Are You in a Volunteer Management Silo?

Guest post by Susan J. Ellis


When you want to increase your volunteer leadership skills, discover new ways of doing things, or simply rekindle your energy professionally, where do you look for education and inspiration?
Acknowledging that you may have limited time and funds for professional development, do you tend to prioritize books, conferences, even Web sites that focus on the same type of setting or services in which your volunteer corps works? For example, if you involve volunteers in a hospital, do you most often go to health care resources or, if you work in a museum, do you most often go to resources for cultural arts? But where do you go when you want to be challenged or connect to the wider volunteer management profession?
While you can learn a lot from your immediate colleagues, if you rarely venture outside your “field,” you are in a silo.
The problem is that a silo is a storage facility with circular walls and no windows. Its main purpose is to preserve what’s inside, not connect it to the world outside.

Evidence of Silo Mentality


Most of us would agree that the principles and even the daily tasks of effective volunteer engagement are pretty universal. Yet, those of us who publish and plan conferences for the field know from experience that it is a hard sell to attract an audience as diverse as the field itself. Let me share two recent examples.

  • As you may know, I coordinated the on-site bookstore at the recent Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership in St. Paul, Minnesota. Many of the attendees were amazed at the selection and range of the books on display (about 35 titles, which doesn’t even scratch the surface, of course). Over and over, people would stand at the table, look at the books (without touching them), and ask: “What do you have on working with volunteers in _______ (my specific setting)?” When I explained that we had chosen books that were relevant to many settings, they often still did not try opening any of the books. My personal favorite was being asked: “Does this risk management book apply to volunteers in _________ (my specific setting)?” I noted that the principles of risk management are about human beings, whether employees, clients, or volunteers, and issues like screening protocols or avoiding accidents apply to all organizations.
  • The Energize calendar of volunteer management conferences actively seeks a wide variety of programs to promote. On the 21st of September, there’s an event in London, UK, sponsored by the Association of Volunteer Managers, “Winning in Volunteer Management: How Sports & Non-Profits Can Learn Together.” Here’s how they describe the day:

Volunteering and Sport have the power to change lives, but do all Volunteer Managers face the same issues? This event aims to bring together presenters and delegates from sports and non-sports volunteer organisations, to see how sharing experiences, challenges and successes can be of mutual benefit to all.

I was excited and intrigued, and the editorial team of our journal, e-Volunteerism, immediately contacted the organizers to try to develop some articles on what would be discussed. However, at the moment, the event is not attracting volunteer managers from human services or other sectors (although there is still time to register and I hope some of you will!).

I would love to be proven wrong, but unfortunately I suspect that many folks never seriously considered attending simply because they assumed they would not benefit from the program. That makes me sad at missed opportunities.

Roaming in the Volunteer World Expands Your Vision

Leaving your silo to explore the volunteer world is very much like recreational travel. You must go someplace away from the familiar to recharge your batteries, have unexpected adventures, meet new people, and come back home able to see your daily surroundings with a fresh eye. Reading a volunteer management book or spending a day in a meeting room with colleagues you have just met is not quite as broadening as a visit to the Taj Mahal, of course. But it always offers the potential to come away with new ideas.
Roger van Oech, in his wonderful book on developing creativity, A Whack on the Side of the Head, includes an exercise that I have used a number of times at the start of large conferences. He suggests imagining conversations between people from very different jobs, such as a police officer and a clown, an airline pilot and an exotic dancer, etc. The test is to find topics that they might actually have in common. So I challenge you: if you spent time talking to someone who recruits and works with volunteers in sports, what issues might you share? What might the colleague teach you? What might you teach him or her? (If you are the one in sports, let’s partner you with a leader of volunteers in a nursing home.)
Here’s my starter set of ideas:

  • Many volunteer projects want more male volunteers. Sports organizations generally have more men involved. How do they do it? Do they do anything different to recruit more female volunteers? Do they need help with that?
  • Most sports take place literally “in the field,” where games are played. How do they schedule volunteers to make sure all the needed roles are filled? How do they maintain standards of care and performance remotely?
  • What are the challenges when volunteers are related to the people being served? In other words, what are the dynamics when parents coach youth sports leagues, or parents volunteer in their children’s classroom, or adult children run programs at their older parent’s nursing home, or….? (See where this is going?)
  • What are the similarities in running large events with volunteers, whether for sports, cultural exchange, or anything else drawing a crowd?

We All Need to Have a Cross-Sector Perspective

Changing the silo status quo needs everyone’s energy. It begins with a genuine interest in things beyond the familiar. Purposely read an article or go to a workshop because you think it doesn’t relate to you! Were you right? (Remember that someday you may change jobs but still stay in volunteer leadership, so what you don’t think you can use today may become important to know later.)
Writers and presenters too often speak only from their perspective in whatever settings they have worked or studied. I frequently remind people that volunteering is not limited to the nonprofit sector and, in fact, may be even more critical to public, government agencies. In the same vein, exclusively teaching with case studies from human services ignores the innumerable volunteer activities (and equally valid examples) in animal protection, firefighting, environmentalism, sports, and so much more. Colleagues in the cultural arts especially are quite vocal about feeling left out. If you write or present, be sure you vary your vocabulary and examples.
Readers and participants, on the other hand – if they test unknown waters at all – resist having to “translate” information to their setting-specific language. Or worse, they do not ask questions during the event that would help them understand. Yet they will complain on the evaluation sheet afterwards that the material wasn’t relevant to them! So speak up. If you are unsure how an example relates to you, ask. Or offer a different example so that others also broaden their knowledge. This is good advice online as well: if what you’re viewing offers a comments section or some sort of discussion board, use it! Every site visitor will benefit and very often the source of the material will be happy to add a response to your comment, too.
Always remember, the volunteers we lead are not one-dimensional. We may know them through a hospital, a youth sports league, or an art center, but chances are excellent that they also volunteer with other organizations – certainly other members of their families do. Doesn’t this suggest we ought to see what we do as interconnected and not go back into our separate silos?


Energize Hot Topic, September 2017: “Are You in a Volunteer Management Silo?” by Susan J. Ellis – Reprinted (or excerpted) with permission.

 

Presentations from AVM2016, The National Conference

The following is an overview of the content from AVM2016, The National Conference:


Keynote: How volunteering will continue to fit in with the future strategy of NCVO
Karl Wilding – Director of Public Policy and Volunteering at NCVO
Karl’s Presentation on SlideShare


Keynote: 10 ideas for volunteer managers from the corporate world
Joe Saxton – Driver of Ideas at nfpSynergy and its founder
Joe’s Presentation on SlideShare


Workshop A – Great Scott! – Future Trends & Issues in Volunteer Management
Rob Jackson – Rob Jackson Consulting
Rob’s Presentation on SlideShare


Workshop B – Volunteers and The Law – What Do I Need to Know?
Mark Restall – Author of Volunteers and the Law, trainer, writer and consultant
Mark’s Presentation on SlideShare


Workshop C – DeMontfort University And National Trust Research
Professor Anne-Marie Greene – De Montfort University
Annabel Smith – National Trust
Anne-Marie and Annabel’s Presentation on SlideShare


Workshop D – Measuring Volunteer Impact
Joanna Stuart – Senior Research Officer at NCVO Institute for Volunteering Research
Joanna’s Presentation on Slideshare


Workshop E – Volunteering & Digital Media
David Hunt – Digital Manager at Leonard Cheshire Disability
David’s Presentation on SlideShare


Workshop F – Volunteers And The Law – Ask Me Anything!
Mark Restall – Author of Volunteers and the Law, trainer, writer and consultant
Mark’s Presentation on SlideShare

Alternatives to the traditional Corporate Volunteering approaches: 10th December

AVM Network Day 10th December: Alternatives to the traditional (and tired…) Corporate Volunteering approaches of team building days.

  • Are you thinking about how you can get the most out of your Corporate Volunteering?
  • Do you think the traditional model of Teams painting halls and planting trees is tired and out dated?
  • Do you think we fail to make the best use of skills that Corporates have to offer?

This event is kindly supported and hosted by the Jewish Volunteering Network

  • Jewish Volunteering Network
  • 44a Albert Road, London NW4 2SJ

Book your ticket


Programme

10:00 am Arrivals, Tea and coffee and Informal networking
10:30 am Welcome from AVM
10:35 am Structured networking
11:00 am – Why does understanding volunteering matter to corporates?
Peter Massey – Budd UK
A friend, on the board of a bank, was faced with this dilemma. “We spend enormous amounts of management time, effort & money trying to motivate our staff to give their best performance. And according to our employee surveys we do ok but….. But when we gave our employees free reign and asked them to raise £2m for a charity, they raised £10m in a week. Surely we can learn something from that?”
How can charities get the most out of working with corporates in this way?
12.00 pm Lunch
12:45 pm – A practical approach to building alternative corporate partnerships
Geraldine McCarthy – Age UK Camden
Finalist – Third Sector Awards – Volunteer Manager of the Year
Winner – Age UK John Ramsey Award 2015 for Inspirational Volunteer Management

  • What do you do to respond to one off requests
  • How to deal with Organisations without Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes
  • How to bring Colleagues for the Journey
  • Not losing sight on the End Game

1.30 pm Open Space (with tea and coffee)
An opportunity for attendees to lead or request discussions on topics relevant to them, drawing on peer support to explore challenges and celebrate successes
2.30 pm Final comments and evaluation
3.00 pm Close
Book your ticket

AVM Conference 2015 – slides

The following is an overview of the AVM Conference Programme 2015 (PDF):
Tweets from delegates at the AVM Conference 2015 #AVM15


An age of opportunity for volunteer managers and the sector
Lynne Berry – Chair, Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing
Lynne Berry – slides


Harnessing the voice of the volunteer
Oonagh Aitken – CEO, Volunteering Matters
Oonagh Aitken – slides


Workshop A – Accessibility in action: sharing good practice on involving volunteers with disabilities
Anne-Marie Zaritsky – Mencap
Emily Hughes – Parkinson’s
A – Accessibility – slides


Workshop B – Securing board and CEO engagement and approval for your volunteering strategy
Chris Reed – Barnado’s
B – CEO engagement – slides
B – Engagement strategy


Workshop C – Grow your charity online – how your organisation can grow it’s online reach
Naomi Sesay – The Media Trust
Slides coming


Workshop D – Volunteer management: the essentials
Sheila Norris – Camden Volunteer Centre
Evelyn Rodrigues – Tower Hamlets Volunteer Centre
D – Vol Man Essentials – slides


Workshop E – Engaging student volunteers
Rosie Hunnam – NUS
Tony Payne – Student Volunteering Network and Canterbury College Students’ Union
E – Engaging student vols – slides


Workshop F – Strategic volunteering that pays – a new approach to employer supported volunteering for charities
Sophie Martin – Age UK
F – Employer supported vol – slides

Learning for life

The other day I went to an event for professional associations on what I thought would be a fairly dry theme: continuing professional development (CPD). A topic to get the pulse racing on a weekday morning without the need for caffeine if ever there was one!
However, behind the fairly grey acronym is something really profound and golden. At its heart, CPD is really about how we aspire to live and work.
The learning we do throughout our professional careers has a huge impact on how we’re able to approach work-life balance and ultimately, what we’re able to accomplish as professionals. As Prof Andy Friedman of PARN calls it – CPD is essentially: “Lifelong learning for professionals”.

Changing shape of careers

This shift in how CPD is viewed is set against common trends affecting all kinds of professions, such as the decline of the single career trajectory, the increase in transitions and change we can expect as we go through our career, and the longer working life we have ahead of us. Many of us in volunteer management would recognise these trends.
If the shape of careers has changed, so has understanding about how learning works.
For example, it’s no longer education, it’s learning – where the primary responsibility for this learning lies with us as individuals, not our employers or organisations. There’s also the huge growth in the amount of informal learning out there and the fact our learning happens in an increasingly complex and fast-changing environment.
Hilary Lindsay has written a book that addresses many of these questions: “Adaptability: The Secret of Lifelong Learning”. Her background is in the accountancy profession where she is now Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) Vice President, as well as a researcher and lecturer at The Open University. She has a huge range of experience including volunteering with Samaritans for over 20 years.
If you just read the word ‘accountancy’ and thought “what could this book have that’s relevant to volunteer management?” – hear me out.
Hilary’s research has led to her developing a very interesting model of professional learning that can help us all as individuals organise our learning as professionals.

A new dimension

She looked at three dimensions of learning as recognised in the academic literature:

  • Cognitive learning – concerned with the acquisition of knowledge, skills and understanding through thinking (learning through thinking)
  • Interpersonal learning – related to interaction with others and with the environment and to areas such as participation, engagement, communication and cooperation (learning through doing)
  • Intrapersonal learning – involves the assimilation of learning and the development of the individual as becoming, our identity and how we see ourselves in our communities (learning through being)

Learning activities generally include each of these dimensions, but may be weighted to some more than others.

Learning activities

In the survey Hilary Lindsay carried out as part of her research, she asked about the following learning activities:

  • Attending courses, conferences and seminars
  • Reading technical material
  • Reading magazines, newspapers and journals
  • Studying online learning modules
  • Accessing the internet for information
  • Participating in workshops with peers
  • Interacting with experts
  • Doing your job on a regular basis
  • Reflecting on your performance
  • Being shown by others how to do certain activities and tasks
  • Watching and listening to others while they carry out their work

Respondents indicated that they were much more likely to recognise the learning activities towards the top of the list as professional development.
She also noted that those learning activities towards the bottom of the list that were less likely to be recognised as professional development, also tended to be more informal and more focused on learning as participation or interpersonal.
Conversely, the learning activities that were more often recognised as CPD, tended to be more formal and more weighted towards cognitive learning.

Why is this?

Well, one answer is that formal learning tends to be the most easily measurable superficially, e.g. hours on a course or number of attendances. In the last few years, there’s been a considerable move towards measuring this learning in terms of outputs (learning outcomes), rather than inputs (e.g. hours of studying). This has rather level the playing field between informal and formal learning.

A key finding of Hilary Lindsay’s research was that it demonstrated the existence of a learning iceberg, where more traditional learning activities were more visible, but at the same time, all kinds of important learning activities were hidden from view.
She made the point that many of these more hidden activities, such as learning with/from others, learning on the job and learning through reflection were often crucial to ensuring our competence as professionals. As a result it’s crucial that they are not left out of our own professional learning strategy.

She went further, indicating that even more hidden are certain attributes that make us more adaptable in our careers, such as learning to engage, explore, experiment, keep a positive attitude and have self-belief. These are attributes that we can use and make a profound difference to how we live our lives, not just how we approach our work.

What are the lessons for us in volunteer management?

Many of us with restricted training budgets or the relative lack of formal training opportunities might find it hard to empathise with an over-reliance on cognitive training.
But from another perspective, there is a real opportunity for us in volunteer management to take advantage of the prevailing trends in learning and career development.
It’s likely that a lot of us have relatively greater opportunities to engage, explore, experiment, etc., than other professions that are more heavily regulated, more highly structured and less flexible given their legacy approach to CPD.
Volunteer management professionals are potentially much better placed than others, to achieve a really balanced approach to professional learning that includes the cognitive, intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions that sustain us in the longer term.
It’s also an opportunity to review our current learning and include many activities we do that include learning with others, learning on the job or learning through reflection. It’s possible we’re actually already doing a lot of this and with a bit of readjustment many of the activities we take part in could become hugely valuable learning for our own professional development.
Next time you review your professional learning, try reflecting on your learning from these three key perspectives:

  • Cognitive – How’s your learning equipping you with the skills your need?
  • Interpersonal – How’s your learning helping you fully engage and participate with others?
  • Intrapersonal – How’s your learning enabling you to become the professional you aspire to be

Level 5 Management of Volunteers training programme

Are you a Volunteer Manager looking for further skills development in leadership and interested in gaining a nationally recognised qualification that will challenge your thinking, expand your knowledge and support you in your role?
Starting February 2015, this programme led by Sue Jones will combine face to face workshops, action learning, coaching and on-line activities, leading to completion of a formal assessment and achievement of the ILM Level 5 Certificate in the Management of Volunteers.
For further details of the programme – see brochure.
The dates and format for the face to face learning sessions are as follows:

  • February 26th – full day workshop including programme Induction
  • March 26th – half day action learning set
  • May 21st – full day workshop
  • June 25th – full day session incorporating a half day workshop and action learning set
  • July 23rd – half day action learning set

All sessions will take place at The Gateway, Sankey Street, Warrington, Cheshire, WA1 1SR
Course fees are £1,450 per learner and include access to all learning materials, on-going tutor support, scheduled individual coaching via telephone/Skype, plus ILM registration and assessment. Lunch and refreshments are included in the cost.
For further info – see Sue Jones’ post on ivo.org.

Professional development for volunteer managers: think lateral

International Volunteer Managers (IVM) Day is the perfect opportunity for us as practitioners to reflect on our work and take stock of our professional development.
However, in some ways this is not so straightforward. The profession of volunteer management is still in the early stages of development. As a result, we lack the points of reference professionals from more established professions take for granted, such as:

  • Our area of expertise is not widely known or recognised
  • We lack a clear agreement on the scope of volunteer management as a profession
  • We’re exposed to competing practice models (e.g. are we experts, service providers or partners of volunteers and beneficiaries?)
  • Expectations in terms of continuing professional development vary widely

Where can we get our bearings as we seek to set a course through the uncharted seas of our own professional development in volunteer management?
1. Look where we’ve come from
The profession of volunteer management is in its infancy, so it’s even more important to make the most of the literature that has been written, on the professionalisation of volunteer management. Over the last 15 years or so, there have been a growing number of scholarly articles in this area.
The Right Stuff: New ways of thinking about managing volunteers” by Meta Zimmeck (2000) can help give perspective on the question of practice models from “modern management” to the “home grown” model.
Organising cultures: voluntarism and professionalism in UK charity shops” by Richard Goodall (2000) considers the meaning of “professional” in the context of volunteer management in charity shops.  Goodall argues volunteer managers could be every bit as ‘professional’ as retail managers but the nature of their expertise was not so readily recognised. An idea that still chimes with our discussion over 13 years on. Pat Gay’s “Bright Future: Developing Volunteer Management” (2001) sets out recommendations for the creation of a new professional body which are interesting to reflect on at this current stage in the development of the Association of Volunteer Managers.
Another discussion that’s useful to get in context is that of standards. “A Standards Framework for Managing Volunteers – A Report to the Voluntary Sector National Training Organisation” (2002) sets out a background to this question on what are the knowledge and skills required in volunteer management. This provided a lot of the groundwork of the National Occupational Standards for Management of Volunteers (2003).
2. Look across
Colleagues across the world have been working on strikingly similar challenges of how to develop and grow the profession of those working in volunteer management. Organisations and groups have developed different solutions – often with different emphasis – and each holds key lessons for us in the UK.
It’s inspirational to be able to read about the stories such as that of the “Volunteer Management Professionals of Canada“, an organisation with over 30 years of championing volunteer management, or the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration in the United States which has developed a popular qualification in volunteer management.
There’s also the “Australasian Association for Managers of Volunteers”, a professional network in Australasia, and “New Zealand Competencies for Managers of Volunteers”, developed by Volunteering New Zealand, a very new approach to the challenge of improving standards and training across the profession of volunteer management.
On the question of principles and values, The Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement and the Universal Declaration on the Profession (2001) made in Canada are incredibly valuable.
3. Look around
There’s a temptation to look inwards on IVM day and focus on volunteer management. However, it’s really important we don’t restrict our learning possibilities. There’s a huge amount we can learn from other professions and how they have developed. From health to the legal sector, from education and social work, from finance to project management – there are huge lessons for us. Our context is incredibly distinctive, however many of the issues we face aren’t. The professional association community is incredibly vibrant in the UK and there are huge opportunities if we can think laterally.

4. Look next to you
Your colleagues and peers are just there and in today’s world more contactable than ever. There are also sorts of ways in which you can network and learn about your profession by talking through the issues you face, with others going through similar challenges themselves.
Communities and networks such as: ivo.org, VMM, AVM and UKVPMs. There’ also NNVIA, AVSM, NAVSM. But it’s also worth similar professional networks beyond volunteer management through organisations such as PARN (Professional Associations Research Network).
5. Look forward
Finally, think about what we need as a profession that can help us all in our future professional development. If you’d be interested in helping AVM develop and curate online information and content on professional development of volunteer management, please get in touch.

Professionalisation of volunteer management

Professionalisation has been a key issue in volunteer management for many years.
Yet, it remains highly controversial and tends to polarise debate. As a result, many in volunteer management are wary of the topic.
Many of the arguments for and against have been rehearsed and are familiar to many of us.

Arguments for professionalisation

In the ‘for’ camp, there are arguments such as:

  • Volunteer management is more than just a job and professionalisation helps it evolve and grow further.
  • Professionalisation helps those in volunteer management to be seen as more autonomous by colleagues and the wider public.
  • Professionalisation helps practitioners in volunteer management to identify and coalesce around a set of distinct principles and values.

Arguments against professionalisation

In the ‘against’ camp, there are arguments such as:

  • Professionalisation runs the risk of making volunteer management more bureaucratic.
  • There’s an irreconcilable difference between the professionalisation and volunteering.
  • There’s a danger that professionalisation would push up costs and make volunteering more expensive.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the arguments, but it helps give a picture of the issues at stake.
Why then is it so important to raise this issue of professionalisation for volunteer management when we know it can create such division?
The answer is because it gets at something fundamental that has implications for all those in volunteer management: how we organise ourselves as practitioners.

Discourse, not destination

Before going further, it’s important to recognise one thing.
Professionalisation should not be dominated by a discussion about its destination. Professionalisation sets us on a course where all sorts of outcomes are possible – the destination is just one part of the discussion.
Professionalisation is useful because it provides us with a discourse, the terms of the discussion, about how we as practitioners of volunteer management want to organise ourselves. Professionalisation provides us with a context in which we can reflect on how we organise ourselves as practitioners.

We move together

There are many challenges, but one we need to keep at the forefront in this discussion is that we move forward together. Volunteer management covers so many areas of work, so many sectors of the economy, so many disciplines and approaches. We need to ensure that professionalisation is an inclusive discussion that brings us closer together, not one that fragments our community.

We need to lead

There is also an issue of leadership. Not to lead this discussion leaves us exposed to factors such as government policy or market forces that, we know, often influence the development of professions.
Some advocate that we’d be better off making the most of our low profile. After all, the fact that we’re off the radar of decision makers or policy makers can be an advantage – in many situations, it lets us get on and do what we want. However, this strategy is not tenable if we have ambitions to greater organise ourselves.

Professionals, professions and professional bodies

So what should we do to greater organise ourselves?
First, let’s unpick the different concepts that are often jumbled up in the professionalisation debate: professionals, professions and professional bodies.
Many of us already consider ourselves to be professionals – and some of us may already be members of a recognised profession such as the law, medicine, social care, education, and so on. Some argue that the most fruitful way to proceed in professionalisation is to focus on the idea of professionalism. After all, professionalism is something that each of us can decide to do at an individual level – it’s a matter of acting and approaching our work in a professional way. However, there’s a limit to how greater professionalism can tackle our central question: how we organise ourselves as practitioners.
There are professional bodies, there are many models out there – trade unions, learned societies, regulators and many others. But until we’ve thought through how we want to organise ourselves, it’s difficult to have a clear vision of the kind of professional body we need.
Professionalisation focuses our debate on the profession we want – as once we’ve agreed some of the fundamental issues of building a profession – we can really advance on the question of how we organise ourselves.

So how do we build a profession?

I’ve adapted the following factors from the work of Dr Stan Lester “On professions and being professional” (2010).

1. Knowledge – What knowledge underpins our profession?

2. Scope of the profession – What areas are covered by our profession?

3. Practice model – What model of practice fits with our profession?

4. Entry into the profession – How do we see entry into our profession?

5. Ongoing profession development – What framework for continuing professional development do we need for our profession?

6. Ethical framework – What principles are essential to our profession?

To develop a profession for practitioners of volunteer management, we need to address:

1. Knowledge – what knowledge underpins our profession?

In the development of professions in the last century or so there are mainly two approaches to understanding and valuing professional knowledge.
Technocratic knowledge
The first developed in an industrial world is the rational and scientific technocratic model- where professional knowledge is:

  • part of a relatively slowly-evolving body of knowledge
  • largely produced through formal research from relevant academic disciplines

Professional knowledge is passed on to practitioners as curriculum developments, updating events, publications and advisory notes.
Reflective knowledge
The second is developed in a post-industrial society according to a reflective model. See Donald A. Schön, The Reflective Practitioner: how professionals think in action, Basic Books (New York, 1983). In this approach professional knowledge is:

  • actively used and changed by practitioners as they work
  • evolves more quickly, created in the practice setting, as well as through academic research
  • varies depending on the context in which it is applied

With the reflective model, the idea of a monolithic ‘body of knowledge’ is less important than the idea of knowledgeable and knowledge-generating practitioners who are able to reflect on practice and produce knowledge from action.

2. Scope of the profession – what areas are covered by our profession?

This is fundamental – if volunteer management is to be a profession – we need to be able to define what that profession covers.
Professional bodies have used the following ways to define the scope of their profession:

  • By reference to the education and training of practitioners (the profession’s boundaries are defined by the curriculum)
  • Protected definition of what practitioners do (supplements curriculum-based approach)
  • Define profession by roles and functions undertaken by practitioners rather than by  education/ training (develop competence standards for range of occupations and job roles)
  • By descriptions of practice not functional model, but one based on capability, where essential nature of the profession is still defined in output terms – the emphasis not on functions and boundaries (what does the profession cover?) but rather on core capability (what are practitioners equipped to do?)

3. Practice model – what model of practice fits with our profession?

We need to set out our model of practice and how we structure our professional relationship to those we work with. The following three are common models:
‘Delivery system’ (delivery as expert)
Practitioner assesses a situation and delivers a solution based on their expertise. This kind of approach is perhaps typified by the traditional medical model of diagnosis and prescription.
‘Delivery system (delivery as part of a contract)
Practitioner is a producer and delivers to a consumer. Rather than putting emphasis on expertise and judgement, emphasis is on standards, quality and meeting the consumer’s needs.
‘Realisation system’
Professional working with the client or stakeholders in a more collaborative way to produce outcomes that are owned by the latter. While it still involves the use of expertise, it is closer in principle to the work of a counsellor or facilitator.

4. Entry into the profession – how do we see entry into our profession?

At AVM we’re receiving more and more enquiries from people interested in getting involved in volunteer management. As its profile grows, so does the need for some kind of pathway into the profession. The following are two example models:
Sequential development route
A typical technocratic development route consists of a university degree, possibly a post-degree professional course, and a period of supervised practice. This often creates a limited gateway through which all need to pass to enter the profession. This can be enforced through regulation which may insist on a certain level or type of qualification.
Integrated route
In the integrated route practice and theory may be developed alongside each other, either in the workplace or in a ‘practicum’ that mirrors the workplace. Greater flexibility exists as to pathways into the profession.

5. Ongoing profession development – what framework for continuing professional development do we need for our profession?

The approach to continuing professional development (CPD) in many professions is strongly influenced by the technocratic paradigm. As a result, it’s typically focused on meeting requirements through approved courses or through a minimum number of hours or points spent on approved activities.
More recently, there’s been a tendency to move away from these input measures towards a more flexible ‘learning cycle’ approach, where practitioners need to identify their development needs, act to meet them, and reflect on the results.
A more reflective approach to ongoing development sees it as evolving a growing range of abilities that follow or direct the practitioner’s practice.

6. Ethical framework – what principles are essential to our profession?

Most professions have some form of ethical code that either takes the form of a code of practice or is part of a more general set of principles that governs behaviour in the profession.
“It is because professionals face complex and unpredictable situations that they need a specialised form of knowledge; if they are to apply that knowledge, it is argued that they require the autonomy to make their own judgement. Given that they have that autonomy, it is essential that they act with responsibility – collectively they need to develop appropriate professional values.” See “The Teacher’s Reflective Practice Handbook: Becoming an Extended Professional through Capturing evidence-informed practice” (p11) By Paula Zwozdiak-Myers
According to the BACP: “Principles direct attention to important ethical responsibilities… Ethical decisions that are strongly supported by one or more of these principles without any contradiction from others may be regarded as reasonably well founded. However, practitioners will encounter circumstances in which it is impossible to reconcile all the applicable principles and choosing between principles may be required. A decision or course of action does not necessarily become unethical merely because it is contentious or other practitioners would have reached different conclusions in similar circumstances. A practitioner’s obligation is to consider all the relevant circumstances with as much care as is reasonably possible and to be appropriately accountable for decisions made.”

Occupy volunteer management

Before going further with the discussion of professionalisation and volunteer management, it’s useful to recap on where we might think volunteer management fits on the scale of job, occupation and profession.
Is volunteer management my job, my occupation or my profession?
What stage are you at?
Job-Occupation-Profession (1)
It’s clear we’ll all have different answers to this question. So it’s a great place to start this discussion because how we answer it, leaves us with a useful grounding when we come to look at the issue of professionalisation of volunteer management.
If a job is an activity with an economic role usually directed toward making a living, what is an occupation? And how is that different from a profession?
What is an occupation?

Occupation – a cluster of job-related activities constituting a single economic role that is usually directed toward making a living. (The Social Organisation of Work, p.447, Randy Hodson, Teresa A. Sullivan (2007)

This is a pretty broad definition. It also ties volunteer management – the occupation – to the idea of making a living. This is problematic if we’re looking for a definition that can include those in volunteer management working on a voluntary basis. We’ll come back to this issue in more detail in a future post.
Going by this definition, a contender for the moment that volunteer management became an occupation might be when it began to be more common to see full-time volunteer management roles – or at least roles where the central focus of a part-time role was on volunteer management.
More often in the academic literature on professionalisation, the word “occupation” is defined in opposition to “profession”. For example:

“Persons engaged in an occupation are not paid for their knowledge, but only for what they produce.”

Others emphasise that what distinguishes an occupation from a job is the scope for career development. As career development opportunities within the volunteer management field have grown, so it has developed as an occupation.
While career development within volunteer management is possible, it remains a field where the turnover of people involved remains relatively high.
By asking whether volunteer management is an occupation, we can start to see more clearly whether the foundation exists to develop a profession. Much of the criteria we might want to use to assess how far down the route of professionalisation volunteer management is, can also be used to assess how mature it is as an occupation.
Table six prof occ categories
This graphic is supposed to give an illustration of the spectrum covered by the range from job, occupation and profession, in order to help frame the discussion on professionalisation of volunteer management.
Employers fail to recognise their employees’ occupation
In the early stages, where a job may develop into an occupation, employers who create and support those jobs are incredibly influential in the process. Arguably, as occupations professionalise, the balance of influence shifts between the individual professionals and the organisations who employ them.
As a result, key stakeholders in the early development of volunteer management are the employers of volunteer managers. Changing perceptions of employers of volunteer managers may be one of the most single influential factors in the development of volunteer management as an occupation.
Yet in many cases looking at job descriptions advertised, it’s common for employers still to see volunteer management as a function, rather than as a rounded occupation. If an occupation is a “cluster of job-related activities”, employers can tend to see volunteer management as just one specific activity and miss the bigger picture.
Lack of funding for volunteer management or lack of understanding of the return on investment, may make employers reluctant to go beyond seeing volunteer management as a function and develop full-time volunteer management roles which are fully integrated in their organisation.
This situation may be due to a number of factors such as a lack of research, evidence and public awareness of the value of volunteer management. This can lead to a kind of chicken and egg scenario in the step towards becoming an occupation, where employers don’t design roles that reflect volunteer management as an occupation, which in turn reinforces employers’ perception that volunteer management is not an occupation.
The result is that volunteer management may often be something people are employed to do as part of a wider job description.
In some organisations, volunteer management may not even be seen as a primary part of the work of many of those who manage volunteers, merely as a secondary consequence of other aspects of the role. For example, fundraisers who have manage volunteer fundraisers, operational staff recruited to run services that support their service user through the engagement of volunteers, etc.
There could be a number of reasons for employers to act in this way (with all the consequences it has for the development of volunteer management as an occupation):

  • lack of recognised pathways into volunteer management
  • lack of understanding of how to evaluate volunteer management skills and experience
  • lack of understanding of the scope of volunteer management, etc.

This brings us back to these criteria for professionalisation. They can give us a sense not just of the professionalisation of volunteer management, but also how developed it is as an occupation.
A key mile stone for the development of volunteer management as an occupation has to be the introduction of the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for the Management of Volunteers (PDF) in 2003 and their revision in 2008.
In 2003, a key challenge was the link between standards for individuals (NOS), with the development of standards for organisations (Investing in Volunteers). In 2008, the revision of the NOS included the challenge of linking these standards with accredited qualifications and learning in volunteer management.
For the first time, those in volunteer management were involved in agreeing a collective response to the questions of identifying the scope, performance standards, experience, personal qualities, knowledge and skills that form part of the emerging occupation in volunteer management.
The NOS framed the work of the occupation of volunteer management as covering:

  • A. Develop and evaluate strategies and policies that support volunteering
  • B. Promote volunteering
  • C. Recruit place and induct volunteers
  • D. Manage and develop volunteers
  • E. Manage yourself, your relationships and your responsibilities
  • F. Provide management support for volunteering programmes

It is also suggested a list of those in an organisation who may have an interest in the standards of this occupation:

  • Chief executive
  • Volunteer coordinator
  • Project manager
  • Volunteering manager
  • Director of resources
  • Information and advice officer
  • Volunteer leader
  • HR personnel
  • Voluntary services manager
  • Trustee

We’ll revisit some of the stumbling blocks that volunteer management has had, and continues to have, in its development as an occupation.
In summary, before we begin the debate on volunteer management and professionalisation, we need to recognise the diverse range of viewpoints we have based on where we feel we are on the scale of job, occupation and profession; where we’ve come from and where we’re interested in going.

The Case for a Code

A code of practice for professionals in volunteer management

professional_avm_image_case
Volunteering has come a long way. The understanding of the valuable role volunteering plays and its contribution to building communities is now part of the political mainstream. It’s become a firm fixture in the rhetoric of public figures from princes to prime ministers and has featured on the policy agenda of successive governments.
The nascent role of volunteer management has been a key driver in the greater recognition and impact of volunteering. However, this role is not well understood and too often public discourse on volunteering makes little reference to volunteer management. The knowledge and scope of what’s required for successful volunteer engagement remains one of our sector’s best kept secrets.

Volunteer management as a profession

Research repeatedly indicates that there are a growing number of people, both paid and unpaid, across public, private and voluntary sectors, helping to cultivate this recent blossoming of volunteering. What we do goes beyond simply having a job, carrying out a function or fulfilling a contract. We are professionals and should be recognised as such.
Evidence points to a growth in those taking a professional approach to volunteer management whether as managers, leaders or involved in its development. The support and interest in the Association of Volunteer Managers since its inception in 2007 is just one indicator of this trend.

Building a new profession

We believe there is a growing appetite to build a new profession in volunteer management.
As professionals in volunteer management we’re faced with complex situations that require our specialist and expert knowledge. This knowledge is gained through reflection on our own practice and learning from others with similar experiences.
If we are to apply that knowledge, we require autonomy – we need to be able to come to our own judgement independent of other professions and disciplines.
However, with professional autonomy comes responsibility and accountability. To support professionals with that responsibility, the profession of volunteer management needs, collectively, to develop its very own set of professional values – a code of practice.

The need for a code of practice

What’s needed is a code that inspires each professional’s ongoing performance and practice to improve and develop.
Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) would like to propose to members that we take forward our profession and agree together a code of practice for professionals in volunteer management.

This code of practice in volunteer management should:

  1. provide a framework that guides the core practice of professionals in volunteer management
  2. encourage active reflection among professionals in volunteer management on the wider implications and impacts of their work
  3. inform the practice of others who work in association with professionals in volunteer management
  4. support constructive communication between professionals in volunteer management and the public on complex and challenging issues in volunteering
  5. raise the standards of practice by ensuring the integrity of members and thereby raise the public’s trust in what we do

Join us

If you’d like to get involved, please join AVM to get updates and take part in workshops and discussion in the coming months.
If you are a member and would like to get involved, please get in touch or find further details on our LinkedIn group.