17 Minutes of fame the Quality v Quantity debate



Ok, so in the popular parlance, lets do the “Math” here (I know, it grates with me also!)

Non-the-less, in the ongoing Quality v Quantity debate, lets look at the figures mentioned in the “Balancing the See-Saw” piece.


So we have a figure of 700 volunteers

Now, let us assume that each volunteer has “supervision” every six weeks

Let us also assume that the volunteer co-ordinator is full time 37.5 hours per week

(Giving maximum opportunity)

That’s 6 weeks x 37.5hrs

This makes a total of 225 available hours in a six week period, or 12,000 minutes

Now let’s divide those volunteer co-ordinator minutes by the number of volunteers 12,000 ÷ 700

This means that if all volunteers are treated equally, then each of the 700 volunteers has one-one interaction (supervision) with their volunteer co-ordinator, for a total of 17mins 14 seconds within a six week period.

That’s 17mins 14 seconds in six weeks, or to put it another way:

2 mins 8 seconds a week, or

25.6 seconds per volunteer day (based on 1 volunteer day in a 5 day week)

Or a grand total of  2 hours 25 minutes per volunteer per year

Yes that’s right folks 2 hours 25 mins per year

But it doesn’t end there

Because this also means that within that recurring six week period/cycle and in all the other chronological measures; a volunteer co-ordinator with 700 volunteers to manage, literally has no time to do anything else in relation to their role and its remit, i.e.

No time for Administration

No time for Recruitment and selection

No time for Training volunteers

No time for Networking

No time to be involved in wider aspects of volunteering

No time for their own personal and professional development (i.e. training, supervision)

No time to spend informal time with volunteers

No time for organising and running volunteer reward recognition events

No time for formal intervention with volunteers between supervisions

No time to answer emails, letters, telephones

No time for the many imponderables that often arise in dealing/answering the aforementioned.

Etc, etc, etc

In short, there just arent enough hours in the day, even to facilitate minimal supervision.

NB. This is of course without the volunteer co-ordinator ever being ill and off work.

It could be argued by a person “managing” such numbers, that others take on some of the responsibility of the volunteer co-ordinator through deligation.

I don’t have an issue with deligation per’sa, however the old maxim may well apply, in that delegation is in reality economy of effort, although i feel in this instance this would be more an indicator that the volunteer co-ordinator/volunteer ratio just dosent work.

However, just as salient, is that many of us are trying to ensure greater professional recognition of our role, so in such “delegation” and in seemingly handing our role over to any Tom, Dick or Harriet who puts their hand up, or happens to be in the “right” place, at the right time; then what does this say about us, our awareness of self, and our abilities in respect of managing appropriate numbers of people?

With the obvious exceptions where large numbers of volunteers are appropriate i.e. the Olympic games. We MUST STOP seeing large numbers volunteers as being a good thing, it isn’t, nor is it impressive.(especially where other people removed from volunteering and volunteer managment have, often without appropriate consultation determined them, i.e. politicians for political aims and ideology)

The reality is that a trained chimp can get volunteers to volunteer in many of the popular fields. So it’s not big or clever to do so. The real skill is to recruit appropriatley with vision, and an appreciation of your own personal limits, and in the many imponderables and challenges that face us all.

Chasing numbers just does not add up (excuse the pun), a simple piece of Mathematics demonstrates that in chasing numbers quality, and importantly the quality of the volunteer co-ordinator/volunteer interpersonal/intrapersonal relationship must by definition suffer, and does suffer. However, much we may try to convince and delude ourselves otherwise. 

Current climate

We are entering a critical phase where it is apparent that much like the tale of the Emperors new clothes; reality is distorted, “facts” figures and “best practice” are now being born out of submissive servitude, and/or through fear of job loss, redundancy, and/or ignorance, lack of self awareness, or in being seen as out of step with the “Big Society” (whatever that is!).

This means that less and less people are prepared to speak out and say NO, or take a step back and look at what is being demanded of us as individuals and the voluntary sector as a whole.

Importantly also, is why as volunteer co-ordinaotrs, we are still so damn light weight, fluffy, and polite. Often simpering our way through challenges like Golem from Lord of the Rings; and in the process surrendering our traditional volunteering values by instalments.

Its a tough world out there and we need to be tough in promoting quality environments for volunteers

For if we don’t learn to say no; then like high volume mass produced fast food, volunteers will more and more be seen as being convenient, cheap, and of little substance and value, only to be discarded half eaten when reality bites.

Personally, I have no desire to measure, or be measured by how many “burgers” (Volunteers) I can flip in any given year, and in meeting crude meaningless targets created by the many faceless bureaucrats, without any heart or passion for volunteers/volunteering, and which targets and measures are so often despised in other fields and disciplines, and as a result, police can’t police, and nurses can’t nurse, do we wish to collude where by through quantative evaluation, volunteer co-ordinators become ever more distant form the volunteers themselves?

So no I wont “flip burgers”, (Volunteers) but rather, I would wish to be and hopefully am; a volunteer co-ordinator that aims to provide a fine dinning quality volunteer experience, rahter than a greasy burger van.

And Finally

We are living and working in difficult times, the “Big Society” has attracted little new money, (let us not forget that the volunteer managers capacity builders program aka Strand “C” was reduced by many millions of £’s before it even got of the ground.

So do you really trust these people?

Many projects are concerned about their futures, and as a result many are foolishly chasing the numbers, and in my opinion selling their volunteering souls, in the hope that larger numbers will attract further funding; but as with everything at the moment there are no guarantees.

So I ask you all, my peers, my friends and my colleagues; as the people charged with ensuring volunteers are valued, represented, fully supported and appreciated.

Then as their co-ordinators, and managers.

I ask you, is it right, ethical and proper to chase the numbers/targets, only to run the risk in being told that the 100’s of volunteers you have taken on your books are no longer able to be supported (i.e. in respect of out of pocket expenses) and as such, some if not all will have to be told they will have to volunteer and be out of pocket also or will no longer be required/afforded, and in “affect/effect” make them redundant!

But at least in the short term at least, you will have met crude measurse and “targets” in respect of a volunteers subjective experience

And at least the volunteers will have had their 17mins of fame



One thought on “17 Minutes of fame the Quality v Quantity debate

  1. I am cross-eyed by the maths. Butsadly not alarmed by the length of time available in supporting the volunteers – is it a ‘right’ to get dedicated professional support for your volunteering from the agency that vetted and checked and trained and placed you? hhmmmm… you would assume so.  I guess for me, I read the great peice of anaylsis done here and think I could use this in my job to highlight the importance and do some comparitive anaylsis against the managing staff investment compared to the managing volunteers investment to suggest. At the moment I am still doing the Return on Investment ratio which is proving powerful, mainly with the fundraising team, as it is WAY better then their 1:3, we average around for every hour spent managing a volunteer we get nearly six and half hours back in skills, time, enthusiasm etc. Three years of preaching this and NOW when the purse strings are tighten they are starting to get it… need to keep reminding them that it still needs the one hour of investment as it ain’t free!Keep up the good fight 🙂

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