HOT TOPICS – OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 2009
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
I continue to be baffled about the apparent lack of focus and understanding that people exhibit about the importance of volunteer management – and I am not just talking about the general public at large. I am talking about people within volunteerism – those who deal with volunteers, volunteer issues and even volunteer managers on a daily basis.
Sure, the promotion of sound volunteer management practices and growing an awareness of the profession is my hobby horse – and so I am likely to be more tuned into this issue than some – but month after month, year after year, things don’t seem to be changing much at all.
For instance, in the OzVPM Newsgroup over the last month, a number of us have been having our ‘annual’ debate about whether or not International Volunteer Managers Day is an occasion we should be celebrating, and sadly some of the major volunteer involving agencies in this country have chosen not to be involved.
Let me be clear that the point I am making here is not about IVMDay itself. I am all for individuals and groups making up their own mind about what they choose to support, and I personally know of people who are as committed to furthering volunteer management as I am, who don’t actively support IVMDay.
What does continue to baffle me are the arguments which suggest that volunteer management is not worthy of greater attention or public acknowledgement, and that the work of the volunteer is, and always should remain the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ of the sector.
Governments at all levels also play their part in helping to keep volunteer management an invisible profession. For the most part, when grants are made available or where money is put into developing the voluntary sector in other ways, the required outcomes almost always relate simply to getting more people to volunteer – and not to finding ways of keeping people involved in volunteering through more productive and happier volunteering experiences. It’s a bit like finding ways to help fishermen gain a bigger catch without any thoughts about the longer term sustainability of the fishing industry.
In the last week, the details of a new government program aimed at getting highly skilled over 50’s to volunteer was shown to me. Called the Golden Guru’s (yes that’s right!) what was really interesting in the details of this clearly expensive initiative was the fact that to be eligible to be involved, organisations needed to have in place high levels of volunteer management infrastructure. Yet nowhere in the dozens of pages of literature about the program, did the term ‘volunteer management’ appear. Nor were there any funds allocated to the program which allowed organisations to improve the volunteer management infrastructure of their agency to a point where they may be eligible to take part. Government seems to think that good volunteer management ‘just happens’
I’m sorry, but it doesn’t!
The Sydney Olympics program was not successful only because 50,000 people volunteered. It was successful because each one of those people knew where to be, what to do and how to do it. They had uniforms, rosters and were armed with information to help those attending the games. Get 50,000 people together without good volunteer management leadership and you have chaos.
And while the SOCOG experience is an extreme one, the same is true for agencies of all shapes and sizes.
When I volunteer to help at my son’s football matches, I’m allocated a task, appropriate equipment and told what time to arrive. When new volunteers start at the local hospital they are screened, receive a role description, are trained and policies and procedures are explained to them. Emergency service volunteers are provided with much training to ensure their safety and when they are called upon, they are expertly dispatched to where they will have the most impact.
These are all volunteer management functions and where these things are absent, and due focus not placed on the volunteer management role, volunteering easily fails.
To create good volunteering (in an organisational context) you need three elements to be in place – volunteers, volunteering activity (something meaningful for them to do) and good leadership.
Take away any one of these and you have trouble.
I liken it to a three legged stool
Remove or shorten one of the legs and you either have to be an acrobat – good at balancing – or you need to be propped up by something external to the stool. But where you have three legs of an equal length, a three legged stool is said to be even more sturdy that one with 4 legs.
Hence my continued disbelief about the absence of any real strategies to grow volunteer management that I witness in our region.
While providing basic volunteer management training is important it is not what I am talking about. While hosting volunteer management network meetings is important it is not what I am talking about. While celebrating IVMDay is important, that too is not what I am talking about.
What I am talking about are our national peak bodies and volunteer centre networks getting beyond viewing volunteer managers as simply being the mouthpiece of member agencies or the sources of training income and instead building national collaborative strategies to develop the third leg of the stool.
What I am talking about are governments having the foresight to invest funding into long term volunteer management infrastructure across both Australia and New Zealand – both through increased funding of our volunteer centre network to deliver this service, and also through not duplicating the work of volunteer centres with the creation of their ‘Offices of Volunteering’.
To a degree, this level of strategic planning and collaboration is happening in the UK, why can’t it happen here?
What I am talking about is having the Australasian Association of Volunteer Administrators (AAVA) become more political and make the other key players in our sector more publicly accountable for their actions and decisions.
And what I am talking about is each and every one of us who leads a volunteer program to become an activist for the profession of volunteer management. To look beyond our own patch and demand better for ourselves.
The strength of a three legged stool lies not in the fact that it has three legs – but in the understanding that all three legs carry equal weight. And in my humble opinion, it is high time we started to equal out the balance of the weight that is being borne.
So what do you think?
- Do you think enough focus is placed on volunteer management as a key tenet of building a stronger volunteer management sector?
- Do you have other ideas about ways that we might build the focus on volunteer management in our region?
- Do you agree or disagree with my sentiments?