In the mid 1990s, the National Volunteer Managers Forum (NVMF) was set up by the National Centre for Volunteering (NCV) to support those who had national strategic responsibility for managing volunteering in their organisation. The forum grew quickly and attracted a wide variety of members ultimately including many managers of volunteering. It ran regular meetings focusing on a variety of areas of volunteering management.
However due to the variety of skills, knowledge and experience of the forum members it was not always possible to put on meetings that met both the needs of those members with strategic responsibility for volunteering and those members who managed small teams of volunteers directly. Being based in London with events mainly held in London it also tended to prevent local organisations, who could not afford the travel costs to London, from being involved.
The Professional Volunteer Managers Advisory Group was established to look at developing NVMF into a body independent of the NCV, with a working title of ‘The Institute of Volunteering Management and Development’. Following funding from the Lottery to fund a project to look into setting up such a body it concluded that there wasn’t the capacity to do so and the group disbanded in 2003.
NVMF subsequently disbanded when it became clear that the work it carried out was going to be taken forward as part of the Excellence in Volunteer Management Project’ of the new organisation Volunteering England (the successor to NCV).
In 2004 a group of national volunteer managers, recognising the lack of peer support in the sector, set up their own peer support group. The group agreed to meet quarterly to share information and discuss relevant issues. In November 2005, Andy Fryar, Founder and Director of OzVPM, and responsible for initiating the Australasian Association for Volunteer Administrators (AAVA), visited the group and talked about how they set up AAVA. Following this meeting, it was agreed the group would look at setting up a similar body in England.
In January 2006 Steve Gee, Rob Jackson, Caroline Loden and John Ramsey met to brainstorm issues around the creation of an English professional body for volunteer managers. The subsequent proposal was taken to the group’s next meeting in February and it was agreed that the group would become the Association of Volunteer Managers steering group, whose aim would be to evaluate the need for an independent body and take the lead in setting it up.
The International Context
The need for improving the involvement of volunteers was recognised in the 1997 National Survey of Volunteering where 71% of volunteers said that ‘Things could be much better organised’.
However the growth in resources for the volunteering sector has focussed on increasing the number of volunteers rather than improving the capacity of organisations to better involve and manage both existing volunteers and new volunteers.
Volunteering does not succeed in a vacuum and, anecdotally, the link between well managed volunteers and more effective volunteers has been well-rehearsed. In the USA, a 2004 national survey revealed significant gaps and challenges in organisational volunteer management capacity, as well as a need to increase ‘the ability of nonprofits and congregations to mobilize, manage and maximise their volunteer resources on behalf of America’s communities’ (A unified national response to the 2004 Volunteer Management Capacity Study, National Human Services Assembly).
Internationally, the need for developing volunteer managers has been recognised with professional associations for volunteer managers in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, Singapore and USA. There is also an International Volunteers Managers’ Appreciation Day held on the 1st November each year. However there was no professional association for volunteer managers in England until the Association of Volunteer Managers was set up.