OZVPM HOT TOPIC – FEBRUARY 2008
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
This month’s hot topic has been generated following recent events in my home town of Adelaide, which saw volunteer managers take an unprecedented stand against a large local council who were advertising their newly created Volunteer Manager’s position as a voluntary one.
Here’s a small portion of that advertisement:
The City of Prospect is an attractive inner suburban council of approximately 20,000 residents. The City of Prospect currently provides a number of community, infrastructure and environmental services that cater for the needs of a broad range of people within the community.
Council has recently resolved to call for expressions of interest from suitably experienced persons who are willing to undertake the development and co-ordination of a volunteer development program for The City of Prospect.
The aim of this program is to engage people who are also willing to volunteer their time in providing assistance and support to many areas of council’s operation and activities. The Volunteer Co-ordinator would be expected to promote, recruit, co-ordinate and maintain a pool of volunteers and be responsible for their training, development, support and out-posting to the various areas of their interest.
Although, this is an unpaid position, the successful candidate will enjoy other benefits and conditions as available to paid staff of Council, these include:
~ Full volunteers insurance cover
~ Comprehensive induction and orientation
~ Training and development
~ Approved out of pocket expenses including travel allowance
~ Occupational health, safety and welfare
~ Staff code of conduct
~ Performance management
~ Invitation to Council’s Volunteers Christmas function
The reaction from the volunteer management community was swift and universal, with the Council’s CEO receiving many emails of protest from as far away as the United Kingdom – with the likely result being that the Council will reverse its original decision and now make the role a paid one.
Firstly, it was terrific to witness the volunteer management community band together with one voice and make that voice heard. When we band together we truly have a powerful voice, and we need to find ways of doing this more effectively both within the voluntary sector, to government and more generally. However, that’s not the topic for this month!
What I did want to raise was the fundamental question of why some volunteer management positions should only ever be paid ones while at the same time we are quite comfortable with others being voluntary? Where do we draw that line – and exactly what does that line even look like?
It’s probably important to also mention at this juncture that I don’t plan to try and answer this question – rather I hope to fuel some further critical debate around this important issue.
Our sector is indeed a unique one. It is unique in that we appear to be generally comfortable having both paid and unpaid colleagues as a part of our profession, indeed, as proponents of the value of volunteering, it would be hypocritical of us not to espouse the utilisation of volunteers for this purpose. Many VPM’s also have volunteers working directly with them in performing volunteer management duties and are well aware of the benefits that such roles bring.
So why is it in a case like that above, we feel a) that a boundary has been crossed and b) the need to make such a strong statement against the utilisation of a volunteer in this role?
Here are some of the more obvious reasons I imagine you are thinking of:
~ The council clearly have a large budget and can afford it
~ The role is a huge one …far too big to expect a volunteer to do
~ Other councils of similar size have a paid position so a precedent has been set
~ Its exploitation
While all of these are indeed valid reasons, I again ask where we draw the line between our comfort of this being a paid vs voluntary role and I ask you to consider:
~ What if the council had been located in a rural area with less money at their disposal?
~ What if the role had only been responsible for 50 volunteers?
~ What if the role had been divided into three smaller separate volunteer roles?
~ What if the council had appointed a paid person, who themselves in turn created volunteer roles to oversee this part of their job – would that have been acceptable?
So does the distinction lie in one or more of the following elements?
PROGRAM SIZE – Does the size of a volunteer program make a difference? Should a paid person be engaged when the number of volunteers hit some particular milestone? Why / Why not? After all, if you can oversee the work of 20 volunteers why not 200?
PROGRAM COMPLEXITY – Can we make a distinction through the work that volunteers undertake? Should a VPM position be a paid role if, for instance, volunteers are responsible for the care of children, but not necessarily if they are simply ‘stuffing envelopes’?
ABILITY TO PAY – In the case above, was it the council’s ability to pay (and choice not to) that became the bugbear? However, if we use this criteria, we then need to determine what a realistic level of payment is. Had the council offered a below award rate salary of say $10,000 a year, would that have made things any better?
INABILITY TO PERFORM – Do we make the assumption that someone who is paid to do the job can do it better than someone who is not paid? What if you were to volunteer your time as a Manager of Volunteer programs in a voluntary capacity – would your performance be any less professional?
EXPLOITATION – Can we argue that in the cited example that the engagement of a volunteer manager without payment (when payment could have been made) was exploitation of a volunteer’s time? Is this the distinction that makes the difference? How then do we define exploitation?
PROFESSIONALISM AND RECOGNITION – I wonder if one of the key definitions is the less tangible or measurable element that those of us who already manage volunteer programs don’t feel that we are recognised enough for the professionalism and specialised role that we bring to our organisations? Is this a strength or simply an insecurity?
Now far from answering all your questions about this topic, I hope to have actually opened a giant can of worms – and I invite you all to add your two cents worth to this debate.
It is an important debate to have and I do believe that if we are to continue to move ahead as a profession then we need to be clear in our thinking about such matters.
Let’s hear your thoughts!