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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Volunteer Opportunities: Flexibility is the key

I think that there is definitely a need for volunteer managers to have the flexibility in their programs to accommodate episodic volunteers.  We lead very busy lives and the excuse of “not enough time” probably relates to the perception of the commitment required to volunteer.  In the traditional model of volunteering some organisations actually specify a time period of commitment to volunteering; a regular weekly shift over a period of 12 months for example.  What if that person is unable to fulfil that time commitment?  While it would be great to have that commitment from people, it is not always possible for people to either make or keep that commitment.  People are unpredictable and life is unpredictable.  Any number of things can impact on a person’s life and their commitment to volunteering; a change in circumstance, loss of a job, gain of a job perhaps in another state or country, commencing study, travel, health issues, either their own or their loved ones, a life changing event such as a death or serious illness in the family prompting a reassessment of priorities.  These are all very valid reasons for not being able to commit to a specific timeframe of volunteering.
We, as volunteer managers, need to have the flexibility in our programs to accommodate this emerging trend in volunteering, for to remain rigid in our volunteer program structure may mean the demise of our volunteer programs because they no longer attract as many volunteers.  This may be because emerging trends in the way people volunteer no longer match the traditional volunteering model.  While altruism may be one aspect of volunteering, many people volunteer for different reasons; for experience for their tertiary study, to gain experience for a job, to practice conversational English skills and for many other reasons.  Volunteering needs to fit into study, work, childcare and leisure activities.  The structure of our volunteer programs needs to provide a variety of meaningful tasks with flexibility to accommodate changing schedules and volunteering commitments.  A balance of traditional volunteering with episodic volunteering provides stability yet flexibility within its structure.
The aove article is a slightly modified version of my response to the OZVPM Hot Topic for June/July 2011 by Rob Jackson. Click on the title of this blog post to read the Hot Topic.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is it time for change in Volunteer Management?

I posted an article in a blog some time back on http://djcronin.blogspot.com/2010/04/change-management-guest-post.html  Since then I have been informed that it is the 4th most visited post on this blog. I have also published this post on i-volunteer as I felt that it may be of interest to others as well.  Click on the title of this blog to see this article on I-Volunteer.

Change management is a process that has been around for some time however, I have only recently become aware that there are consultants who actually specialize in this process and assist businesses in the management of changes within their organizations.

Change is everywhere. When you consider that during my mother’s life for example, she had lived through a depression and a world war and had seen the development of technology which brought about the advancement of computers from large mainframe computers, which filled an entire office floor, using punched cards as input, to accessing the internet from a mobile phone that fits into the palm of your hand.

Some people embrace change. There are a lot of computer savvy octogenarians out there who have discovered that they can access a wealth of information and stay in touch with friends all over the world with the advent of this new technology and all from the comfort of their own home. For these people the internet has become a mechanism for keeping in touch with people at a time perhaps when their mobility has become limited due to ill health or other issues which would otherwise prevent them from going out and socializing.

The way we do our grocery shopping has evolved too. Picking up the essentials daily from the corner store gave us an opportunity to meet with our neighbours and catch up on the local gossip. The corner store was the hub of the local community. Nowadays shopping usually consists of a car trip to a supermarket with a plethora of grocery and other items to choose from. While we have a far greater choice due to the bulk buying capacity of supermarket conglomerates, it is to the detriment of the local community feel and the personal approach. These changes had to come to keep pace with the changing demands of consumer’s lifestyles, but at what cost? Have we lost our sense of community? Have we become more insular?

These are two perspectives of change which are in my mind both just as valid. It is all about people’s perception. As volunteer managers and coordinators we deal with change all of the time, within our own organizations we introduce new programs, recruit new volunteers or deal with other organizational changes which impact on the volunteer service delivery. We deal with changes outside our organizations in the volunteer management sector trying to establish where we fit into the professional world. Perhaps as volunteer managers and coordinators we could learn more about change management strategies to promote our sector to a world that perhaps hasn’t kept up with the changes in volunteering and is perhaps unaware of the existence of the volunteer management sector.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Volunteer Management: Who are we?

I was with some colleagues from the volunteer management sector a while ago when the topic of qualifications in volunteer management came up. I, along with other colleagues, are very keen for tertiary institutions to design courses specifically for volunteer coordination or volunteer management as it is a unique sector and we feel it requires a course of its own. One person in the group by way of illustration turned to me suggesting that it would be a good idea for me to get a qualification and that a course in volunteer coordination would give credit for skills gained while working in the field of volunteer coordination. She went on to assume that I had chosen volunteer coordination for reasons of work/life balance and that because of this I worked part time.

I am by no means suggesting that there is anything wrong with this. In fact this may be quite true of many people. The hours that people work and the qualifications that people have is a matter of choice, individual choice. However what I find disturbing is that a person within our sector, albeit perhaps not at the coal face, is making a broad, generalist assumption that all volunteer managers and coordinators, or at least all of those in my demographic, are in the job because they are either winding down or making a career choice based solely on work/life balance. What does this say about our sector? Volunteer management is only the job that you have when you are about ready to retire or the job that you have when you are balancing work with bringing up a young family. If this is the mindset of people within our own sector what message are we, as a sector, sending to the general population. Is it any wonder we may not be considered as a profession by some if this is the perceived stereotypical view of volunteer management worldwide?

There was a time when I fitted into this stereotypical view. I had a part time job which entailed coordinating volunteers. I had this job when my children were young and it fitted in with the work/life balance of bringing up young children. In making generalist assumptions about volunteer managers and coordinators, what my colleague had not realised was in fact that I already have qualifications – 2 in fact; a Bachelor of Administration majoring in Information Systems and an Associate Diploma in Business. I work full time as a volunteer coordinator and have a challenging and dynamic role which I enthusiastically embrace as my career destiny. I have been fortunate to have colleagues in the volunteer management sector who are themselves dynamic leaders and their passion for advancing the sector has rubbed off on me.

Our sector is unique in that people from diverse backgrounds with many and varied skill sets can and do work as volunteer managers and coordinators. It is perhaps one of the few professions with a broad scope of position descriptions and tenures which lend themselves to varying participation rates which meet our work requirements at different stages of our lives. However let’s not forget that we are a profession and that we need to be inclusive of all jobs within our sector and to make generalised assumptions about volunteer management as a whole based only on a part of the sector is not productive in promoting volunteer management as a burgeoning profession.
I hope that this post evokes thought to the following questions
  • Who we are as a sector?
  • Where do we fit as a profession?
  • What type of messages are we giving to promote our sector?
Thank you for taking the time to read this post.
I value and encourage your feedback to the above questions.
So come on be brave, be bold and be a voice to encourage others in our sector.

This post was also posted on I-Volunteer.  Click on title of this blog to see this post and comments on this site.