It’s time we came out of the closet

The reason why British Cycling is so successful is relatively simple. They identified their objectives – winning medals – and then invested in the best people, the best ideas, the best training and the best equipment to achieve that.

It’s easier said than done, of course – but it isn’t magic or sleight of hand. As in all areas of life, giving people the best tools, knowledge and opportunities to succeed invariably leads to the best outcomes.

And it’s no different in volunteering.

I will never tire of saying this: Volunteer management is about respecting our volunteers sufficiently that we properly invest in them to maximise their engagement and participation, and ensure the very best outcomes for our beneficiaries.

And yet volunteer management still remains a well-kept secret. An incredibly well-kept secret bearing in mind last year nearly 300,000 people on LinkedIn said they had ‘Volunteer Management’ as a skill. Really? Where are they? Because in the last 15 or so years I’ve been involved in volunteer management I’ve never seen or heard 300,000 volunteer managers at conferences, workshops, on message boards, tweeting, writing blogs, involved with International Volunteer Managers Appreciation day etc etc.

And this is one of the key problems. There are an incredible number of people who manage volunteers, but very few of them who are engaged with volunteer management outside of their day-to-day work.

In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking the profile of volunteer managers is the same as modern-day lighthouse keepers; just a handful of them who occasionally pop up to make sure the lights are flashing.

The vast majority of volunteer managers are invisible, which means their voices are left unheard. And everyone suffers as a result.

This is what we need to tackle – we need to encourage and enable more volunteer managers to be involved and engaged in the debate. Because, if we want to achieve anything, we need to achieve a critical mass of volunteer managers; a large cohort of active people who cannot be ignored or written off.

Getting Started

The hardest thing is, of course, getting started. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, but taking that first step – as every toddler learning to walk knows – can be very difficult.

So here are some things you can do…

1. Share other people’s blogs etc on Twitter and Facebook (or simply just ‘like’ them). Not only does this spread the message but it gives the writer confidence that people are actually reading what they are saying.

2. Reply to other people’s blogs and questions. There are a number of fora that you can do this on – here on ivo, UKVPMs (and its sister sites OZVPM and CyberVPM) and have a look at this collection of some of the best sites across the globe http://www.energizeinc.com/prof/blogs.html

3. Write your own blog. Your opinion is as valid as anybody else’s. See @BigDSmall’s great blog on ‘Getting thoughtful about VM blogging’

4. Tweet on Thoughtful Thursdays #ttvolmgrs

5. Attend a local VM network. If you’re not sure you have one then contact your local Volunteer Centre.

6. And if there isn’t one, set up your own VM network – and great kudos to @addammh for recently doing so in Manchester.

And most importantly of all, encourage a VM colleague to do any of the above.

None of us have the time to do it all, but by doing something it not only creates its own momentum but gives us all the confidence to do more.

Broadening our Horizons

Right. So far, so good. We’ve started talking to each other, swapping thoughts, challenging ideas. More volunteer managers are becoming engaged in the world of volunteer management. But, that’s just the starting point – simply talking to each other won’t change much. If we want to change the world we need to move outside our cozy VM comfort zone.

The big bad world can be very big and very bad. Being the lone voice can be very, very frightening. And that’s why it’s important we become more visible to our peers, so as a group we become stronger, more supportive and more confident.

Where to start, as ever, is the hardest point. Just remember three things:

If an issue is about volunteering, then invariably it’s about volunteer management.

Volunteering cuts across many boundaries, issues and sectors. I often look at Volunteering England’s policy statements to get a better understanding of the cross-cutting nature of volunteering.

One of the driving forces for the media is increasing readership. If an issue is getting more comments and hits then they will pay more attention to it.

So what can you do? Here are some of my ideas…

1. Comment on media articles and stories, raising the issue of volunteer management. Check out Third Sector, Guardian Voluntary Sector and Civil Society. And if you can’t comment , why not ‘like’ a story or comment. Most stories get a handful of comments at best – what do you imagine they’d think if they regularly got a large number of comments about volunteer management?

2. Respond to opinion pieces like Rob Jackson’s volunteering column in Third Sector.

3. Respond to sector questions and consultations. The big one at the moment is the VE/NCVO consultation. This is IMPORTANT. It’s a lot easier to shape a strategy and vision at the start than to change it. Make sure you tell them what they should do about volunteer management. Remember, your opinion is as valid as anybody else’s.

4. Become a member of the Association of Volunteer Managers. They are there to support and represent us. The more members they have, the more powerful they become.

5. Become a member of NCVO and Volunteering England. As members you have a say in the direction of the organisation.

6. If you don’t like what those membership organisations are doing, don’t just moan about it, get more involved. Contact the CEO/trustee board directly, join working groups or apply to be a trustee.

7. Become a trustee for other voluntary organisations. The more VM-trustees, the more organisations that will understand the importance of volunteer management.

8. Directly raise issues with policy makers or influencers whether that be your local council, ACEVO or even the Cabinet Office. It’s never been easier to voice your opinion and gather supporters to join you. Even Nick Hurd has his own twitter address @minforcivsoc

I know for many people none of this is easy. But, once you dip your toe in you’ll never look back. And the field of volunteer management will be eternally grateful.

Please do add anything else you can do. Or are doing.

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Some of the links I mentioned:

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Original post:

http://ivo.org/johnr/posts/its-time-we-came-out-of-the-closet

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Post by John Ramsey