits al’ solution to succession planning within volunteer services. As VPM’s, we all need to be aware of this added level of program responsibility to ensure that our volunteer programs continue well after we leave our posts.
So here are a few questions I’d invite you to respond to this month:
- Do you agree that as volunteer program managers, we don’t delegate enough?
- Do you agree that as volunteer program managers, we don’t ‘educate up’ well enough?
- Do you have personal experiences or strategies that have worked for you that you would like to share in relation to this topic?
- Are there other ways you have managed to ensure the longevity of your volunteer program?