On Volunteering England’s website the current poll question is ‘Should volunteers be managed in the same way as paid employees’. The answer was so obvious I almost didn’t bother answering – they might as well have asked whether the Pope is Catholic or if bears pop behind a tree to relieve themselves. It was a slow day, though, so I hit ‘no’ anyway.
And to my utter shock I was in the minority. Just 37% of us believed yes, they should be managed differently. I would have been disappointed if that figure was 80 or 90% but just over a third?
Now I could rehearse the arguments as to why it’s not the same (legal issues, motivations etc) but we’ve become so hung up on the details we have forgotten the fundamental importance behind managing volunteers and paid staff differently.
In the last few years, there has been a radical shift in both the how and why people engage in voluntary action. Patrick Daniels has blogged eloquently on how the web is changing the ways people give, for example. But there is much we can also learn from the more activist and self-help end of the giving spectrum. However for those of us who work in the ‘traditional’ voluntary sector, we are unable to really explore how these could benefit our clients because we don’t have the flexibility to engage with them. And we don’t have that flexibility because we have sleepwalked our way into adopting the work-place model of management.
How did this happen though?
As volunteer management became more accepted and more established within organisations, there was obviously a need to fit it within the organisational edifice. And for many, the best fit was to follow the HR structure.
So as volunteer management became more accepted, for many organisations it was subsumed within the HR world. A world of policies, procedures and bureaucracy governed by a legislative employment framework. And just like the merger of any organisations – where one is very big and one very small – the outcome was that there was little left of volunteer management.
Now, you might argue that all that’s required is some slight tweaking. After all HR is all about all human resources isn’t it, both paid and unpaid?
Actually no it’s not. Sure, in theory that’s sounds reasonable but the real world doesn’t work like that. In the real world HR is about paid staff. In the real world HR is set up to manage paid staff, to develop policies and procedures for paid staff, to assess pay scales for paid staff. It’s not set up to deal with volunteers.
We fiddle around the edges to make sure volunteers aren’t seen to be employees but to all intents and purposes we manage them in the same way. A world of policies, procedures and bureaucracy that isn’t governed by a legislative employment framework.
Half of non-volunteers are put off volunteering by bureaucracy. We all know of people who’ve been put off because they’ve had to wait too long. And if we hold up a mirror to ourselves, can we honestly say that we are flexible enough to involve any type of volunteering, that we don’t hold up hoops to be jumped through simply for the sake of holding them up.
But bureaucracy is nothing new. The same barriers were identified fifteen, even twenty years ago. If volunteer management has evolved significantly in that time, as we believe, why are these barriers still there?
This has been brought into stark relief by the recession and the volunteering demand it has generated. Whilst undeniably there are capacity issues, there is also a lack of flexibility to respond to this upsurge.
Merging the management world of paid and unpaid hasn’t worked. It has damaged volunteering.
If we are to effectively involve the increasingly diverse ways people want to give their time to us we need to completely break from the workplace model of management and properly establish the identity, distinctiveness and independence of volunteer management.