We are who we are because of everyone

It was good to see some profile of volunteering on the BBC Business News this week, with VE’s Chief Executive, Justin Davis-Smith being interviewed on the increase in use of ‘professional volunteers’. The discussion was about people who have recently been made redundant offering their specialist experience to charitable organisations in order to keep their CV live and current, thus enhance their future employability prospects.

I was reading a book by Emma Brierley called ‘Talent on Tap’ dealing with how to manage freelance consultants, and a few concepts seemed ring true with this BBC interview. I’ve quoted them below, but instead of ‘freelance consultants’ I’ve inserted ‘professional volunteers’. What do you think?

  • “Most organisations really do not understand how to manage professional volunteers because they are no good at allowing creativity to happen …(professional volunteers) don’t want to be made into employees because it makes them feel trapped. ….Organisations that are able to live with this tension will grow rapidly. [quoted from Charles Handy]
  • “Our relationship with our professional volunteers is based on trust. In fact we don’t even ask them to sign formal contracts. Instead, we have a volunteers charter outlining what we expect from them – and what they can expect from us”. [Fiona Dent, Ashbridge Management College]
  • “When drawn up correctly, an agreement with a professional volunteer becomes a case study in honesty and partnership. Before signing, both parties are free to discuss any issues and concerns while establishing their expectations and requirements. Although the perfect agreement may take time to set up, once it is in place it should manage itself”

These are interesting concepts and this CIPD publication comes out at a time when the volunteer management profession is keen to establish itself. Currently the response of the VM profession appears to focus on ‘separatism’ and ‘specialism’. In other words, volunteer managers re-stating that volunteer management is different to managing paid staff, and that no-one can manage volunteers effectively unless they have been specially trained.

What these excerpts highlight is that the volunteer management profession clearly needs to engage with, and develop a dialogue with, the wider world of people management.

They highlight that there is benefit in cross-fertilisation for all to learn, and just as the wider people management profession has something to learn from volunteer management (see previous blog), the volunteer management profession can also benefit from an engagement from the wider world of people management. Just as a case in point, today’s CIPD e-newsletter signposts to loads of information about Board-level volunteering and employer supported volunteering.

Today, the volunteer management profession finds itself in an interesting and potentially pivotal position, and can respond with either with a strategy of ‘separatism and specialism’, or a strategy of ‘engagement and dialogue’.

To move away from the textbooks, I find particular value in the ‘Orange RockCorps’ statement “I am who I am because of everyone”. Surely the volunteer management profession (that is currently struggling to define itself) can seek to discover itself and its purpose in the world, by considering how it interacts with everyone else. This is how people grow, and it’s how organisations grow. The profession needs to have the confidence that it has a unique offering to the people management agenda, and the faith to believe it can find its place without losing its fundamental identity when engaging with others.

Whilst a strategy of engagement and dialogue can appear a little scary on the face of it, the alternative is fail to provide the unique contribution that volunteer management has to offer in the workplace and in the community. All will be poorer for this.

As we steel ourselves for the challenge, we can take heart with the conclusion reached by the CIPD publication ‘Talent on Tap’. Again, with ‘professional volunteers’ inserted instead of ‘freelance consultants’.

“Perhaps the most radical conclusion we have drawn from our research is that the future belongs to those organisations with the vision and skill to treat all staff as ‘professional volunteers’ – regardless of whether they are permanent or temporary, new or experienced, senior or junior, skilled or non-skilled.”

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