Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Postcard from New Zealand

I'm really excited about this blog post in which we hear from our New Zealand colleague Claire Teal about the work Volunteering New Zealand is doing to support and develop volunteer managers.  Their work is innovative and exciting and, in my view, provides a model that we other countries could (should?) replicate in their own contexts in order to raise the profile of the important role leaders and managers of volunteers play in society.

But enough of my views, over to you Claire...


Let me just say from the outset (with love, and humour, and all that) that development work amongst managers/leaders of volunteers is akin to herding cats. Our first response when asked about professional development is to cry out for a qualification. Pursue that a bit further and we become adamant that having a qualification will alienate volunteer managers of volunteers and/or create hierarchies between us and/or just take something away from the essence of what we do. We want a qualification, but we don’t want a qualification. Actually, we want development but we don’t want development. We are quick to rally for more recognition of our role and what we do, but equally quick to resist any attempt to change things. Doing this, we say, takes time we don’t have, takes the focus off the volunteers and, again, alienates volunteer managers of volunteers. Oh, and don’t forget our diversity…one size of development is never going to fit all, you know. Wow…what to do?

In New Zealand, our answer to that question has literally been to put a line in the sand and say we either need to accept that change will happen as a result of those demands, or stop demanding. We knew, through two conferences (2009 and 2011), some major research assignments canvassing over 800 New Zealand managers/leaders of volunteers and a whole lot of talking that there were some clear priorities for action here. Those clear priorities just needed to be outworked in a way that respected and reflected both the huge diversity of roles and the differing levels of desire for increased opportunities and recognition present in our field. The work we’re doing at Volunteering New Zealand around this is still very new, but the response we’ve received so far from managers/leaders of volunteers, wider organisations, and stakeholder groups as a whole across the country indicates that we’re on the right track.

So, what has our approach been?:

  1. To focus on the total inseparability of individual development for managers/leaders of volunteers from development of the groups and organisations they work within.
  2. To respond directly to what New Zealand managers/leaders of volunteers have said they want, without making anything compulsory or forcing it on those who aren't interested (but at the same time trying to bust the whole ‘volunteer managers of volunteers will get left behind’ myth. Who says these people don’t want to take charge of their own professional development?! Then why do we always assume they don’t?).
  3. To collaborate as much as possible, by doing all work through national working groups, by getting on the road and facilitating workshops for managers/leaders of volunteers around the country, and by seeking feedback every step of the way.

As I said, our work is still new, but in three years we’ve covered a lot of ground.

Many managers/leaders of volunteers seem to at the idea of a qualification because they see it as one clear leverage point from which to demand the status and recognition they deserve. Maybe one day our work here will progress to a qualification, but right now we’ve pulled back from the qualification debate to focus on the questions managers/leaders of volunteers are actually asking about their professional development. Things like:

"As a manager of volunteers, how do I find out what training and study opportunities I should be looking for to help me develop the skills I want to develop? Are there even opportunities out there?"

To use their words, New Zealand managers/leaders of volunteers want a learning pathway that they can use for their own, individual professional development. A pathway suggests movement, and to show movement, you need something to act as a marker or baseline. To create markers, we've been working on a set of competencies for all New Zealand managers/leaders of volunteers. They are high-level, not task-focused, and they map out four key areas of skills/values/attributes that managers/leaders of volunteers demonstrate in their work. Our goal is to work these competencies into a self-assessment tool that will make it easier to find the best-suited-to-you learning and development options that already exist, including assessment/recognition of prior learning. This will result in managers/leaders of volunteers being able to make informed choices about their own professional development from the day they enter the field through to the most advanced level.

The competencies are still under feedback and consultation in New Zealand, and so there is a high chance what you see below will change. However, here’s a quick sneak preview of a little bit, so you can see how we’ve structured them:

Base Knowledge

Base Knowledge Applied

Adaptive Leadership

Strategic Leadership
Competency 3:
Leadership Within Organisations

Managers of volunteers demonstrate organisational vision and values, and influence people to achieve them (both paid and volunteer staff)

You know the organisation’s vision and values
You apply the organisation’s vision and values to your own and other’s roles and tasks
You seek input from the team into current and future activities, and how best to align these to the organisation’s vision, values and strategic direction
You engage with others from both within the organisation and across the community to get their input into strategic direction and ideas for collaboration

Developing ourselves as managers/leaders of volunteers is one thing, but what about the groups and organisations we operate within?

Again, our method has been to draw another line in the sand and say hey, it doesn’t actually matter if organisations are big or informal, or if the manager/leader of volunteers is paid or a volunteer themselves. If you are serious about effectively involving volunteers, then you need to be serious about recognising, resourcing and supporting both these volunteers and the person providing the skilled leadership they need.

To speak into this, we are developing best practice guidelines for organisations. These aren't guidelines for how to manage volunteers well. They are tips and strategies for groups and organisations to use to ensure everything to do with volunteers (manager/leader of volunteers and volunteers, and all they do) is recognised, resourced and supported as a vital part of the organisation. Obviously, implementing these guidelines effectively means engaging across organisations much more widely than ‘just’ with the manager/leader of volunteers. It requires buy-in from Chief Executives and Boards, Senior Management, and so on. As an incentive, we are creating a category of Volunteering New Zealand Champion Organisation; organisations to hold this title will be those who can demonstrate commitment from a whole-of-organisation foundation to the principles of the best practice guidelines.

As I said earlier, we see a total inseparability of organisational development from individual development. We can have the most highly professionally developed managers/leaders of volunteers in the world, but if our organisations still don’t get what we do, then what have we really achieved?

This is very much a once-over-lightly look at what we volunteer management advocates are up to in New Zealand. I know (and many times, am reminded the hard way) that this is a contentious topic. There is no set template for what management/leadership of volunteers looks like in New Zealand or anywhere else in the world, and it’s hard to introduce change and development into the ‘field’ without many people assuming you want to create one. Trying to grow and develop management of volunteers means balancing the managers/leaders of volunteers who do want to see the field develop and those who might not be as interested in this, or are concerned about its implications. It also means encouraging both ends of the continuum and everyone in between that the stand-point we all hold is okay!

At the end of the day, we are all in it for the same reason - because we believe in the power of volunteering and we want to ensure the best possible experience for volunteers we work with.

About Claire:
Claire is a passionate advocate for the important role Managers and Leaders of Volunteers play in the design and delivery of effective volunteer programmes. She brings nearly two decades of experience working in the Community and Voluntary Sector in both paid and volunteer capacities to her role as Programme Manager at Volunteering New Zealand.
Previously she worked as Service Manager at the Central City Branch of the Wellington Citizens Advice Bureau, leading the volunteer team and taking a key role in the development of several collaborative community projects. Prior to this, she held roles as a statutory social worker and in community engagement in primary health care.
Claire is currently Deputy Chair of Volunteer Wellington, on the Leadership Team of Women in Leadership Aotearoa, and on the International Volunteer Managers Day Committee. In 2011, she was an invited international faculty member at the Australasian Advanced Retreat for Managers of Volunteers. This year, she is a participant in the Leadership New Zealand Leadership Programme.

1 comment: