Monday, 25 January 2016

Why how we think about volunteer diversity might need to change

Certain groups of people are under-represented in formal volunteering. We all know that right?

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.


Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with this at all. Diversity is good. We should strive for it in our volunteer teams. But I worry that by doing so we may be inadvertently disregarding the great volunteer work people in these under-represented groups already do.

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

Three questions to ask about your learning plans for 2016

In this guest post for the start of 2016 our friend and colleague Sue Jones shares her thoughts about learning and development for Volunteer Managers. Sue challenges some assumptions we might make about learning and poses some questions to help us reflect on how we can make the most of our learning opportunities throughout 2016.

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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.

For example:

  1. Learning is simply about acquiring knowledge.
  2. Learning means training, and training means attending courses in a classroom, often requiring travel to London or another major city.
  3. Learning is expensive and takes up valuable time which we cannot afford.
  4. Learning is just about getting a certificate to prove you can do a job.
  5. 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:

  1. What do I really think about the role of learning?
  2. How important is it for me today, this week, this year? 
  3. And, what assumptions might I be making about what learning needs to look like and what my manager or organisation thinks about it?

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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.