The elephant in the room

I happen to think that Volunteer Management is a profession. A profession in its infancy perhaps but a profession none the less. But then I would say that because I’m biased! But actually, am I right? Is there a big elephant in the room that we just don’t want to see?

Is volunteer management a profession? Something that you need a certain set of skills that takes years of experience to perfect, that only a certain type of person could do? Or is it something that actually, anyone with a basic understanding of people skills (or even actually none!) can do?

Surely if we were a profession AVM, or something like it, would have been set up a long time ago and be akin to the CIPD or Institute of Fundraising by now?

Wouldn’t a lot more CEOs have a volunteer management background as opposed to a fundraising or campaigning background? Wouldn’t volunteers mainly be managed by people who know how to manage and support volunteers rather than junior members of organisations with little or no management experience? Surely organisations would ensure that volunteer management is properly resourced?

I started a new job towards the end of last year. In my new role, I’ve had the privilege to meet a number of organisations who involve volunteers in their projects. Without these volunteers they wouldn’t be in existence. Google Haringey Shed, Cathja, Kensington & Chelsea Mental Health Carers and you can see the amazing work these organisations do.

These people transform lives. They are the embodiment of the spirit of volunteering. I bang on that the reason why we involve volunteers is to help our organisations do more. (I think my board are sick of hearing me say that!).

However, the other day someone (a volunteer) summed it up so much better. We support the individual. For me those words have so much power. We support the individual. That’s why our organisations exist and that’s why we involve volunteers. Sometimes (most of the time?) in the politics of our world, in the dog eat dog world of fund chasing, I think we lose sight of that.

Without volunteers we would either have eye wateringly high taxes or we’d have a broken society. But we have dissatisfied volunteers (see Volunteer Rights Inquiry etc), under resourced and under supported volunteer managers, projects that are living hand to mouth existences because they’ve only got three years or less funding. And yet it works! We don’t have a broken society and we don’t have high taxes.

So how much better could it be if volunteer management was a properly structured and supported profession like HR for example? How much better would it be if volunteers were properly supported and looked after? How much better would it be if projects were five or ten years funded?

Perhaps I’m reaching for a Nirvana. Perhaps my dreams are unattainable. But I happen to think and believe that our world would be so much better with a properly structured and supported volunteer management profession. That’s something that AVM wants to see, but we can’t do it on our own. To bring about a new paradigm we need to work together. We need to change the culture of our world.

I remember a song from when I was a small boy. It’s called The Elephant Song. It has a small verse that goes:

‘Listen, please listen’, said the Elephant. ‘If we want the world we know to stay alive then man and beast, we must work together, and together we will survive’.

To me it resonates so much with where we are right now with volunteer management. Let’s work together and build this profession of ours. Let this be our elephant in the room.

Originally posted in Volunteering England’s Volunteering Magazine.

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