Friday, 18 November 2016
You will find all future posts on our new Wordpress or Medium blogs. All articles will appear on both sites, we just want to give you the choice as to which you engage with.
All previous posts will remain here as an archive for you to access whenever you wish.
Friday, 11 November 2016
Recently Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, introduced a Private Members Bill into Parliament titled the National Minimum Wage (Workplace Internships) Bill. Mr Shelbrooke rightly sought to bring an end to exploitative internships where young people work for private sector companies for extended periods on no pay in order to gain experience and, hopefully, employment.
As with many Private Members Bills, Mr Shelbrooke’s proposed legislation has stalled in parliament, on this occasion being filibustered out at it’s second reading. Why? It seems the government is undertaking an independent review of modern working practices and may well seek to bring it’s own legislation to outlaw exploitative internships.
Until we see any such proposals from government, analysis of what Mr Shelbrooke was proposing is both interesting and could indicate any potential affect on volunteering.
Mr Shelbrooke’s Bill was short and to the point. It would have affected the whole of the UK and the core content sat in three sections.
For the purpose of this Act, a workplace internship is an employment practice in which a person (“the intern”)—
(a) undertakes regular work or provides regular services in the United
(i) another person; (ii) a company; (iii) a limited liability partnership; or
(iv) a public authority; and
(b) the purpose of the employment practice is—
(i) that the intern meets learning objectives or gains experience of
working for the employer listed in section 1(a); and (ii) to provide practical experience in an occupation or profession.
An intern who enters into a workplace internship shall be remunerated by his employer in respect of his work at a rate which is not less than the national minimum wage calculated in accordance with the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 for the appropriate age of the individual.
Subject to subsection 1 an employer is not liable for Employers’ National Insurance contributions for an intern undertaking a workplace internship of less than 12 months.
For the purposes of this Act, section 2 shall not apply if the person is—
(a) a student at a higher or further education institution based in the UK
who is required to undertake an internship or equivalent work
placement as part of his or her course;
(b) of compulsory school age;
(c) undertaking an approved English apprenticeship as set out in the
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009;
So, to summarise, an intern would be clearly defined and would have to be paid at least the national minimum wage. So far so good. However, problems would have come from interpreting and applying the bill.
First, the bill states that it only applies to companies. Whilst the intent is clearly private sector businesses, many registered charities are also registered as limited companies. Campaign groups like Intern Aware have been vocal that unpaid internships in charities are as bad as those in private companies. The Bill as worded would therefore allow registered charities to be targeted by the appropriate authorities.
Once charities become a focus of this legislation the question of volunteering is bound to come up. When I have written previously on unpaid internships I have received comments from social media trolls claiming all unpaid work should be outlawed, including volunteering. So where would Mr Shelbrooke’s Bill have left us?
For some insights let's turn to the House of Commons debate on the Bill. When asked about the implications on volunteering Mr Shelbrooke remarked:
That looks promising until you also read the following comments from Mr Shelbrooke during the debate:
So volunteers won’t fall under the legislation if they just turn up but if a group or organisation seeks to deliberately advertise for volunteers then “that makes a mockery of things”. Also, if an organisation has a large turnover and engages people on an unpaid basis then that is exploiting a “volunteer” loophole.
That is considerably less encouraging, opening up new loopholes that could in theory allow the authorities to decide that any volunteers who are actively recruited to charities and / or who have money to pay people would be entitled to National Minimum Wage! And we haven’t even looked at volunteering in the public sector, or those roles that are really volunteering but the volunteer calls them internships to make them sound more attractive to a potential employer.
Of course, Mr Shelbrooke’s well intentioned Bill seems to be going nowhere now, but it gives an insight into how the government might seek to legislate on the exploitation of unpaid internships. What I hope I have done in this article is show that if and when legislation is introduced into Parliament on the matter it needs much further thought and refinement if it is to achieve its aim without damaging the UK’s long and proud history of volunteering.
What do you think? Add your thoughts to the debate in the comments section below.
- An employer may meet Employers’ National Insurance contributions for an intern undertaking a workplace internship of less than 12 months. ↩︎
Friday, 14 October 2016
Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Just a few days ago Third Sector magazine published the welcome news that the government and Nesta were making a £4million investment into volunteering by people aged over 50. This comes just under three months since I blogged about the apparent youth obsession the UK has when it comes to volunteering and no, I’m not taking the credit for it!
With an ageing population and a decreasing proportion of the total population being made up of the under 30s, it is long overdue to see any sort of meaningful investment in volunteering by older people. In recent days the Royal Voluntary Service has called for a more strategic approach to volunteering by retirees and in July a paper was published by the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing reflecting on the slow progress over the preceding twelve months to address it’s recommendations, including those around volunteerism.
So £4million is welcome.
But, it is a drop in ocean compared to the £1billion being invested in National Citizens Service over the life of the 2015–2020 Westminster parliament. £4million amounts to just 0.4% of the NCS investment, highlighting how disproportionate the funding is!
More concerning is what the funding will support. One aspect was described in the Third Sector article as:
“The Join In Stay fund will award grants of up to £50,000 and non-financial support from behavioural science experts for organisations to carry out randomised controlled trials to understand best encourages volunteers to continue to give their time regularly.”
Whilst long term, regular, committed volunteering might have been a hallmark of the duty oriented parents of the baby boomers, it is not associated at all with the way the post-war generation want to give time. Repeated studies have shown that they want choice, flexibility, the ability to fit volunteering around busy, post-retirement lives that involve travel, leisure, caring for others (e.g. parents and grandchildren) etc.. As the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing said:
“The reserve army of “little old ladies” (and men) upon whom so many voluntary organisations depend, will be juggling ever more demands on their time. Informed by their more varied cultural, educational and professional backgrounds, future generations will have different expectations of, and attitudes towards, their later lives.”
Furthermore, another element of the funding was described by Third Sector as:
“Up to £100,000 in grants will be available from the Give More Get More – Exploring Intensive Volunteering fund to support organisations in trials of intensive volunteering placements, such as gap year-type trips, for people approaching or in retirement.”
Which leaves me asking why so much of this new funding is being spent looking at the long term, regular and committed model of volunteering which is becoming less and less relevant to the over 50s?
Simply put I think Nesta and the government have got this wrong. They are either ignorant of the realities of what people over the age of 50 want from volunteering or they just don’t care, remaining wedded to a form of volunteering that is less and less popular. Whatever the reason, with such a small investment in such an important area, I fear that a large amount of this money is going to be wasted. What a missed opportunity!
Tuesday, 30 August 2016
“Attempting to recruit volunteers without first having developed worthwhile positions to offer them is equivalent to attempting to sell a product to people who have no need for it. It can be done, but the buyer may well become unhappy later. And when volunteers are unhappy, they don’t stay around long.” Steve McCurley, Rick Lynch and Rob Jackson, The Complete Volunteer Management Handbook (2012)
Developing roles for volunteers is one of the aspects of working with volunteers that those leading and managing them sometimes spend the least amount of time on. Despite the fact that we know we pay with volunteers with meaning, not money, many of us can skimp on the investment of time needed to craft really meaningful and motivating roles that will deliver a great volunteer experience. Instead, under pressure to get volunteers recruited and put to work, we develop roles geared around lists of uninspiring sounding tasks, often using a similar format to a paid role’s job description.
This is why the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd course on Developing Meaningful Roles for Volunteers continues to be popular. The course gives participants a chance to step back, explore volunteer role design afresh and actually work on creating a new role to help them in their work.
Here are three quick insights that might help you improve your volunteer roles.
When talking to colleagues in order to identify new ways volunteers can help them in their work, do not ask, “What do you think volunteers can / could / should do to help?”. As soon as you ask this question people censor their responses based on their past experiences or prejudices about volunteers. So if your colleague thinks volunteers will be unreliable they will not suggest a role where reliability is important. Instead, work with colleagues to identify what their work actually involves, ideally in as much detail as possible. Then work with them to suggest ways volunteers could contribute their skills, talents and experience to get that work done.
Games are fun activities people enjoy playing. People like spending time and effort playing and getting good at games. There are four elements present in all games that we should make sure are also present in our volunteer roles so that people will like spending their time and effort doing the volunteer work. First, ownership - does the volunteer feel they own their role and the work within it? Second, responsibility for results - is the volunteer held responsible for actually achieving something in the course of their volunteering (remember, people want to make a difference). Third, authority to think - is the volunteer controlled and micro-managed or are they actually allowed to use their own brains to figure out the best way to get the role done, perhaps bringing new ideas and insights to the work? Fourth, keeping score - does the volunteer know how they are doing and whether they are making progress towards that difference they (and you) want to make?
Don’t use the typical task-oriented paid staff job description format for volunteer roles. Why? Here’s a quick question for you - when did you last pull out your job description, look at it and get really excited by what it contain, so much so that you can’t wait to get to work tomorrow? If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t looked at your job description since you were recruited or had your last annual appraisal. Why then do we think that format will inspire volunteers, people who we need to remain passionate about our work so we can re-recruit them everyday whilst meeting their motivational paycheque? Instead, think about constructing volunteer role descriptions around the results you want volunteers to achieve, giving space for people to develop their own ideas about how to do things rather than just doing a list of uninspiring tasks.
So, over to you. What are your top tips for developing meaningful volunteer roles? Please leave a comment below and share your insights with us and with your colleagues in the field.
If you’d like to know more about this topic and get further details on the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd course on Developing Meaningful Roles for Volunteers please contact Rob direct by email or call +44 (0)7557 419 074.
Monday, 15 August 2016
I’ve been involved in volunteer management for a little over 22 years now. Whilst I love being a part of this amazing field I still hate one thing about it, that awful feeling you get when you have to answer the question we all dread “so what do you do for a living?”. If you respond by saying “I’m a Volunteer Manager” you might get one of the following results:
- “Do you get paid to do that”
- “Oh, I was once / am a volunteer…” followed by a long story about their volunteering which I’ve had manifest as them telling me all about how much more they know about volunteer management than I do because they are a volunteer (thereby assuming I have never volunteered)
- “Is that a real job?”
- “No, what do you do for a living, not what do you do as a volunteer”
- A blank stare
- The person asking the question looks at you and then moves to the next person who they suspect might do something more interesting or that they might actually understand
Just recently I was reading a blog post about social media marketing and how those who do that job can explain ti to others. What struck me was this line:
“It’s tempting to come up with one “silver bullet” explanation and use it with every person who says, “So, tell me what you do.” But you’ll be more successful if you account for each person’s background and reasons for asking.”What a great idea! Instead of speaking trying to get someone to grasp what we do by explaining the detail of our day-to-day working lives, why not ask them a question in return, perhaps something like, “Well, have you ever volunteered?”. That way we can start to unpick their understanding of volunteering (or non-profits more broadly) and find a way to explain Volunteer Management in terms that they will understand rather than our own generalised or over detailed standard explanation.
I’d love for you to try this and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.
Tuesday, 19 July 2016
Coincidentally American colleague Liza Dyer and I have been discussing productivity recently via a Slack group for leaders and managers of volunteers. That led me to this brilliant video on TED where Yves Morieux draws some great parallels between 4x400m relay racing and the culture organisations create around productivity (it’s about 17mins long but well worth your time to watch in full).
My interest in productivity came as a result of starting up Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd five years ago. I realised that I would need to adapt my work practices as I was now running my own business rather than working in a large team. No longer did I have IT or Communications or Finance support, it was all my job now. I was also becoming frustrated with suggested time management practices like blocking your diary out to work on projects. Such approaches didn’t seem to reflect the variable and fast paced nature of changing requirements and schedules, leading to time being wasted re-scheduling rather than doing work.
So for this blog I thought I’d outline seven of the resources and tools I really rate (and use!) to aid me with my own productivity. There are others of course - I only briefly mention my calendar tool of choice and I don’t mention at all some key resources like Evernote. This is because I have chosen to focus on the resources and tools that I think have made or the biggest positive difference to the way I work (or have the potential too).
NB - Please note that a Mac, iPhone and iPad user I therefore use these tools on those platforms and devices.
How To Be a Productivity Ninja Written by Graham Allcott, a former colleague when he was CEO of Student Volunteering England, this excellent and readable book gives sound theory and very practical advice on becoming more productive. Sharing many similarities with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) approach, yet presented in a more accessible format, Graham advocates steps like adopting a ‘second brain’ to store all those tasks we try and keep in our heads. He also challenges our tendencies to procrastination and distraction. I particularly found helpful the steps to identify when my attention levels were highest during a day and then schedule the most complex work accordingly.
Things This is my ‘second brain’ system. Almost every task I have to do, personally or professionally, goes into Things. Tasks are sorted by project and can be allocated to specifics dates but, as per the GTD and Productivity Ninja approaches, this isn’t encouraged. Why? Because if you schedule that task for Monday then something comes up on Monday which takes priority then you have to spend (waste) time re-scheduling the task. Instead Things allows me to have a due date and then specify how many days in advance of that I want to be reminded the task needs to be done. I can even tag tasks for specfic contexts such as an errand to run or something I have to do in the office or when online or at my computer etc.. Then, every morning, I have a list of tasks to choose from which I can allocate to that day, defer to decide upon later depending on what else comes across my desk, my attention and energy levels etc.. With Things synchronising seamlessly between all my devices and having powerful search and sorting features this is an essential productivity tool for me.
Due One feature Things doesn’t support is the need for some tasks to be allocated to particular times, for example a reminder that it’s my job to pick the kids up from school today. That’s where Due comes in. I can quickly and easily schedule a task for a specific date and time, create recurring tasks and defer items if I have to postpone them. Critically Due never lets me forget that task needs doing. Whereas other reminder systems just remind me once at the set time, Due keeps reminding me over and over again (at a frequency I can specify) until I do the task. Sync isn’t quite as seamless as Things but it works fine and between the two systems I always have a list of what needs doing.
Airmail 3 As a Mac user I try and avoid Microsoft software and have not once missed using Outlook in the last five years. Instead I have relied on the standard Mac and iOs mail software. Until recently, when I switched to Airmail 3, a product that’s all about efficiency and getting that inbox to zero. Processing email is now a breeze. I can far more easily move messages between all my different accounts and folders, allocate messages to be actioned later or (in the case of newsletters and the like) to be read later. If something comes in that needs a task creating or requires a diary entry then with just a couple of clicks I can add that to Things or Fantastical (my calendar app of choice largely down to it’s natural text features and time zone management). Airmail 3 is also super fast to set up and syncs beautifully between all my devices.
Tyme 2 This is a new one for me. As a freelancer I sometimes need to record the time I spend on projects and bill this to clients. As someone keen on productivity I also want the ability to keep track of the time I spend on tasks and projects. Am I spending too much time processing email? What is the balance of my time between marketing and client delivery work? That kind of thing. My old time-tracking system no longer syncs between devices so I opted for Tyme 2 as a replacement. It’s still early days but it’s working well so far, although it did need some time to set up at first, as many of these systems do, and wasn’t instantly intuitive. I am quickly and easily recording the time I spend on different work tasks and projects and starting to gain insights into my working patterns and habits. Time will tell how truly effective this tool will be - I will be using it for my first ‘on the clock’ client next month - but early signs are very promising.
Pocket I’ve had Pocket for ages now and I love it. I couldn’t be without it. If you aren’t familiar with Pocket, it’s a tool to collect and store all those articles you want to read, sort (tag) them into categories and then read offline at a later date and time. Anything I come across that I think would be worth reading for work or for personal interests gets ‘clipped’ from my web browser into Pocket. Then when I’m on a train or just have a few minutes spare I can open Pocket on any of my devices and get reading. If I think it’s something worth sharing or keeping, I can quickly and easily share to social media and / or Evernote. I also love that once a year they send me an email saying how many words I’ve read in the last twelve months and what my favourite topics have been etc.. Best of all Pocket is entirely free and, whilst there is a paid for option, I have never felt like I’ve needed it.
Buffer If you post to social media, especially to multiple accounts (and in particular to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Google+) then you need Buffer in your life. I use the free version (paid options provide more in-depth analytics and access to other social networks) and Buffer enables me to quickly share articles and items of interest to my professional social networks without having to post separately on each site. I can even automatically schedule posts for each network to the times my followers are most likely to engage with my content, essential if (like me) you have followers and clients around the world and don’t fa cry being up in the middle of the night to post something in their local timezone. Buffer also produce a superb and very helpful blog packed with tips, ideas and through provoking posts about using social media and online marketing.
So there you have it, my top seven productivity tools and resources.
What are your top tools and resources for enhancing productivity? What could you not be without?
Also, to help shape my workshop, what issues would you love to see covered in training on productivity and time management for Volunteer Managers? I’d really value your input.
Over to you.
Tuesday, 28 June 2016
In May the UK government published new draft policy directions for the Big Lottery Fund and opened a consultation on their proposals.
As Michael outlines, one of the draft priorities is, “engaging young people in volunteering and supporting youth sector infrastructure”. This is what I said in response to his article:
“Sigh. Why is engaging young people in volunteering a priority? Everybody is doing this. NCS has £1.2billion to do this. vinspired had £millions for this under Labour. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem encouraging young people to volunteer. But they are a small proportion of our population. What about the huge numbers of baby boomers? What about Generation X? Where is the funding to engage them more in giving time as volunteers? Perhaps the assumption is that they’ll give just like their parents did? In which case a brief read of the final report from the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing is worth a read. For once it would be nice to see a major funder or a high profile combine breaking away from our national youth obsession and realising that there are millions of others who do and could give time that would welcome more support.”
I make this point frequently when I speak on volunteering. Ever since the demise in 2003 of the failed Experience Corps initiative, little attention has been given and almost no funding provided on any significant scale to engage our huge baby boomer population in volunteering. Schemes like Volunteer Matters’ Retrired and Senior Volunteer Programme continue to do excellent work but the majority of effort and funding is directed at people under 30.
The aforementioned Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing issued it’s final report fifteen months ago and little seems to have happened since.
So, I want to ask, what do you think?
Have we become youth obsessed when it comes to volunteering in the UK?
What should we be doing to engage with a wider demographic of people in volunteering? What are you doing right now?
How should funding and support be directed best to help organisations engage baby boomers and Generation X in volunteering?
Over to you.
The consultation closes on 12 August. ↩
Monday, 20 June 2016
I am a regular reader of the Buffer Blog. Produced by social media scheduling company Buffer, the blog regularly shares practical, inspiring content about social media, a key marketing tool in our 21st century world.
Social media is a topic I train and write on regularly. It’s a subject I find many people who lead and manage volunteers can be uncertain about or even afraid of. Yet, whilst it won’t completely replace more traditional ways to promote volunteering in our organisations, it is an increasingly important way to reach out to people, and not just those under the age of 30 - some of the biggest growth in social networks like Facebook is from those aged 50 and above.
Ash starts the blog post by arguing that marketing is essentially about the spread of ideas. In volunteering terms this means we want to spread that idea that people should volunteer for a given cause or organisation. This is what Ash says [with some contextualising for volunteering from me]:
“Success in marketing often comes down to one simple concept: getting your ideas [that people should volunteer with you] to spread. Traditionally, mass-media adverting is the go-to way to spread ideas. Here’s how it works (in theory): you buy some ads, put those ads in front of your audience [potential volunteers], and that’s how your idea spreads. The problem with this approach is that we live in a time where choice is abundant and time is sparse. Consumers [potential volunteers] are spoiled for choice when it comes to what to spend their money [time in our context] on and have too little time to consume content and engage with adverts. What this means is that most advertising is just ignored.”
Just read that last line again.
Most advertising is ignored!
That means those recruitment posters and leaflets you lovingly crafted to. It means that swanky new TV or radio campaign your organisation has spent a small fortune on to get people to volunteer or donate money. They aren’t simply dismissed but ignored altogether.
So what do we do instead?
As Ash’s points out, we’re more likely to buy a product if it’s recommended by a friend than pushed at us by an advert. In volunteering parlance that’s word of mouth.
We’ve always known that word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of volunteer recruitment. Simply put, if I have a great volunteering experience then I want to tell others about that. So I share enthusiastically with friends and family and encourage them to get involved so they can enjoy the volunteering experience too.
Think of it like this: when I share my great volunteering experience with friends and family, that includes posting about it on social media. My friends (all around the world!) see this. Some will like or react to it. Some will share it. Either way word spreads about how great volunteering with that organisation is without the organisation doing anything other than delivering a great experience and perhaps encouraging me to tell my friends.
Now you may be sceptical about the idea that anyone - especially a stranger who might happen across my social media post via a friend who shared it - would respond to my enthusiastic posting by enquiring to volunteer at the same organisation. But why not? As Ash points out in his article, “92% of consumers trust recommendations from other people—even if they don’t know them personally—over promotional content that comes directly from brands.”
Just think for a minute about when you’ve bought something online. You probably read a review online, for example from someone on Amazon or TripAdvisor who also bought that book or CD or booked that hotel or ate at that restaurant. Did their review sway you to go ahead with your purchase or not? The answer is probably yes. Did you personally know them? The answer is probably no. So if our online buying decisions are influenced by someone we don’t know why wouldn’t someone trust my enthusiastic review of volunteering and want to get involved themselves?
Back to Ash’s blog post - what then is influencer marketing? Simply put, it’s word of mouth but focused through someone who will be an influencer to that audience. So if you want to more young people to volunteer with your organisation you find someone who has influence within this group to share your volunteer recruitment message on social media. That doesn’t have to be a member of One Direction but someone who has influence within their peer group, for example another young person. As Ash puts it, “influencers act as a mutual friend connecting your brand with your target consumers”.
Ash’s post goes on to explain more about influencer marketing in his blog post which I encourage you to read and reflect on. I’d also love to hear your thoughts about this topic and how we can apply the concepts of influencer marketing to volunteer management.
Over to you.
Wednesday, 8 June 2016
For UK Volunteers’ Week, The Guardian newspaper published an article entitled “What makes some people more likely to volunteer than others?” Within that piece, which mainly looked at volunteer motivation, Justin Davis Smith (former CEO of Volunteering England) made a really vital point. To quote directly from the article:
Ultimately, “it’s about constructing a really worthwhile, meaningful opportunity for people where they can make a difference,” Davis Smith says. “Don’t do that in isolation, do that with volunteers. They can help co-produce and co-construct the experience they engage in. Make it meaningful, make it attractive, make it worthwhile.”
That got me thinking. Do the national standards we have for working with volunteers encourage such an approach? Do they emphasise the importance of developing great volunteer roles and experiences? Do they promote co-production with volunteers? Do they ultimately make volunteering with out organisations meaningful, attractive and worthwhile?
Lots of countries have some form of national standards, either for the practice of volunteer leadership and management or for the organisational readiness to engage volunteers. For example:
This is of course just a sample and I’ve only picked one from each territory. The UK also has national competencies for volunteer management as well as the organisation Investing In Volunteers standard, and New Zealand has organisational best practice guidelines as well as competencies for Volunteer Managers. I’m sure there are more and please do let me know if there are any I’ve missed (you can leave a comment below).
Any effort to raise the standard of volunteer management and create a more pro-volunteering culture in volunteer involving organisations is a good thing. Yet what all of these have in common is an emphasis on processes, risk management and the like - the bureaucratic side of working with volunteers. Less prevalent is a consistent focus on our ability to work well with people, the skills and competencies that make someone a great leader of people, able to co-produce influence, negotiate and, well, lead.
Sure, some of the standards above contain elements of this people & leadership focus. But not all. And often this is given less prominence to the process stuff.
Now I understand that good processes should support meaningful and worthwhile volunteering opportunities. They should keep people safe and provide a context and structure to volunteering that enhances it’s value to the volunteer, the organisation and the beneficiary. But note that I said good processes, not simple processes.
All too often I come across people working with volunteers for whom the processes they work within (whether established by them or by the wider organisation) are a barrier to giving people great volunteer opportunities. Two examples:
- Putting people off before they even start by requiring everyone to complete a long and detailed application form before they can start. In some instances this may be appropriate but do we need to do this for those just giving us the occasional hour of their time now and again?
- An approach to risk that is about avoiding it all together rather than managing it. So family volunteering is dismissed because children could get hurt without any consideration that parents who volunteer with children continue to look our for their welfare just like at any other time and so the risk to an organisation is probably much lower than if they just involved the children without the parents.
As one volunteer I met once said, “Volunteer management has become about what volunteers can’t do, not what they can do”.
If our national standards consistently focus on processes do we reinforce this culture of volunteer management being a process business not a people one? Should they place a heavier and more consistent emphasis on people and leadership skills to balance or even counteract the danger of becoming a ‘computer says no’ profession?
I come back to Justin’s challenge that we must make volunteering meaningful, attractive and worthwhile. Take a look at your national standards for volunteer management. Does they emphasise the right things to rise to this challenge, or do they focus on things that will get in the way?
What do you think? Leave your comments below so we can discuss these questions further.
Wednesday, 16 March 2016
I recently attended the excellent Strategic People Conference in London. Organised by Agenda Consulting who run the regular Volunteer Counts benchmarking study, the conference brought together HR and Volunteering Managers for a day of workshops and keynote addresses that inspired and challenged in equal measure.
In this blog post I want to share four reactions to the day. I also invite you to comment and add your thoughts, in particular from any readers who were at the conference.
1/ The number of Volunteer Managers in attendance
I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people at the event who were leading volunteering at a wide range of organisations. In fact, during the afternoon workshops, the session on volunteering was in the main plenary room because there were so many of the conference attendees who wanted to be at the session (it was delivered in a very enjoyable way by Dan O’Driscoll from Oxfam).
For a conference mainly sold as being about Human Resources Management it was great to see so many Volunteer Managers in attendance on the day. It goes to show that, done well, a ‘mainstream’ sector conference can be done well and provide good content for those in the volunteering movement rather than simply bolting on unsatisfactory workshops to a programme more geared towards other management disciplines.
2/ What this may mean for HR / volunteering synergies
The presence of so many Volunteer Managers at an HR conference did give me pause to think that perhaps this is a sign of ever closer integration between HR and Volunteer Management in some organisations. Such integration is often dismissed out of hand as bad for volunteer management yet, if done well, it can work. Some organisations even go as far as to put an experienced volunteering person in charge of the overall people function, reinforcing Steve McCurley’s accurate assessment that:
“We shouldn’t treat our volunteers like our paid staff, we should treat our paid staff like our volunteers”.
Yet it is also important to note that volunteering and human resources don’t always play well together. Here’s what Susan Ellis and I have to say on the issue in the UK Edition of the book, From The Top Down:
It is useful to consider the connection between the volunteer manager and the agency’s head of human resources or personnel (after all, volunteers are both human and a resource!). There are both similarities and differences between these two functions. Structurally, as already noted, both recruit and place workers into your organisation. Both require policies and guidelines to clarify expectations of paid and volunteer personnel. But think carefully if you are leaning toward placing the volunteer office within the human resources department. Here are some cautions:
- No matter how good the intentions, volunteers will always be given lower priority than employees - perhaps little attention at all.
- Human resources staff take job descriptions designed by others in the organisation and try to fill those slots with the best people who are then completely delegated to each department or team. The volunteer manager, on the other hand, ought to be more proactively suggesting ways volunteers can support the work to be done, be much more creative in finding people with expertise or the potential to become an expert, and find placements for people who unexpectedly offer useful talents (the human resources folks can’t hire anyone without an allocated salary).
- The volunteer manager may also be much more involved in a range of day-to-day organisational activities and supervise some volunteers directly.
As one final illustration of how HR and volunteer management can differ, I often note that not many HR departments have responsibility for people aged 5 or 95, focusing as they do on people of working age (16–70). Yet such extremes of age are often commonplace for Volunteer Managers and throw up a different set of challenges from those faced by HR colleagues.
3/ The language used around volunteering
Two things frustrated me about the language that was sometimes used in regard to volunteering on the day.
First, the phrase ‘use volunteers’ was heard on a number of occasions from a variety of people. This is a real bugbear of mine and I outlined my thoughts about it in a blog post in 2011. Some people think I can be a bit over the top with this one, that policing the word ‘use’ is not the most important issue the Volunteer Management profession faces. And I agree, it isn’t, but language is important and repeated and frequent talk of ‘using volunteers’ puts them on a par with disposable assets like staplers and office furniture. As the Twitter hashtag for this issue says, [#weusethingsnotpeople](https://twitter.com/hashtag/weusethingsnotpeople).
Second, on a couple of occasions when presenters were discussing time given by professionals using their skills to assist an organisation they used the term ‘probono’. On one level I have no issue with this. Probono is a long established term. However, probono is volunteering, so why don’t we call it that? It seems that whenever some people talk about what they see as more meaningful volunteering they refuse to use the v-word as if that’s only suitable for envelope stuffing and tea making roles.
The more we allow and endorse a different language for certain kinds of volunteering the more we allow the often inaccurate stereotypes of ‘volunteering’ being nice but non-essential work that makes little or no meaningful contribution to an organisation’s mission.
Oh, and don’t get me started on the appalling term, skilled volunteering.
4/ Our obsession with processes and risk avoidance
In the morning I attended a fascinating workshop all about a Hospice community volunteer initiative. The scheme has volunteers out in the community, supporting those affected by illness, doing a wide variety of tasks some of which could be quite challenging. The presenters were keen to stress that the scheme ran in a very light touch way, recruiting and screening for the right people as volunteers and trusting them to make intelligent decisions about the wide array of situations they might face.
Whilst the scheme was interesting, what I found fascinating was the reaction from many of the other Volunteer Managers in the room. It seemed that the default setting of many Volunteer Managers was not to respond by saying something like,
“Oh, that’s interesting, how could I make that work in my organisation?”
Instead the response was,
“We can’t possible do that due to Health & Safety, risk, because paid staff should do those tasks not volunteers etc.”.
Has our profession has become so obsessed by systems and processes, rules and regulations that we fail to spot any potential in new ideas? More worryingly, do we fail to spot the potential in volunteers? As one person who gave evidence to the Volunteer Rights Inquiry said - “Volunteer management has become about what volunteers can’t do, not what they can do”.
Obviously the rules and regulations, systems and processes are there for a reason and I don’t advocate scrapping them all. But when they dominate, when they stop us doing things that could benefit clients because of some often ill-defined and seldom realised risk, when they hold us back from even considering something new, then those processes become a serious barrier to our work. We are surely about enabling the community to make a difference, not telling them how they can’t make a difference because, to misquote Little Britain, “process says no”.
So there you have it, my four observations on the Strategic People Conference. If you were there then please add your own comments below. If you weren’t there but want to add your thoughts then please feel very welcome to do so.
Over to you.
Monday, 25 January 2016
Quite rightly we are often called to open up our organisations to these under-represented groups. We are challenged to broaden the diversity of our volunteer teams and to tackle any practical barriers to the engagement of a wide pool of volunteers. Barriers like expenses so people aren’t financially disadvantaged through giving their time, or adaptations to premises or ways of working that can remove physical barriers to some people getting involved.
Take disabled people as an example. They are generally under-represented in formal, ‘mainstream’ volunteering. The associated assumption made all too often is that disabled people therefore do not volunteer. This is wrong. They do. A lot. They are involved in advocacy, self-help support networks, campaigns for disability rights and lots more. What they do flies under the radar of many people because it doesn’t sit comfortably with the (for want of a better phrase) establishment’s neat definitions of volunteering.
Consider another example. The UK’s Labour government of the early noughties had a goal of one million more people volunteering. That goal could have been met when roughly that number of people marched through London in 2003 to protest (as volunteers) against the imminent invasion of Iraq. But that wasn’t the kind of volunteering that the government wanted to see, so it didn’t get counted.
To me, this kind of discrimination is far more subtle, far more common and far more insidious than not providing ramps into a building or only making opportunities available at times that suit certain types of people.
Often without realising it we effectively say to these so called under-represented groups, “what you already do isn’t valid so come and do what we want you to do instead”.
So yes, let’s see what we can do to remove the very real barriers to diverse involvement of volunteers in our organisations. But let’s also take a moment to reflect and see if there are less obvious barriers created by our personal and / or organisational beliefs about volunteering. They are perhaps the barriers we need to challenge first.
Friday, 15 January 2016
Now we are back into the swing of a new year, it’s not unusual for us to focus on some of those thoughts and ideas we may have been musing over regarding changes we might want to make, courses we want to take and how we might embark on 2016 in a way that enables us to feel revitalised and focused.
One step we might be considering is to embark on a learning programme, or to at least be thinking about what workshops or conferences we might want to attend this year. Thankfully, the field of Volunteer Management has come a long way from the days of limited training options and few opportunities to learn and connect to others. There are in fact, lots of ways to access learning and development, including online, which is definitely something to be celebrated. Unfortunately though, this doesn’t necessarily translate into participation for everyone, or that we will receive the type of learning intervention that we really need.
Some of the biggest issues I see around learning relate to the assumptions we make, collectively and individually about what it is, and how to go about it.
- Learning is simply about acquiring knowledge.
- Learning means training, and training means attending courses in a classroom, often requiring travel to London or another major city.
- Learning is expensive and takes up valuable time which we cannot afford.
- Learning is just about getting a certificate to prove you can do a job.
- Learning is something that should be paid for or provided by the organisation and I know they won’t.
These are just some of the messages I regularly hear from individuals and organisations when discussing learning and development opportunities. And there’s a tone of negativity and resignation, which if followed, can be damaging.
It’s important for us all to recognise that learning is not a luxury add-on, only to be afforded and enjoyed during the good times. It’s actually essential to our growth and development as individuals and organisations; and we have a duty to our volunteers, our client groups and communities to remain invested in ourselves and our work, so we can deliver the best at all times.
Throughout my years of designing and delivering training and working with Volunteer Managers and organisations, the most successful and satisfied individuals I have worked with are those who have taken a lead on their own learning and development. And, the most successful and thriving organisations understand the true value and impact of supporting their workforce to learn. I would argue that we need to take this approach more than ever before and to challenge our assumptions about learning because they are in fact holding us back.
So, ask yourself three questions:
- What do I really think about the role of learning?
- How important is it for me today, this week, this year?
- And, what assumptions might I be making about what learning needs to look like and what my manager or organisation thinks about it?
If you’re interested in finding out more about learning opportunities in volunteer management, check out our website for information on the training available from Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd.
Sue and I also tutor an online introduction to volunteer management course. This takes six weeks and is great value compared to traditional classroom based training. The next course starts on Monday 15th February and you can book your place now on the course website.