Monday, 25 July 2011

Why I write and why I want to encourage you to write too

One of my aims when I started Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd was to write more.  For many years I'd been working in organisations where my workload meant that I didn't have the time to do any writing about volunteerism or volunteer management or any of the other topics I felt moved to comment on publicly.  It sometimes became difficult as my views didn't always agree with organisational policy and, if expressed, could have caused problems for colleagues working to support and influence others.

Since starting the business in April 2011 I have written numerous blog posts as well as a guest Hot Topic for OzVPM, an article for ArtsProfessional Magazine online, a piece for and a regular blog on volunteering for Third sector magazine.  I've also started work editing a new edition of the Complete Volunteer Management Handbook (formerly Essential Volunteer Management) for the Directory of Social Change and the first UK edition of Susan Ellis' popular book, From The Top Down.

But why do I write and, more importantly, why should you?  Why should leaders of volunteer programmes put finger to keyboard and share their views, opinions, insights and thoughts on volunteerism?

Four reasons why I write

  1. To contribute to and build up the field.  For most of my writing I don't get paid; I do it as a volunteer.  Why?  Because I am passionate about volunteering and the invaluable work of those who lead and manage volunteers and volunteer programmes.  When I started in the field I benefited hugely from the writings of others, leaders like Susan Ellis, Steve McCurley, Rick Lynch, Jayne Cravens, Ivan Scheier and Linda Graff (to name just some).  Now I can share the insights and experience I have developed since 1994 and contribute to the field myself.  “Pay it forward” in action.
  2. From personal experience, I know how busy the day-to-day life of a volunteer manager can be.  It can be an isolating role with demands mounting up daily from volunteers, colleagues, managers, prospective volunteers and organisational leaders.  Consequently it can be hard to carve out thinking time during the day - time to muse on some of the big issues facing volunteerism.  And if we do manage to carve out the time, what are the big issues?

    Through this blog I hope to provide some food for thought for colleagues in the volunteering field.  I hope I am writing on issues relevant to people in their busy professional lives.  I hope that what I say might ultimately lead to some action that helps volunteers to have a more rewarding experience as they make important contributions to organisations' missions and society's needs.

  3. One of the things I think we lack in the UK is people who speak out when issues come up that affect volunteering and volunteer management.  That list of names in point one is made up of people who are all outside the UK.  Our peak bodies like Volunteering England have a key role to play for sure but they sometimes have to hold back because of wider concerns and other forms of lobbying and influence that they are engaged in.  Similarly the Association of Volunteer Managers are great advocates for volunteer management but they are a small number of dedicated professionals who can't speak up on everything.  So I see myself as having a role to play, free from the constraints of political influence, funding or inter-agency politics.  That's why I write posts about stupid ministerial statements or union leader ignorance or ridiculous expectations placed on volunteer managers.

    Of course I hope what I say helps but, no matter what, at least someone is saying it (and I also provide a forum to allow you to say it with me!).

  4. Whilst my main motivation for writing is to give back to and build up our field, I also do it because it can be great marketing for my business.  I say this honestly and unapologetically.  Having taken the risk to go out on my own makes it important to be known so that I can earn a living and keep on speaking out.  As of today, there have been over 3,500 views of my blog from people in more than ten different countries.  I hope the people who read what I write like it, feel challenged or inspired by it and so might hire me to work with them as a consultant, a trainer or a speaker at their events.  Ultimately, someone will hire me because of my publicly shared opinions, which becomes an upward spiral:  I will continue to experience the real-world issues of our field through my clients, write more, and stay on potential clients’ minds.

Four reasons why you should write

  1. Writing things down forces you to think about what you want to say.  Whether it is sharing an insight you have, a response to a news story, or something you feel passionate about, the process of getting what's in your brain down into written form forces you to have an opinion.  Not enough people working in volunteer leadership and management roles have opinions about the strategic and operational the field faces.  And If they do have an opinion, they often don't share it for others to read and think about.

    Just to clarify – I am not urging you to go write a book – although perhaps you might.   But what about replying a blog post (like this one!) or to an article in an online magazine (as you are increasingly invited to do)?
  2. Which leads me to my second reason more people in the volunteerism field (you!) should write.  Once you have an opinion and you share, it you open the possibility for others to engage in debate over your views.  Such debate forces us all to think, to sharpen our understanding, challenge our perspectives and advance the theory of volunteer leadership and management (and ultimately the practice, for there is nothing as practical as a good theory).  My own views on working with volunteers have developed significantly (and continue to do so) from reading and discussing the thoughts and insights of others. I haven't always agreed with them but I have always learnt something.

    What could you help others learn today?
  3. Which brings me to my third reason why you should write.  I want to know what you think.  So do others.  It isn't just the 'leaders' in volunteerism from whom we can learn.  All of us have something to share.  That's why I started UKVPMs over ten years ago:  as a forum for people in the trenches of volunteer management to ask questions, share tips and ideas and advance our collective knowledge.  That's why I got involved in co-editing the free Turn Your Organisation Into A Volunteer Magnet eBook, in which forty people from across the field of volunteer management around the globe (contributions come from Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, New Zealand and the USA) share what they have learned about making your organisation attractive to volunteers.  You have fabulous treasures of knowledge others could benefit from, so please share.
  4. My final reason for encouraging you to write is that it has never been easier to share your ideas and insights.  Blogging, social media and the overall growth and development of the web have revolutionised the provision of and access to information on volunteerism.  You can even tweet your thoughts in under 140 characters,  so there is no longer as excuse for not having the time to comment.

    Susan Ellis has written that the web means no volunteer manager should ever feel isolated again.  This is true, but the more people write and contribute to the ever growing library of knowledge online, the richer we all become.


    1. I am posting this on behalf of Susan Ellis, President of Energize Inc.


      As you were so complimentary as to use my name 3 times in this post, Rob, I had to WRITE and say thank you! Of course I completely support everything you say. The blogosphere is particularly well-suited to volunteer management advocacy as most bloggers do their writing for free.

      One thing to add. I encourage your readers to make their postings using their names and not "anonymous." While certainly there are times that hiding one's identity is sensible, if we want to build our profession we need people to stand up, be named, and be counted!

      Thanks again.

    2. Thanks for a very interesting and thought provoking post
      I need to write more and appreciate you spurring me on.

    3. I would really really love to blog / tweet about Volunteer Management and Volunteering in general.

      I think it is a difficult step to pop your head above the crowd and actually have an opinion though. I worry about the risk to my current jobs and my reputation.

      I've thought about it for a long time. I have two websites ready: One with my name in it and one with the title of what my 'blog' would be..

      Is it worth it?

    4. Hi Lemonpillows.

      You are not alone. I think many people are put off blogging on volunteerism for the same reason. I know I have been reluctant to do it in the past because of the risk that my views get confused with those of my employer.

      This highlights the need for employers to have good social media policies that explain how such potential conflicts of interest should be managed and avoided.

      Of course the simplest approach is to post anonymously as some choose to do.

      However you want to do it I would definitely suggest speaking up and speaking out. Not enough volunteer managers do.

      Go for it.

    5. Excellent advice on the need to write. This is advice I will definitely take on board and do more of!