Thursday, 26 January 2012

A milestone is reached

At some time in the last few hours this blog received it's 10,000th page view since my first post on 1st April 2011.  That's 1,111 views a month on average!  Wow.

I want to take a moment to say a massive thank you to everyone who has read, commented on or shared what I have written.  I am truly humbled by your interest in and (in most cases!) support for what I have to say.

For many years I wanted to have more of a public mouthpiece for my thoughts, opinions and musings on volunteering.  For a variety of reasons this wasn't possible until I struck out on my own last year.  Since then I have written 33 articles here as well as a monthly blog for Third Sector online and a variety of other magazines, websites etc..

Why do I do it?

For a full answer to that read my post on why I write and why you should too.  For now, the author Isaac Asimov once said that "writing is thinking with your fingers".  I love that and totally agree.  For me, writing is a great way to think through issues, to order my thoughts and to present them to the world.  Sometimes people agree, sometimes they don't.  The point is that opinions are shared and issues discussed.  If my small contribution via this blog consequently helps to advance our thinking about volunteering and ultimately affect our practice in a positive way then I'll be content.

So thank you again for reading my blog.  If you haven't yet joined the debate and commented on anything I've written then please do so.  It's dead easy but if you have any problems then drop me a line and I can post your comments for you.

For those of you interested in statistics, here is a bit more information about the 10,000 page views.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The soul of volunteerism

I was in London before Christmas and had an opportunity to meet up with someone I have known in our volunteering field for many years.  During the course of our conversation about the state of volunteering and where the movement is going I had a small epiphany.

The exact context of the conversation was whether volunteer managers have too slavishly followed HR practice and over-bureaucratised the process of becoming a volunteer.  As Thomas and Jonathan McKee put it in their book "The New Breed", volunteering is less and less viewed as an alternative to work but as something we do in our discretionary time, so called 'serious leisure'.

If that's true (and I think it is) then we need to ask what other leisure activity do we do that requires lengthy application forms, paperwork, and work-like practices?

That got me thinking because, of course, systems and processes are important in an effective volunteer programme.  The issue is not that we have them but that they have become too much of what defines volunteer management and volunteering (consider the prominence of CRBs in association with volunteering for example) rather than the spirit and essence of what makes volunteering great.

That made me think of the human body.

To draw an analogy between the volunteering and the body, systems and processes are perhaps the skeleton.  We need our skeleton to hold our bodies up, to ensure there is a structure and form to what we do.  But our skeletons do not make us what we are.  They do not give us our spirit, our soul, our essence, our personalities.

So much of volunteer management practice is focused on building the skeleton, strengthening our frame.  But what about getting to the heart and soul of volunteering?

For me, that's about bringing the human dimension back into a more prominent position in volunteer management.  Its about regaining a focus on this being a people business and our systems and processes serving that rather than dominating, in the same way that a skeleton serves our purpose but doesn't make us who we are.

What do you think?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

LOCOG get it wrong on social media and volunteers

In my Third Sector blog this month I have written wrote about changing people’s perceptions of volunteering.  I hope I encourage those who read my post to celebrate all kinds of volunteering and, in doing so, help show a side to volunteering that goes beyond the traditional stereotypes of volunteers being long-serving older people so common in the media.

Sadly, another common perception of volunteers is that they are not trustworthy and cannot be relied upon.  I have lost count of the times I’ve heard people say that volunteers cannot be given access to confidential information or entrusted with ‘important’ roles because they might not turn up to do them. 

Volunteers are no more inherently untrustworthy or unreliable than paid staff.  Such attitudes are often borne out of ignorance about volunteering and even fear that volunteers may do a better job than paid staff.

So in some ways I was not surprised to read that volunteers for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games were having strict rules imposed on them by LOCOG, effectively banning the use of social media. 

You can read coverage of this story on i-volunteer and the BBC website.

Initial responses from volunteer managers on UKVPMs seemed to support LOCOG, acknowledging that there were potential confidentiality and security issues at stake and that a social media policy would be found in most places so why not the Olympics.  The criticism seemed more focused at the way the policy was introduced not the fact that it existed at all.

In my view this misses the point.  LOCOG’s policy appears to be driven from a view that volunteers will be tweeting and posting sensitive information at every available opportunity.  In other words, that volunteers cannot be trusted and are inherently likely to screw things up. 

Why?  What evidence do they have for this?  Surely volunteers will be just as concerned about their safety and that of others as anyone else?  Why then assume they’ll be snapping pictures of security sensitive things and posting them online?

As one contributor to the debate on UKVPMs put it:

“Instant communication is the norm now and to try and restrict it is a sure fire way to anger people and end up with the situation you were trying to avoid in the first place. That is, I'm sure most people would have been tweeting about how much of a good time they were having, whereas such a policy suggests they would expect people to do otherwise. Doesn't say much for their opinion of the volunteers or their respect for their goodwill.”

I wonder, do LOCOG have such rules in place for Olympic staff and athletes or are they more trusted than volunteers?  And where is the voice of the LOCOG volunteer management team, standing up for the Games Makers rather than kowtowing to this policy of their communications colleagues?

There are lots of other reasons why LOCOG’s rules are a daft idea.  Blogger Paul Adams outlines some of these from a social media perspective.

In conclusion, whilst I wonder if my predictions for volunteering and the Games are already coming true, I want to note that the original story had a wonderfully ironic postscript. 

Just under 24 hours after the original story broke the BBC also reported that the British Olympic Association wants London 2012 to be the ‘Twitter Games’. 

Perhaps LOCOG’s communications team (all paid staff I would guess) should have been more reliable and professional about doing co-ordinating their messages with their Olympic partners instead of assuming the worst about the online behaviour of their volunteers?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Happy new year

So 2012 is finally upon us.

Happy new year!

After a refreshing break with family over Christmas I am, as promised before the holidays, turning my eyes to the next twelve months to see what they might have in store for volunteering.

Crystal ball gazing is always a dangerous activity.  I have no more idea about what is going to happen in 2012 than you do.  I could make my predictions and they all turn out to be totally wrong.  So, once you've read my thoughts below please do feel free to make your own predictions by adding a comment.

I want to pick up on three things:

1/ Volunteering and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games
The first programme on BBC 1 after the coverage of the London new year fireworks was a trail for the Olympics.  The start of eight months of hype.  Which will inevitably be followed by four months of celebration, either for Team GB's performance and/or for the overall (hopeful and peaceful) success of the Games.  Four months of everyone, not least the politicians, claiming the credit for the Olympics and Paralympics.

In reality it will be 70,000 Games Maker volunteers plus many thousands of volunteers across the UK - in host city programmes, the cultural Olympiad and alike - who will make the Games a success.  Without them, all the hard work of LOCOG, UK Sport and others will be for nought.

My first prediction is a negative one - all this effort by tens of thousands of volunteers will go largely unrecognised during the Games and quickly forgotten afterwards.

In the seven years since the Games were announced as coming to London we have been promised a volunteering legacy like no other Games.  Having been sort of on the inside to some of those discussion whilst at Volunteering England I can testify to the frustration of many at the politicking, backtracking and all round marginalisation of volunteering that has ebbed and flowed in the last few years.

Sadly, come the end of the year, I fear the average person on the street will know no more about volunteering as a result of the Games and will be no more inclined to give their time than they might otherwise have been.  The 2012 Games will have been a success because of Lord Coe, Team GB, David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

Not a volunteer in sight.

On this prediction, I hope I am wrong.

2/ Volunteering and the cuts
Many commentators think 2012 could be a harder year financially for the voluntary and community sector/civil society/third sector (delete according to what we are to call it this year!).  Despite recent suggestions that voluntary income is holding up in hard times, public spending is going to be hit hard again.  Many organisations are going to face further cuts.

My predictions for volunteering here are a mixed bag.

On the negative side, I fear many organisations will do as they did in previous years and keep trying to do what they've always done, especially when it comes to thinking about how they achieve their missions.  So we'll see organisations trying harder and spending more money to try and replace the cash which is cut, in apparent denial that there simply isn't the same amount of money around as there was before.  Such lack of imagination in how to get things done will sadly see some organisation got to the wall.

For me this myopic approach to sustaining and growing an organisation in our challenging times will remain a key theme of my writing and speaking.  It is also an area I am planning to try and address through work with other consultants to provide a package of support to organisational leaders to help them learn how they can maximise the impact of donated time rather than just pursuing more and more money.  Watch this space.

On the positive side, I think the continuing tough times will lead many leaders, organisations and others to open their eyes to the potential of volunteer support.  They will start to realise that: today's volunteers are increasingly very different from the stereotype of volunteers; today's volunteers want to make a difference, not just a contribution; today's volunteers increasingly bring a wealth of skills, talent and experience to organisations.

They'll begin to appreciate that baby boomers are changing the face of older volunteers and Gen Y are changing the face of what young people can contribute.

I predict 2012 will see many more organisations provide today's volunteers with ways of engaging that meet their needs as well as those of the organisation and beneficiary.  Not through gimmicks like microvolunteering but through real and meaningful change in the way they value and engage people who give their time to good causes.

In doing so they will change the face of volunteering and leave those who fail to adapt lagging far behind.

3/ Volunteer management gets a move on
For such change in volunteering to happen, volunteer management needs to change and, dare I say it, grow up.

2011 saw some fantastic work in support of those who lead and manage volunteers.  The Association of Volunteer Managers held their first conference and Volunteer Centre Warrington, through their EYV2011 funded work for Volunteering England to champion and support volunteer management, helped many volunteer managers to find their voice and start speaking, writing, blogging and tweeting, sharing their views, opinions, ideas and challenges with others.  The momentum built throughout the second half of the year with a final VC Warrington webinar in December which explored, amongst other things, the idea of building a volunteer management movement (search #vmmovement on Twitter).

So my final prediction for 2012 is a positive one.

I think 2012 will be a key year - maybe even the year - for volunteer managers to confidently take centre stage, to be proud of who we are and what we do without resorting to insecurities associated with always comparing ourselves to other professions.

I think we'll end the year with much more awareness of the importance volunteer managers as vital resources to help organisations make the most of the most precious donation they can receive, the donation of someone's time.

So that's what I think but what do you think?

What do you see happening in 2012?

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.