Friday, 2 May 2014

Is our destination clear?

In the last few months there has been a growing sense of movement and action by the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM).

Since their last conference in October 2013 AVM has been gathering a head of steam with a new board, new website, regular email newsletters and a more concerted effort to engage with its members. This has resulted in a growing membership and more recently the start of efforts to develop a code of practice for volunteer management. This latter step is significant as it heralds a move by AVM to not just advocate for and support Volunteer Managers but to also establish volunteer management as a recognised profession.

AVM board member Patrick Daniels, writing in a personal capacity, is writing a series of blogs to try and unpick exactly what a profession is. Please do take a look and engage in discussion with Patrick because this debate is key to shaping the future direction of both AVM and the work of Volunteer Managers.   

I am wholly supportive of AVM's efforts to move the debate forward and to try and secure more status and respect for Volunteer Managers but here I want to take a step back and look at two questions that I don't think get enough attention yet to me are fundamental to the debate.


First, what do we want to gain from Volunteer Management becoming a profession?

All the debate I’ve seen in the last 20 years seems to take it for granted that becoming a profession will achieve something but there doesn’t ever seem to be any serious debate had or consensus reached as to what exactly ‘something’ is.

Do we want more money?

Do we want more credibility? If so, who with? HR? CEOs? Boards? Managers? Staff? Volunteers? The public?

Do we want to be held in higher regard? By whom?

Do we want to be better understood? By whom? 

Do we want something else? What? Why?

When we can answer these questions honestly and have some agreement upon them then we will be in a much better place to assess whether the typical steps to becoming a profession that Patrick so clearly lays out will actually achieve the something we want.

Oh, and by the way, when I say “we can answer” and “we can agree” who exactly is we? Members of AVM? The 200,000 Volunteer Managers estimated in the UK? Paid Volunteer Managers? Voluntary Volunteer Managers? A majority? People who manage volunteers but aren’t and wouldn’t consider themselves to be Volunteer Managers?

Second, given the current work by AVM to seek to establish a code of practice for volunteer management as the first step towards becoming a profession (discussions started with members at last autumn’s conference), what exactly is the good - or should that be best? - volunteer management practice that we want to codify?

I’ve asked this question before on discussion groups like UKVPMs and my experience is that people really struggle to answer it. We have things like Investing in Volunteers (IiV) which assess an organisations competence to involve volunteers and we have National Occupation Standards which lay out what basic good practice is (although the NOS are far from ideal, mainly just codifying the process management aspects of Volunteer Managers role) but I don’t believe we have a consensus at all on what makes someone a good volunteer manager.

What do they do?

What approach do they bring?

How do they conduct themselves?

What difference is there between someone who is competent, someone who is good and someone who is outstanding?

If we (and refer back to my earlier point about what exactly ‘we’ means) in the role of Volunteer Managers cannot say what makes us good at our jobs then how can we start to codify that into a set of standards and principles that would apply universally across our diverse field so as to set a robust benchmark for professional standards?

Let me say again, this is not a criticism of AVM. I support and welcome their work. They are great people doing good stuff for Volunteer Managers. What I want to do with this post is help us all think a little harder about why we might be setting off down a particular road and whether the effort we expend in doing so will bring us to the destination we desire.


In a future blog I want to explore some of the potential unintended consequences of Volunteer Management becoming a profession but for now I'd love to hear what you think about what I've posted today. Please add your views with a comment below. 

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