Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Why so silent?

Here in the UK there has been a lot of debate recently about people giving to charity.  It all stems from the surprise changes to tax relief policy that George Osborne announced in last month's budget.  Since then the debate has raged backwards and forwards between the charity sector and government.  Over the weekend of 14th and 15th April major UK newspapers carried front page stories on the issue and the government have subsequently indicated that a public consultation on the proposals will take place this summer.

Soon after the budget announcement I made an alternative suggestion to the chancellor's proposals.  This blog post is not about that alternative idea.  If you want to read more about this please see my earlier blog post on the topic.  Suffice to say I will be submitting my idea to the promised public consultation.

Instead, the subject of this blog is the total silence from the established volunteering sector about the fact that giving isn't just about giving money.  If you've read any of the newspaper coverage, or seen the TV coverage, or engaged with online coverage you'd be forgiven for equating giving to charity with handing over cash.  Not one word has been said that people can give their time to charity as well.

"He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money." - Benjamin Franklin

Regardless of whether you agree with the Give It Back George campaign (to get the government to change its mind on its tax relief proposals), surely this is a golden opportunity to talk about alternative forms of giving?  With money tighter than ever for increasing numbers of people, isn't this a great chance to talk about how organisations can benefits just as much (more even?) from somebody's time than they can their money?

I've tried, I've spoken up.  I've written blog posts, commented on article in the press, engaged in debates on social media, sent my ideas to Nick Hurd and The Office for Civil Society.

So have others.  Last week's Thoughtful Thursday discussion centred on the topic and a great debate was had.

But where are the voices of the big guns?  Why aren't we hearing or seeing bodies like CSV, Volunteering England and other UK Volunteering Forum members challenging the misconception that all giving is donating money?  Where are the Volunteer Centres on this?  What about the Association of Volunteer Managers?  What about v?

In an Olympic year where we are promised a once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase the importance of volunteering to British society, I find it bizarre that almost the entire volunteering establishment seems completely silent in the face of one of the biggest news stories of the day implying that all giving is financial.

I don't get paid to speak up, I do it because I am passionate about volunteering.  Many people are paid to speak up on these issues yet their silence is notable.

Maybe we have to do it without them?

I urge everyone reading this blog to take just one action to challenge the belief that giving equals donating money.  Stand up and shout for the giving of time.

Write a letter to your local paper.

Write a letter to a national paper.

Comment on an article online.

Challenge the misconception if someone tweets it or posts it to other social media.

Do something.

If we don't it appears nobody else will.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

We need more Chief Executives who understand volunteer management


At a recent event in London, NCVO Chief Executive Sir Stuart Etherington remarked that head hunters working for voluntary and community sector organisations have shifted from looking for “skills such as presence, policy-making ability and influencing skills” to now just wanting to find “someone who knows how to make money”.

Some will no doubt be lauding this as an important step forward, with the sector recognising the importance of having fundraisers move into Chief Executive roles.  But I want to ask whether now is the right time for us to be looking for fundraising expertise at the top.

Don’t get me wrong, fundraising is important and more senior managers and trustees need to have a better grasp of fundraising in the sector.  However, in our age of austerity, when money is hard to come by and more people have less of it - and even less to give away - do we need more people at the top focused on drawing in such a scarce resource?  Can organisations really fundraise their way out of trouble?

Regular readers will be unsurprised to learn that, despite the importance of fundraising, I firmly believe that what we need more of at the top of our organisations is people raising skills.  We need Chief Executives, trustees, senior managers and others who can go beyond, as one person recent called them, ‘old world solutions to new world problems’ and think differently about how our organisations can grow and develop.

I’ve argued before that sector leaders seem worrying ignorant of – or at the very least blind to – the potential of volunteering.  This was reflected in the blog posts I wrote for Third Sector online about the recent State of The Sector research and, perhaps more worryingly, the implications of last year’s Leadership 20:20 report which looked at the future of voluntary and community sector leadership.  Even more recently Sir Stephen Bubb, Chief Executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) questioned the whole premise of the government’s planned Giving Summit because of the 2012 Budget’s potential impact on major gift fundraising.

Volunteers today are increasingly different from those many have relied on over the years – the so called civic core of 8% of all volunteers who give nearly half the donated hours.  Today’s volunteers don’t thrill to such long term, time intensive commitments, at least not when they first start volunteering.  Instead they want more flexible ways to give time, engaging on their terms (not just ours), and bringing a wealth of talent, skills & experience to our organisations that in some cases far exceeds that to be found amongst the current paid workforce of the sector.  This is likely to become more and more commonplace as the baby boomers retire in greater numbers and seek opportunities to put their professional experience to work for the good of society.

What we need are senior leaders in the sector who understand these changes and can help steer organisations to adapt to them.  Leaders who can see how to harness the talents of Gen Y and baby boomer volunteers, re-distributing work according to who is best placed to achieve results not how much they get paid, and effectively stewarding all the resources at their disposal, not just those with a £ sign attached.

Maybe what the head hunters should looking for is more Chief Executives with experience of volunteer management.

But is that where we as volunteer managers aspire to be?

When I started in the field back in 1994 I had no idea that what I was doing was volunteer management.  I never saw this as a career and certainly never dreamed I’d do what I’ve done in the last 18 years.

So it is with many others.  Volunteer management has historically been a transitory field, with people coming into it as a route on to other roles in the sector or as an option that makes the transition back into the paid workforce after time away an easier one.

To my eyes it is only fairly recently that we have started to see more people coming into volunteer management as a career choice, something they want to spend much of their professional lives dedicated to.  Perhaps that’s why we hear more talk of qualifications and professional development now than we ever did before.

Of course it’s good news that we have so many bright and talented (and young!) people getting into the field, moving us forward and challenging those of us who’ve been around a while (you know who you are!) to keep up with the ever increasing pace of change. 

But what do we see as the pinnacle of that career path?

Is it heading a volunteer programme at a large national or international organisation?

Is it becoming a consultant in volunteer leadership and management, helping organisations get better at engaging volunteers?

Perhaps the pinnacle of a volunteer management career should be to move on from leading volunteer programmes and lead organisations instead, using our knowledge and experience to help shape volunteer involvement from the top job? 

Of course all these options (and more) are completely valid aspirations but do we need more volunteer managers looking at the last one – becoming a CEO? 

When so many Chief Executives seem to fail to ‘get’ volunteering, should we be aiming for more of us to take such jobs and influence from the top down not just the bottom up? 

Do our discussions around professional development focus on making people better volunteer managers but not potential Chief Executives? 

Should we – counter-intuitive as it may seem – be encouraging the best amongst us to stop being leaders of volunteer programmes and start being leaders of organisations?

What do you think?