Tuesday, 5 November 2013

We should all remember, remember to sing the praises of volunteer managers

5th November is International Volunteer Managers Day, an annual day that recognises the contribution of volunteer managers around the globe.

I’ll admit it, when I first heard about it I thought “not another international day of something-or-other. Aren’t there enough of those already?” I was challenged to think about it more deeply though when Rob Jackson spoke up in favour of the day and invited me to write this blog post.

The bigger picture

I first turned my thoughts to other “days”. The ones that immediately came to mind were International Women’s Day, Nurses’ Day, and World Aids Day. 
These three seem to sum up what most “days of” are about:
  • shining a light on a marginalised group
  • bringing our attention to a group of people providing an important service
  • or shouting about an important cause that needs its profile raising.

But how can volunteer managers compare with that?

Are volunteer managers a marginalised group? Are we providing a service? Do we need our profile raising? In my opinion, the answer to all three is a resounding yes.

In need of recognition

Last week I met a volunteer manager who had had to fight to have her job graded on the same level as those who managed staff, because she “only” managed volunteers. This is backed up by evidence elsewhere which shows that volunteer managers often aren’t on the same grade as those who manage paid staff. As a result, volunteer managers often miss out on a place at the table for important discussions and decisions. In this sense, we are marginalised.

What about providing a service? As the website of International Volunteer Managers Day says, volunteering can’t survive in a vacuum. Volunteer managers are not the extra bit on the side. We’re essential. We enable volunteering to happen by developing positive volunteer roles, providing day to day support, and ensuring volunteers have a positive experience. In short, we enable volunteers to volunteer. I’d say that’s a pretty good service.

As for profile raising, if you say to many people that you work for a charity they will immediately assume you’re a fundraiser. People just don’t think of supporting volunteers as a role. What’s more, in this age of cuts and austerity, a lot of people unfortunately see volunteering as a cost-cutting exercise and believe it is free. They don’t see the costs involved in supporting volunteers or the value of supporting volunteers well. The profile of volunteer management needs raising.

To me then, it seems that volunteer managers are worthy of their own international day, but what does that really mean? And what can it achieve?

It’s up to us

Few international days produce concrete outcomes, but the successful ones do go hand in hand with improvements in the situation. That only happens because of hard work and action, all year round, and on the international day in particular.

If we are going to capitalise on this opportunity and make International Volunteer Managers Day mean something we have to do something. We may not be going to march to Downing Street to demand change, or run TV adverts shouting about our cause, but if we want the day to achieve something we have to make it happen.

Hold an event, tell your friends, blog about it, but most of all spread the word to volunteer managers, volunteers, other charity workers, and, most importantly, beyond! Not just on IVMDay (it’ll happen again on 5 November 2014), but all year round. Only that way can we raise our profile, reduce marginalisation, and be recognised for the important service we provide.

For my part, today I’ll be tweeting, posting on Facebook, and generally shouting about it to anyone who’ll listen! And I’ll keep going for the next twelve months too.

What about you?

Kirsty McDowell is a consultant, specialist in volunteer involvement and the founder of Fish Quay Consulting. You can read more of Kirsty’s musings at www.fishquayconsulting.co.uk/blog.html 

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