Volunteer managers don’t exist

So what are you? A charity worker, a development manager or a community worker? Perhaps you’re a tunneller, a toy-maker or a tea-taster?

You could be any of these. But, according to a list of over 1,500 occupations used by insurance brokers, the one thing you’re not is a volunteer manager.

Volunteer managers do not exist.

That’s a damning indictment when you think about how many people volunteer each year. Possibly half the people you’ll come into contact with today. And half the people tomorrow. And next week. And next month. And next year.

An enormous number of people who carry out a bewildering array of activities in every corner of our society. And yet the occupation that manages all that goes unrecognised. Ask the average person in the street what a finance manager does and they’ll have a pretty good idea. Or a chief officer, or a fundraiser. But a volunteer manager? In fact, we speak to many volunteer managers whose line managers don’t even understand.

Of course, maybe that’s not so surprising when most of you reading this aren’t called volunteer managers. 85% of people who manage volunteers aren’t actually called volunteer manager or something similar. Even worse, nearly 40% of you won’t even have a role description mentioning it.

That legitimacy of what we do remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks we face. If people don’t understand or recognise the role we play then effective investment and accountability will remain a pipe-dream, as will developing our own career paths or having salaries commensurate with our role (the majority of volunteer managers are paid below the national average).

And ultimately it means we are failing the volunteers themselves, by not having the capacity to ensure they have a fulfilling, rewarding and satisfying volunteering experience.

The skills we need are extensive; managing people; managing projects; recruiting; marketing; budgeting; influencing; training; fundraising; risk-assessing; planning; dealing with crises; understanding technical/legal implications; and decision-making.

And volunteer management identifies with many of the recognised characteristics that define a profession; we have a specialised body of knowledge, we have a set of skills; we have a group mission or identity; and we have agreed and recognised standards of behaviour and practice.

Establishing that legitimacy though is not easy. However, although we may not have the heritage that a tea-taster has to fall back on, what we do have is numbers. With those numbers, we have the ability to raise awareness of our role and become a much tighter, stronger network. The challenges that lie ahead are for all of us, both individually and collectively.

Firstly, be proud of what you do and take every opportunity to proclaim it from the rooftops, both to your colleagues and your friends and family. Spread the word!

Secondly, look at your role description and title. Ensure volunteer management figures prominently and, if it’s the major part of what you do, make sure your title and position within the organisation reflects this.

And finally, look for opportunities to share knowledge and ideas with your peers.

Make sure you have access to the support and continuous professional development that you need. Look for networks at your local volunteer centre, for example, and join the Association of Volunteer Managers.

If we want a profession of volunteer managers that is understood, respected and valued no-one will do it for us. We must and should do it for ourselves.

This article was originally published in Volunteering Magazine.

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