Volunteer Managers and volunteering: A return to the floor

Volunteer Management is a skill that can stand on its own. But how do you become a good Volunteer Manager?

Is it through qualifications?
Is it though experience of managing volunteers?
Is it through an apprenticeship?
Is it through experience in another field?

It could be through any one or more of these, but often, an essential part of a good Volunteer Manager’s learning is being left out of all of these routes. Quite simply, Volunteer Managers should also have experience of being a volunteer.

I’m not saying that if you have no experience of volunteering that you can’t be a good volunteer manager. What I AM saying though, is that volunteering can make you a BETTER volunteer manager.

We are all overworked, underpaid and stressed out. It comes with the territory at the moment and the current economic climate doesn’t help. We’re all human. We can all become stuck in a ‘best practice’ routine or complacent about our skills. But have you ever felt what it’s like to be a volunteer who feels isolated from their volunteer manager? Do you really understand the worries of a volunteer who can no longer afford to volunteer for you?

I have volunteered for a number of different organizations – both national and local – and have felt a range of disappointments and been disheartened at some of the most trivial things.

At one national organization I was encouraged NOT to ever claim expenses. Not only this, volunteers were ‘guilted’ into feeling that any expenses they claimed would be taking money directly from the client group. I had to struggle to make volunteer meetings and carry out my tasks when I really couldn’t afford to, but didn’t want to give up the opportunity.

At another national charity, I volunteered for over a year without a single ‘one to one’ or chat about how I was doing and how I felt about my volunteering. I was also ‘invited’ to the Christmas party, but expected (unlinke everyone else) to volunteer whilst there. I felt completely disconnected from the charity and completely undervalued.

These experiences – far from being detrimental to my development – actually helped to improve my practice. It highlighted, for example, that I needed to be clearer in my communication with my volunteers to ensure that nobody was left feeling the way that I did. It also prompted me to contact those volunteers who were extremely competent and seemed to need no management. When time is tight, it’s always tempting to just have a quick phone call with these volunteers without really spending a lot of one to one time with them. With these volunteers, it’s really important that they feel involved.

I have also volunteered for a national charity whose volunteer management processes are the best I have ever seen. It has encouraged me to take on some of those fantastic practices. I have felt completely safe, supported and included in this organization. It’s a completely fantastic place to volunteer and I would love to be even half as good as these people at managing volunteers.

The point of this blog is really to point out that Volunteering during your career can only help your development and not hinder it. By volunteering after you become a volunteer manager, you have much more of an understanding behind the processes your chosen charity or cause might be using to manage you. You can then directly relate this to your own practice.

It’s not only volunteering, it’s also personal development. In these times of cutbacks and budget restraints, personal development doesn’t have to be an expensive course of study or a qualification. Get yourself volunteering and develop your own practice and maybe help to spread the word about good volunteering practice to the other charities you give your time to.