It’s volunteer managing cats and dogs

I’ve been reflecting on the findings of a paper published in Voluntary Sector Review (Vol 2, No 1, 2011)  entitled ‘Volunteers who manage other volunteers and the professionalisation of volunteer management: implications for practice’ (Hill and Stevens, 2011).

The paper outlines different models of voluntary volunteer management, and discussions I’ve been having this week have suggested there is an analogy to managing cats and managing dogs.It might come across as a bit naughty, but I don’t mean it to be. It’s just that I find the analogy helpful in clarifying thinking on how best to approach different situations.

So their models are below:

NB Model 1 is where volunteers are in charge and the situation gradually moves to model 4, where paid staff are in charge.

1 Volunteer-led and run

– Volunteers organise themselves

– Mutual support

– Relatively flat structure of ‘management’ but likely to have a volunteer ‘leader’

2 Staff-supported organisations

–  Strategic decisions and overall responsibility for volunteer management lies with volunteers

– Paid staff are involved in the day-to-day operations of volunteer management

3 Volunteer-supported organisations

– Volunteers are involved in day-to-day volunteer management but strategic decisions and overall responsibilities lie with paid staff.

4 Volunteer-involving organisations

– Volunteers are involved in day-to-day volunteer management but strategic decisions and overall responsibilities lie with paid staff.

There appears to be a couple of obvious conclusions here:

a) The approach to volunteer management needs to be tailored to these contexts, and one size doesn’t fit all.

b) Partnership working between different volunteer-involving organisations can be problematic if these organisations reflect different models (e.g. between NHS-managed volunteering and independent volunteering groups supporting a hospital etc.)

So, does a ‘managing cats and dogs’ analogy work? (here goes…)

1 Volunteer-led and run organisations manage volunteers (and also behave) like cats

Embracing a culture of roaming, experimenting and risk-taking

2 Staff-supported organisations manage volunteers like neutered cats

Embracing a culture of roaming, but also a capacity to play with other animals

3 Volunteer-supported organisations manage volunteers like dogs

Embracing a culture of joint-working where management are in charge but lots of direction offered by playful dogs that have a mind of their own

4 Volunteer-involving organisations manage volunteers like neutered dogs

Embracing a culture of ensuring dogs are enthusiastically doing pre-determined things with tails wagging, eager to please.

Just to highlight that none of these approaches are right and none are wrong – just different.

But it might help to shape some thoughts for example, on partnership working between the public sector and the VCS as public sector reform progresses…?

2 thoughts on “It’s volunteer managing cats and dogs

  1. There is  lot of potential comparisons that could be made here.Generally, I think the analogy works, even for a larger organisations as you can see the different cultures of volunteering with in them. There are some parts of the organisation who are Cats and should be – they experiment, roam, explore and innovate. It does take courage for an organisation (with paid staff to allow this) as it shifts the balance of controls.The fights come when the Cats are leading the way and the people want to be treated like Dogs – don’t lead me, don’t show me, just tell me step by step what I need to do and then write it down in stone so I know the ‘rules’. People no longer have to think or make local decisions as it is all made for them. While some policies and procedures are needed (A bit of the dog in my cat) they can stifle creativity, so striking the balance where the cats and dogs can live in harmony along side each other is where the people management skills as a VM are crucial…Perhaps as VM we need to think about our postioning?

  2. I agree Nikki. And conversely, there are problems when dogs try to treat cats like dogs (e.g. public sector leading on partnerships with VCS organisations). The dogs can feel that cats are naughty and uncontrollable, and the cats feel misunderstood and frustrated… NB I’ve just noticed an error in my original post: 4 Volunteer-involving organisations (the ones with ‘tail-wagging’, ‘eager to please’ volunteers) Volunteers are involved in operational and service-delivery tasks, with little or no involvement in management or strategic decisions around volunteer management

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