Are we evolving into a new look profession?

Andy Fryar June 1, 2006 3
Are we evolving into a new look profession?


By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar

Having recently had the privilege of returning from another trip abroad, I am more convinced than ever that the profession of volunteer management has turned (and is continuing to turn) a significant corner.

My thinking stems from my preliminary belief that volunteer management is evolutionary. That is, as the requirements of our jobs have changed over time, so too have the roles and responsibilities we have had to complete on a day-to-day basis.

Here’s a broad outline of this ‘evolution’ as I see it.

Evolution number 1

At the time volunteer coordination first began as a profession or career path, the key requirements of the role were primarily based around the need to support volunteers in undertaking the work they were required to do. Although a somewhat generalised view, the role at that time tended to be very people focused and ‘hands on’ in relation to ensuring volunteers felt appreciated, knew what to do and knew when to do it.

I remember distinctly the handover for my first volunteer management position in the early 1990’s, which consisted primarily of learning the profiles and needs of individual volunteers involved in the program rather than program processes and procedures (eg. Ken will expect a coffee with you once a week, Thelma will want to tell you about her grand kids etc) .

While the role did also demand the provision, creation and maintenance of somewhat primitive job descriptions and simplistic application forms (by today’s standards), these few requirements made up the entirety of the volunteer management responsibilities of yesteryear.

That’s not to downgrade the profession as it was then, it’s just that is all that was required – and for the most part everything worked very successfully. It is also important to acknowledge that this early version of volunteer management was itself an evolutionary progression from a time when most volunteer groups operated in more of an ad-hoc fashion without any formal volunteer management processes in place at all.

Evolution number 2 – the blended model

Clearly, the greatest evolutionary change since then has been the redefinition of our roles in regards to the amount of paperwork (and as a result responsibility) now associated with the involvement of volunteers. Criminal record and other screening checks, insurance requirements and record keeping of all shapes and sizes being just a few of these.

This has meant that today our jobs look significantly different to the way they did in years gone by.

Because of this evolution in our responsibilities, volunteer management has already had to change to become a much greater ‘blended’ model of operation – one where we have had to balance the ‘people contact’ sphere of our roles with the increased ‘administrative’ aspects we now find ourselves dealing with.

Largely this redefinition of volunteer management occurred silently, day-by day and piece-by-piece, until one day we found ourselves doing something different to what we used to.

My experience also suggests that trying to balance the requirements of both arenas (often in time and resource depleted circumstances) has seen the scales fall in favour of volunteer managers becoming more ‘administration conscious’, with the development of volunteer relationships holding an often distant second place. This balancing act has become more difficult as time has gone on.

So what’s the third evolution?

Here’s the point to this hot topic.

If we accept the argument that we have already evolved to become a different looking profession that we were even a decade ago, then it is only fitting that we begin to examine where we might be another ten years down the track and ask questions of ourselves about what we may need to do to prepare ourselves to successfully reach that point.

My observations over the past few years, has led me to believe (and observe) that a new and powerful trend is in action.

It is the acknowledgment by many Volunteer Program Managers (and more importantly volunteer involving organisations), that it has now become impossible to continue to work in the ‘blended’ model any longer. That continuing to try and performing the dual roles (of people relationships with administration), with any level of quality, is fast becoming impossible.

As a result, I believe we will continue to see volunteer management practitioners the world over become more analytical about the work that they are doing. With this will come a realistic assessment of want they want their programs to achieve and what is possible to fulfil within the resources they are given.

Consider the following:

~ The ‘hottest’ topic of all doing the rounds at present is the question of ‘have we over regulated volunteer management? ‘ I believe this is ‘hot’ because we have reached a significant point in our professional evolution where this question can no longer be ignored. . My experience in speaking with volunteer managers the world over, indicates that there is a significant increase in the number of volunteer managers both accepting the need for and actually creating, more valuable roles for volunteers to take over the direct responsibilities for the recruitment and support of other volunteers. This directional move in delegation is a really important mindset change to that of yesterday.

~ Where greater resources are available, there is evidence of a growth in the number of ‘strategic development’ roles being created for volunteer involvement in many international, national and even regional agencies – where the day-to-day responsibilities for recruiting volunteers is emerging as a completely separate role to the administration and development of the program’s objectives.

In brief I believe that what we will continue to see are two distinctly different volunteer management roles emerge. That is, the ‘blended model’ will be replaced by two specific roles; one looking at ‘strategy, development and administration’ the other the ‘hands on support and recruitment’ of our volunteers themselves.

Of course, as with anything in our sector there will be wide permeations of this trend, which will be dependant upon many things, including resources and agency size, however regardless of these factors I do believe this will emerge as the new reality.

Now of course, this is my own point of view and I am throwing this theory out there to be debated and shared with the wider profession – so please share your own ideas about this topic.

  • Is this something your agency has already had to restructure to deal with in some way, shape or form?
  • Do you agree or disagree with my observations?
  • Are there aspects of this hot topic I may have overlooked?
  • Do you believe there are alternative futures to the one I have written about this month?

Let’s hear from you


  1. ozvpm_andy April 9, 2012 at 10:59 am - Reply

    Response posted on June 23rd by Donna Amos on behalf of the Board of AAVA (the Australasian Assoc of Volunteer Administrators), Adelaide, Australia.

    Our AAVA Board members have decided to respond to this months Hot Topic and will continue to do so on topics that are relevant to Volunteer Management.

    AAVA believes that Volunteer Managers need to be taken seriously and be involved in the strategic planning within the organisations we all work for. While VPMs are beginning to be recognised more today by organisations that acknowledge the vital role we play, there is still a long way to go. We must be the people who shape the evolvement of our roles and to do this effectively we must first, amongst our own profession, debate the issues, concur, argue and collaborate!

    Our role has evolved in response to increasing accountability and responsibility for public monies that run the sector as well as external pressures. With the way our profession is evolving we need to ask if we are recruiting the right people for VPM positions and how will the sector move forward if we continue to appoint operational people to management positions? Andy’s experience in speaking with volunteer managers the world over indicates that there is a significant increase in the number of volunteer managers both accepting the need for and actually creating, more valuable roles for volunteers to take over the direct responsibilities for the recruitment and support of other volunteers.

    AAVA recognises that volunteers have many skills to offer and can be excellent support to VPMs but is concerned about what would happen to our profession if the idea of “Volunteer” volunteer managers came to vogue as the only solution. We understand that this too may be dependant on the type of organisation engaging volunteers – whether or not the majority of staff are volunteers, etc.

    AAVA believes that this dialogue needs to happen now and that these questions must be addressed before we move on. We need to continue to challenge our selves and look at both sides of the coin.

  2. ozvpm_andy April 9, 2012 at 10:59 am - Reply

    Response posted on June 18th by Sabina Nowak, Volunteer Coordinator, Protect All Children Today (PACT), Logan Central, Queensland, Australia.

    I think yes there has definitely been evolution of the Volunteer sector, in particular an increasing expectation of professionalism of volunteer organisations, by Volunteers, funding bodies and clients/service users. Volunteer agencies are increasingly forced to meet these expectations, or face de-funding and/or prohibitive volunteer attrition.

    My organisation is an example of how this has developed.

    PACT began in 1984. Over time the training provided has become more intensive, the screening processes of Volunteers more thorough, and policies and procedures of the organisation more detailed.

    The organisation has also evolved in staffing… The Full time Volunteer Coordinator is supported by a Full time Office Administrator, and many of the management duties have been transferred to the Executive Manager, a part-time position created 12 months ago.

    The Executive Manager is responsible for the “Business” side of things, including liaison with the Board of Management, staff support, funding and ensuring the organisation has adequate policies, insurance, risk management etc.

    This leaves the Volunteer Coordinator to do the “hands on” case allocation, Volunteer support, recruitment and training, however there is also an increased need for “dotting the “ I”s and crossing the ”Ts” in this role too, IE needs assessments, quality assurance, feedback and evaluation.

    I don’t see this trend reversing anytime soon, and is perhaps reflective of changing societal trends in first-world countries for increased specialisation, accountability and efficiency.

  3. ozvpm_andy April 9, 2012 at 10:58 am - Reply

    Response posted on June 6th by Sr Margaret Guy, Sisters of Charity Outreach, Sydney, Australia.
    I think you have drawn a good diagram of the evolution of volunteer managers.
    In our organisation,the Sisters of Charity Outreach,the Volunteer Manager’s role was shared during the 90’s but the part time Volunteer Coordinator recruited and kept in touch with the volunteers.There was always a Volunteer Educator who coordinatd the volunteer training program part time.

    By 2003 the Volunteer Educator’s role became full time,as did the Volunteer Coordinator’s role in 2004.we have other roles in the organisation re facilitating committees etc but the Volunteer Educator and Volunteer Coordinator work together re training and on going support for the volunteers along with the Coordinators of the different Services of Outreach.

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