Monday, 4 July 2011

Why Francis Maude is wrong and concerns about the sector response

Seventeen years ago today (4th July 1994) I started work.  I didn't know it at the time but the job I took at the University of Surrey was a volunteer management role, recruiting a placing undergraduates as classroom assistants in local schools.  The experience I gained in that role led me on to subsequent jobs in volunteer leadership and management and to a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding career in their field.

So it is perhaps no surprise that I was intrigued by Francis Maude's comments last week that people made redundant from the public sector should, with little or no training, be deployed into the voluntary sector to manage volunteers because "There is nothing more frustrating than seeing charities with too many volunteers they can't use because there is no one to manage them".

The comments beneath Third Sector's article do a good job of highlighting the stupidity of Mr Maude's suggestion - about the only thing he got right was the need to invest in more volunteer management support for organisations - but I want to make just five points myself.

First, Mr Maude seems to believe that volunteers work in the voluntary sector.  Many do, but large numbers are also involved in the public sector too.  So why does he propose these people only help charities?  One might argue that charities are more used to working with volunteers than many in the public sector and so it is the latter that need more help, not the former.

Second, why would public sector workers automatically make good volunteer managers?  What uniquely qualifies people from the public sector to come into charities with little training or orientation and be able to effectively lead and engage volunteers?

Third, let's just suppose for a moment that Mr Maude's idea becomes reality.  Would this not lead to the displacement from employment of many skilled volunteer management professionals as organisations think they can have the work done for 'free' by Maude's army of redundant public sector volunteers?  Perhaps those volunteer managers can go on to one of the many wonderful private sector jobs currently being created, skilled as they are at asking "would you like fries with that?".  Or is job displacement from the voluntary sector not a concern of the government, fixated as they seem to be (the media even more so) on the public and private sectors as places of employment.

Fourth, aside from displaying his ignorance and lack of understanding on a number of issues, Mr Maude seems to have it all wrong about volunteer managers.  His proposal suggests that organisations could engage redundant public sector workers to manage the large numbers of volunteers those organisations lack the capacity to involve.  But that isn't how the model of volunteer management tends to work these days.  Having the volunteer manager directly managing the volunteers would be like having the HR manager directly managing the paid staff. 

Instead, today's volunteer manager commonly plays a supportive role to other staff and volunteers who provide the line management support and capacity that enables an organisation to effectively engage volunteers.  The volunteer manager is a skilled and knowledgeable expert, adept at influencing, supporting, inspiring, leading, engaging and motivating volunteers, employees, peers, managers, the community and many others in the fulfilment of their organisations mission. 

And that leads me to my fifth and final observation about Mr Maude's comments.  Volunteer management is an increasingly skilled task that requires competence in perhaps a wider, more diverse and more essential range of skills and abilities than almost any other job.  That's why Skills Third Sector recently published an excellent position paper on why volunteer management requires specific skills.   Its is in part why I recently argued that volunteer leadership and engagement is an essential yet under-developed skill the voluntary sector needs to invest in for the future.  And the HandsOn Network in the US have recently spoken about effective volunteer engagement being a collective responsibility of all staff too.

To suggest anyone can just walk in and do a good job of managing volunteers effectively not only shows gross ignorance of the role but is hugely insulting to me and others like me who have built a career in the field through hard work and dedication to the causes we've worked for and to our own professional development.

As you can tell, I feel strongly about this issue.  That's why I have limited my post to just five issues or I could have gone on for hours!  That and the desire to not repeat the excellent points made elsewhere by others such as the comments beneath the Third Sector article.

However, I do want to make one final observation in conclusion.  

As I write this post nearly three working days have passed since Mr Maude's comments were reported.  In that time I have not seen one single comment or response from Volunteering England, the Association of Volunteer Managers or any of the other bodies who purport to represent volunteer managers.  

I may simply have missed such a comment (I was away volunteering in Yorkshire last week) so I would be happy for people to share links to such statements in defence of volunteer management by posting a comment in response to this blog.

However, if, as I suspect, not one single statement supporting volunteer management has been made by any of the key representative bodies, publicly or privately, then some serious questions need to be asked of their ability to stand up for volunteer managers when they come under attack like this.

What do you think of Mr Maude's comments?  Is it right that bodies like VE and AVM have apparently stayed silent?  What would you like to say on this issue?  Please leave your comments below.


  1. There will be a response in the next issue of the magazine Rob, and most of the board have replied electronically, and many of our members as well, of course AVM won't stay silent on this!

  2. That's good to know Debbie, thank.

    I did notice some comments from AVM members (Kate in particular) but nothing formally from AVM as a body. Given the speed at which the news agenda moves, even in the voluntary sector, I had hoped to have seen something by now, even if it is a stop gap response until a fuller piece appears in print.

    I will look forward to seeing something in the print magazine this week.

  3. Here here!

    It seems that Volunteer Management is thought of less and less as a skilled profession the more the cuts bite.

    This is the kind of time where we need passionate and skilled volunteer managers who can motivate and encourage volunteers.

    I, too, am passionate about Volunteer Management.

    Good article. Thanks

    Dawn Iverson
    Volunteer Centre Slough

  4. In a speech last year (July 2010) Francis Maude said:

    "The Fulton Report in 1968 found that the Service then was still too much based on ‘the philosophy of the amateur’ – the generalist or all-rounder civil servant. What specialists there were in the Service were not given the responsibilities, opportunities or authority they ought to have had. Nor were enough civil servants skilled managers.

    There has of course been progress since then. The Civil Service has done much to improve its professionalism. Every department now has a qualified finance director and two thirds of HR directors are similarly professionally qualified."

    It's interesting to contrast his pejorative use of the word 'amateur' and support for professionalisation amongst civil servants on the one hand, with his implied characterisation (from this latest speech at Oasis) of volunteer management- as a role that's neither professional or specialist.

    Maude's 2010 speech:

  5. I am posting below the text shared with the UKVPMs email discussion group earlier today that outlines AVM's formal response to the new story in Third Sector in the form of a letter to the editor.



    AVM notes that Francis Maude has some perception of the issues facing managers of volunteers and volunteers, and welcomes any ideas he might have for enhancing and facilitating the involvement of volunteers through volunteer management. However, from the context in which his speech was reported in Third Sector (30 June 11), it appears that he believes increasing the number of managers of volunteers would mean that more volunteers are able to be involved. This seems similar to the previous Government's belief that more volunteers equals better and more effective services provided by volunteer involving organisations. Involving volunteers effectively is however far more complex than simply a numbers game.

    Mr Maude identified the need for training as key for any public sector workers wishing to become managers of volunteers. As with any profession, training is key to learning the necessary skills to be able to work in that profession, however it seems that Mr Maude fails to take into account that the need for practical experience is as much, if not more, needed in mastering a profession.

    There seems to be a perception that managing volunteers is easy and that anyone with even the smallest amount of management experience can do it. If Mr Maude's remarks as reported are indeed accurate and represent the views of the Coalition Government it would seem that (as with the previous Government) they still have much to learn about both volunteering and volunteer management.

    While up-skilling potential and existing managers of volunteers is vital in developing the effectiveness of volunteer involvement it can only be realised through good governance and proper resourcing. If Mr Maude and the Coalition Government are serious about supporting volunteering and realising the Big Society, their focus should be in encouraging the senior management teams and trustee boards of volunteer involving organisations to invest accordingly and in proportion to the vital nature of volunteer support and involvement..

    Yours faithfully,

    Sean Cobley
    Chair, Association of Volunteer Managers

  6. Good response from AVM. A few jumbled thoughts from me.

    Whilst I agree with Rob and the others, it's worth maybe stepping back a bit. It's only a few short years ago that we were trying to convince government that volunteer management actually existed. We now have a senior member of the Cabinet talking about it (albeit not recognising the skilled role it is). This is a recent phenomenon and shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s a long, arduous and frustrating journey but progress is being made.

    However, It does feel though that this could be a pivotal time for volunteer management as we consider (as a starter for ten, and in no particular order)
    - ensuring that VM is at the centre of how volunteering evolves within Big Society, not left to the periphery (and that has to be tackled at the local level, not just nationally)

    - following through with the great advances being made within the skills areas and the excellent statement from Skills Third sector

    - looking at how the £3mil investment in VM will leave a lasting legacy rather than just be another isolated funding programme which I fear it will be
    - examining ourselves and asking some tough questions about how our profession is (or should be) evolving to meet the many new challenges we face

    But, ultimately, we need to continue putting the pressure on organisations to properly invest in VM. The bottom line is what organisations think of VM not what Govt thinks of it. Because its organisations which invest in VM not Govt.

    As an aside, I wonder whether we should have some sort of auto-response so that every time we mention VM we automatically start by saying its about ensuring volunteers and clients get the most from volunteering, so that people truly understand why it’s so important.

  7. I am posting this on behalf of Susan Ellis, Predident of Energize Inc.


    As a Yank, I may not be understanding British politics (and, after all, we have plenty of our own idiocies to focus on in the U.S.), but Maude's bewildering comments make me think of an old joke I once heard, defining what a "paradox" is. The comedian said something like: "A paradox is when your teenage daughter comes home quoting the Bible, but she was reading the Gideon version in the bed stand of a hotel."

    Finally someone in power acknowledges the great need for volunteer management. But then he proposes that laid-off and unprepared government workers do this for charities without pay. Hmmmmmm.

    Susan Ellis, Energize, Inc., USA