- Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 13:55
Research on Volunteer Managers in WA
By Megan Paull. Megan is a lecturer in the Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University. Her research interests include volunteering and volunteer management, the issues of corporate social responsibility and civic engagement, and the role of business in the community.
The management of volunteers is receiving increasing attention. There are a number of reasons for this – including:
- Increased demands for excellence in service delivery from clients and beneficiaries of volunteer effort;
- Increasing levels of risk management requirements stipulated by funders and insurance providers;
- Increasing concerns about governance, financial and fiduciary responsibility of non-profit boards and management committees; and
- Increasing expectations from volunteers themselves that their work will be well organised and their time well spent.
These pressures have been met by the gradual adoption of modern management techniques in volunteer involving organisations. Some commentators have been opposed to this process, but generally the adoption of a management approach has been accepted. Of course as Meijis and Ten Hoorn (2008) are quick to point out, there is no “one best way” of managing volunteers. This attention to management of volunteers places increasing pressures on those charged with the task. As a consequence it is important to turn our attention to managers of volunteers.
A recent online survey (completed in 2009) of volunteer involving organisations in Western Australia included in its scope a brief examination of the responsibility for the management of volunteers in respondent organisations, including title, role and pay, as well as some aspects of the training and support available to managers. The results indicated that there is a need for volunteer involving organisations to give consideration to their acknowledgement of the role that managers of volunteers play.
In the early 1990s English researcher Roger Hedley observed that the management of volunteers is far more complex than that of managing paid staff. Despite efforts by peak organisations to increase the recognition of this role, the evidence from this survey indicates that managers of volunteers still do not get the recognition they deserve. The increased recognition which has been afforded volunteers and volunteering in recent years does not yet appear to have extended to those who manage them. Evidence for this is in the lack of consistency across organisations in terms of titles and rates of pay, and in terms of the limited and inconsistent support which seems to flow to managers of volunteers. Titles ranged from those whose title is simply volunteer manager to those whose title does not recognise that their role includes this responsibility.
Fifty-four of the sixty-one respondents (88%) occupy a paid position in their organisation. Of the 54 respondents who occupy paid positions only 23 are in full time positions, 10 are in part time positions, and of the remaining 19 (both full and part time) whose role includes duties other than volunteer management, 11 occupy a role where volunteer management is less than 50% of their duties. There seems to be no pattern of pay rates relative to volunteer numbers, organisations size or level of responsibility allocated to the volunteer manager. Similarly, the basis for the determination of pay rates/salary also seems to have no consistent pattern.
Managers of volunteers are often time poor and trying to cope with many pressures including admin requirements and demands from other parts of the organisation. As discussed, the manager of volunteers is often responsible for a range of duties beyond management of volunteers, or occupies a part-time position. In some cases the management role falls to another volunteer, or is considered to be a minor part of the paid worker’s role in the organisation. There is evidence elsewhere of the burden of responsibility placed on managers of volunteers (Paull, 2002; Usiskin 2010).
This is not to say that all volunteer involving organisations do not value their volunteer managers, and there is evidence of some who offer well paid positions with appropriate titles and good support. It can be argued, however, that the lack of consistency stems from an apparent contradiction in the social construction of volunteering. On the one hand we value volunteer activities as altruistic and vital to a healthy community, and afford it a status above that of paid work. On the other hand we often resource volunteer activities poorly, and those with the responsibility for managing volunteers are often isolated, inadequately rewarded, under-resourced and comparatively underpaid.
The data from this survey is limited with regard to the detail it provides about volunteer managers but it points to the need to further explore this topic. The authors of the Volunteering Australia Volunteering Issues Survey for 2009 suggest their results “may suggest that adequate resources, particularly the role of manager of volunteers, is important if organisations are to have the capacity to develop and maintain management systems and processes for volunteers.”
Meijs, L. C. P. M., & Ten Hoorn, E. (2008). No "one best" volunteer management and organizing: Two fundamentally different approaches. In M. A. Liao-Troth (Ed.), Challenges in volunteer management (pp. 29-50). Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing.
Paull, M. (2002). Reframing volunteer management: A view from the west. Australian Journal on Volunteering, 7(1) 21-27.
Usiskin, D. (2010). Measuring the value of volunteer managers. Paper presented at Initiate, Discover, Examine the 13th National Conference on Volunteering. Melbourne 27-29 October 2010.
This study was funded by a Strategic Research Fund Grant from Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, with assistance provided by Volunteering WA. Further details can be found in two reports issued during 2010 and available at volunteeringwa.org.au
Let me introduce you to Curtin Volunteers!
By Natasha Moore. Over the past five years, Natasha has combined university studies with leading voluntary roles in Curtin Volunteers! and a paid role as the organisation's first Executive Officer. This continues a series of guest feature articles written by inspiring young people reflecting on differences in working with young volunteers.
Established in 1994 and based out of Curtin University in Perth, WA, this is a unique volunteer organisation driven entirely by students who possess undying enthusiasm for contributing to the community, learning from experience, and of course, balloon sculpting. Curtin Volunteers! (CV!) runs over 40 ongoing volunteer programs across the diverse portfolios of environment, youth, remote and Indigenous, cross-cultural, on-campus, and health. Although most of CV!’s annual 1000+ volunteers are students, anyone can be an active member. This results in a very high-energy organisation, but still allows for the eight and 88-year-old planting trees together scenario enjoyed during one of CV!’s October John Curtin Weekends where busloads of volunteers of all ages and expertise head out to complete projects in over 35 country towns around WA.
But, this is not an article describing the successes of one organisation – there are so many incredible volunteer initiatives out there! What I do hope to highlight are some of the (I hope) transferable elements that make this unusual organisation work, and thus share some of the lessons about young-people-driven volunteering that I’ve learnt through five years with CV!.
Creativity: It sounds obvious, yet is easily underrated, and vastly under-utilised in many organisations I’ve befriended briefly. Importantly, you can’t allocate creativity to one individual in the media department. Everybody can be creative in their own way – whether it’s your emailing style, a decision to hold the next meeting on a train, or spontaneously announcing the inaugural ‘international high-five three adopt-a-granny volunteers day’. Let’s face it, you have to put a little extra thought into something to make it creative – letting people know you actually care (thus winning their hearts)!
Positivity: This is actually a co-requisite for successful creative actions, and indeed, must go hand in hand with pretty much anything you wish to succeed. Even when dealing with the most serious of social issues, being positive towards each other, the volunteering and the learning experiences it affords gives individuals a reason to continue freely giving of their time and skills.
Trust: Trust volunteers and they’ll trust you. Trust that young volunteers come to you equipped with understanding and skills, and trust them to ask if they don’t (because they trust you not to judge them for it). And of course, with a culture of trust in an organisation both creativity and positivity flows that much better.
Diversity: It’s so, so important. Without being over-conscious of it, make sure you identify when social groups are under-(or not at all) represented. You might be excluding people without ever thinking about it or realising. So much can be gained simply by having that diversity on board with your organisation. If there are significant gaps, think about why, and think about how you can change. One key move must be the elimination of any culture of humour or behaviour that discriminates. In Australia we seem to have a dominant national sense of humour founded upon peer criticism. CV! has taught me that it doesn’t have to be like that. So many times I’ve relished how 13 individuals who together represent five continents, over 10 cultures and also happen to comprise the CV! executive board can all find the same moment hilarious, while not making any individual or group the subject of ridicule. Diversity enriches both organisations and individuals.
Food: No, seriously. One of the key volunteer motivators CV! draws upon when hosting events, and emphasises to community partners, is the power of providing food for volunteers. I believe food satisfies more than the basic human need to be fed (and yes, student poverty is a reality in our universities). Preparing and sharing food together brings people closer. Food makes us happy, makes staying late at uni fun, and gives us insight into each other’s cultures, tastes, and more ‘normal’ sides.
Listening: I’ve saved this one until last because I think it’s the most important. It’s certainly the most important lesson I have learnt. For the leaders of an organisation, listening means learning about what volunteers and the community need, even when that means ending a program. Listening means knowing with whom ‘yes’ can mean ‘no’ (especially in cross-cultural situations), and so learning to instead ask ‘how do you feel about…?’, and, ‘what would you think about us doing…?’. Listening to community members can also mean acknowledging that you’re not the first and won’t be the last person wanting to hear their perspective and that for some groups ‘consultation’ is so routine it no longer feels genuine.
‘Creating Impact’: Youth Leading Youth in the arts
By Jenny Geale, Mark Creyton and Ana Radovic, who are part of Volunteering Qld’s Education, Research and Policy team.
Volunteering Qld and Youth Arts Queensland brought together thirteen young arts leaders for a two-day workshop in November 2010 titled Creating Impact. The workshop covered leadership, management and volunteering issues, and extending the reach of projects – all with a central focus on how these young leaders create an impact. Participants were drawn from metro and regional areas, primarily volunteers and were under 30 years of age.
Creating Impact provided a valuable experience for participants to explore issues central to their practice and effectiveness, connect with other young leaders and share ideas. It was also a unique opportunity to test and build upon the findings of Volunteering Qld's Youth Leading Youth research.
The workshop included a review and discussion of the findings, exploring the key factors that inspire and engage young people in the broader not-for-profit sector. Participants recognised the relevance of the findings for their practice, identifying learnings that can be used in recruiting, managing and retaining volunteers and others in their projects.
The insights of the leaders across the entire two-day forum both confirmed and challenged the research. Overall, there was a significant consistency between the attitudes and behaviours of the arts leaders and the findings of the broader research piece.
Passion as a key driver and motivator for participation was a strong theme in Youth Leading Youth. The arts leaders were also motivated by a passion for what they do and feel compelled to “bring their passion into other people’s lives”. They are driven by an opportunity to make a difference and to positively impact their communities, such as by letting “others know they have a voice too”. To have this kind of impact on the people they engage is very important to these leaders, just as engaging other young people was important in Youth Leading Youth. This passion for their practice translates into a high level of commitment and dedication to their work and team.
Sharing skills and knowledge
The arts leaders explained how they pass on skills, knowledge and experience. In Youth Leading Youth, this was prominent within organisations and teams. Interestingly, the arts leaders were also keen to share across organisational boundaries and throughout the entire sector, in part due to the challenges of succeeding in the arts sector. Youth Leading Youth did not explore this type of sharing, although all research participants were supportive of the aim of the research to share good practice across sectors.
Youth Leading Youth revealed the centrality of dialogue in the way young people operate. Similarly, the arts leaders often generated their ideas through collaboration and discussion, as “talking with others and engaging with them creates a lot of ideas and inspiration”. Both groups drew inspiration from being surrounded by like-minded people. “Being immersed in arts and culture and surrounded by creative and intellectual thinkers feeds my creativeness”, said one arts leader. In Youth Leading Youth, many saw their organisations as creating a space for like-minded individuals to gather.
Focus on relationships and people
The young people in Youth Leading Youth are focused on relationships and connections with people from the outset, and this guides the majority of their processes. Arts leaders were also focused on building and creating relationships. Just as Youth Leading Youth revealed sophisticated HR procedures that resulted in careful selection of volunteers, the arts leaders are selective about who they work with as relationships are so central to effectiveness. They also see their practice as an opportunity to increase their networks.
The arts leaders discussed preferences for working independently or in teams (with a recognition of the value of both approaches). It could be inferred from Youth Leading Youth that there is a preference towards teamwork, due to the heavy prevalence of dialogue, but this was not explicitly explored.
Empowerment and structures
An interesting finding from Youth Leading Youth was the way young people liked to have flexibility in their role or project, but not autonomy, and they like to know their boundaries. This model of empowerment was reflected in Creating Impact. Firstly, the arts leaders talked about the importance of empowering others and valuing their work. They discussed how they liked “a little bit of challenge added”, and that they tried to give others “jobs that they can own and take responsibility [for], instead of doing the ‘boring’ jobs”. As to boundaries, the majority of participants agreed that a certain structure to their work was helpful. They emphasised that in order to work effectively in a structure, it needs to be encouraging and supportive. This is a good expression of the ‘flexibility within boundaries’ concept that was explored in Youth Leading Youth.
Enjoying the experience
The young people in Youth Leading Youth participated as much for the experience – the challenge, the fun, the friendships – as for the outcomes. The arts leaders felt similarly inspired by the process, “as opposed to being overly concerned with a superficial outcome”. They were happy to “try and explore”, and their work environment was also often their social environment.
Volunteering Qld is continuing to work with several young arts leaders to further develop understandings and practices in innovative engagement within the creative industries sector. Volunteering Qld is also developing a range of resources to assist organisations in working with young people.
The arts leaders exhibited capacities in creativity and ‘out of the box’ thinking that was not necessarily present in the Youth Leading Youth organisations. This presents an interesting opportunity for exploring creativity in not-for-profits more broadly. Volunteering Qld has commenced Project Creatives to examine how creativity can be better supported and encouraged within the non-profit sector, through working with volunteers and partnering with organisations from creative industries.
Collated and edited by Mark Creyton, Director Education, Research and Policy, Volunteering Qld.
We are actively seeking contributions from researchers and practitioners which provide new understandings and approaches to the field of volunteering.