Volunteers Ombudsman

Interesting letter in Third Sector today (Weds 21 Apr 09) from Stephen Moreton, Head of Education and Development at Attend on the debate about a volunteers ombudsman.  He wrote….

…’The call by AVM for more resources for volunteer managers is misguided.  More resources are needed to help charities as a whole manage volunteers.  HR departments, for example, need to ensure paid staff are aware of how volunteers support them.  Delivering effective volunteer services is not the domain of the volunteer manager – it is an organisational responsibility.’

I’m wondering how much his letter has been edited as the ‘misguided’ quote doesn’t seem to quite fit with the rest of the paragraph.  I’d agree (as I’m sure we all would) that delivering effective volunteer services is an organisational responsibility.  However, in many organisations, delivering effective volunteer services is the domain on the volunteer manager, who is often under-resourced and under-supported by the organisation. 

Could it be that what he’s getting at is that many organisations, boards, SMTs etc don’t take ownership/responsibility of volunteers as they might fundraisers for example.

More resources for volunteer managers along with effective cross-departmental working (with HR for example) to raise awareness of the impact of volunteers would help to deliver effective volunteer services.  I think we’re basically saying the same thing but from a slightly different perspective.

One thought on “Volunteers Ombudsman

  1. I’ve just discovered this blog Sean, sorry for the delay in responding!Here is the original text of the letter I sent to Third Sector Magazine————–How should we resolve volunteer conflict? Stephen Cook proposes a volunteers ombudsman and the AVM propose more resources for volunteer managers (7 April, page 12).Surely an Ombudsman will have the effect increasing volunteer conflict? The conflict resolution legislation brought in for paid staff was thought to be a great idea, but encouraged employees to ‘square up’ with the organisation early on in conflict. This legislation has just been repealed to the relief of employers and unions alike. A volunteer Ombudsman could easily have a similar effect if implemented in isolation.Providing more resources for volunteer managers is also misguided. What are needed are more resources for the volunteer management function. For example, the HR department needs to ensure paid staff are both aware of the role of volunteers and skilled in supporting them. Delivering effective volunteer services is not the domain of the volunteer manager – it is an organisational responsibility————-Essentially what I was saying was that as the organisation decided to involve volunteers in the first place, the organisation must take responsibility for the success of this venture.This will involve ensuring paid staff know what volunteers are there for and have the skills to manage them. It also will involve ensuring senior managers are able to evaluate the impact that volunteers have on the effectiveness of their departments and make recommendations as to their continued involvement. The accountability for undertaking these activities rests with the organisation not with the volunteer manager – the volunteer manager however is a ‘partner’ is these processes and their role is to advise when they perceive and can evidence situations that could undermine the contribution that volunteers can make (for example, liaising with HR when they recognise pockets of volunteer/paid staff conflict, and contributing to the paid staff training needs analysis process that HR will clearly be leading on).So what does this mean for volunteer managers?Well, I have heard so many times that volunteer managers feel misunderstood by their organisations (senior management, HR, line managers etc.), and this often creates a ‘them and us’ situation where volunteer managers feel they have to entrench themselves to protect the interest of their volunteers. This naturally makes them operate as a ‘volunteer champion’, but may have the effect of neglecting their role as a ‘strategic partner’. If this is left unaddressed then it is also likely that the volunteer manager will become less engaged with being an ‘agent for change’ and more focused on becoming an ‘administrative expert’. All of these 4 people management roles (defined by Ulrich http://hrmadvice.com/hrmadvice/hr-role/ulrichs-hr-roles-model.html) are essential for the success of the whole Volunteer Management Function.So if a volunteer manager perceives their organisations, boards, SMTs etc don’t take ownership/responsibility of volunteers as they might fundraisers for example, then they need to focus on the strategic partner role by seeking to engage with the key decision-makers to establish what the organisation wants from its volunteers, how this can be achieved and what initiatives need to be in place to support the strategy.So in summary, volunteer management services is an organisational responsibility, and the volunteer manager can contribute to this be ensuring they embrace all four roles of:Strategic partnerChange agentVolunteer championAdministrative expertI hope this helps to give some context to the message that Third Sector so enthusiastically edited! ;-)As an afterthought, this ties in with my recent blog on the OTS Strand C funding, in that in my experience volunteer managers are great ‘volunteer champions’ and ‘administrative experts’, but that the development needs lie in the other two more strategic roles.

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