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.

Help to Work

The Association of Volunteer Managers advises its members to think very seriously before getting involved with the new Community Work Placements (CWP) or the Mandatory Intervention Regime (MIR) as part of Help to Work.

The CWP is a mandatory work placement scheme that unemployed people will be forced to take up and complete (at 30 hours per week for six months) to avoid losing their benefits. Any charities signing up to the scheme should be very clearly aware that this is not volunteering and that volunteer management practices will not necessarily be applicable.

Organisations will have to understand that they will be required to report a claimant’s non-attendance or poor performance, and that this could result in their loss of benefit.

Volunteers support us with their skills, effort and time because they want to and so a level of willing support for the cause can reasonably be assumed, which will clearly not be the case with CWP.

Whatever views we may have of the principles behind this change to the welfare system, it is worth noting that the government do not refer to it as volunteering. It is the media who have used that word in their reports and have made the situation appear worse than it is.

Organisations primarily concerned with the welfare of the most vulnerable people in society must be especially careful as the potential for reputational damage is significant.

AVM Board of Directors

 



Background

Government announcement: Help to Work: nationwide drive to help the long-term unemployed into work (30th April 2014)

My mini-manifesto for volunteer management and other posts

A selection of posts by John Ramsey – originally posted on his blog on ivo.org.


A few years ago the Commission on the Future of Volunteering (in England) was set up to debate the future of volunteering. Like most things in life, some of it was great, some of it was good and some could have been better.

My disappointment though was it’s approach. For me, it should have started by being much more explicit in saying that if we want an effective volunteering culture in our society then this is what the volunteering landscape needs to look like, and then looked at how we could work towards it. Instead it seemed to go for more of a sticking plaster approach.

So for my mini-manifesto I want to start by laying down some key descriptors for what I think the volunteer management landscape should look like, from the macro to the micro:

  • It is intrinsically understood by all that successful effective volunteering relies on successful, effective volunteer management. And successful, effective volunteering means more and better services for clients.
  • The debate on volunteering policy and the development of volunteering, at all levels, involves volunteer managers as a matter of course.
  • That there is a volunteer management career structure.
  • That we have a professional association who we belong to. Who consults with us. Who speaks for us. Who inspires us. Who, through our consent, leads on volunteer management.
  • Volunteer management is a core part of what an organisation, that is largely reliant on volunteers, does. It is not an ‘add-on’ to another job. It is not a role that is simply funded when there is project funding. And there is parity of pay and responsibility.
  • Volunteering and by extension volunteer management is a standing item on a board’s agenda just as finance is.

Continue reading

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

Francis Maude

The Minister for the Cabinet Office spoke at an event last week and was quoted in Third Sector as saying that he thinks that public sector employees who are being made redundant from their roles would make good voluntary managers of volunteers in third sector organisations.

The article can be seen by following this link. (http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/channels/Volunteering/Article/1078055/Redundant-public-sector-workers-become-volunteer-managers-says-Francis-Maude/ )and of course take a look at the comments below.

This does of course raise many many issues, each one of which may cause your blood to boil. The Association of Volunteer Managers has replied and we anticipate our letter being published this week. Our response can be seen on (http://www.volunteermanagers.org.uk) and we would like to hear what you think.

Some of what bothered me about this reported statement was:

  • the lack of recognition that there is a distinct skills set around the management of volunteers
  • the assumption that anyone with managerial skills and no experience of or passion for volunteering can manage volunteers
  • the assumption that those being made redundant from public sector bodies can afford to continue to work – with no pay
  • the assumption that if they are volunteering it needs to be as managers of volunteers, and not as finance officers, logistics planners, HR officers and many of the other functions that they may already have skills and experience in and are needed by under funded third sector organisations
  • the assumption that it is OK for organisations wishing to engage volunteers, not to invest in it.

DJ Cronin wrote a great post earlier this week about the need for representative organisations to take a lead, AVM can only lead if we know how our constituents feel, so please do comment on this, and post on our website so that we can make sure we are going in the right direction.

Response to Third Sector Article Reporting Francis Maude’s Speech

Please find below AVM’s letter in response to the Third Sector article on Francis Maude’s speech last week.

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Sir,

The Association of Volunteer Managers notes that Francis Maude MP has some perception of the issues facing managers of volunteers and volunteers, and welcomes any ideas he might have for enhancing and facilitating the involvement of volunteers through volunteer management. However, from the context in which his speech was reported in Third Sector (30 June 11), it appears that he believes increasing the number of managers of volunteers would mean that more volunteers are able to be involved. This seems similar to the previous Government’s belief that more volunteers equals better and more effective services provided by volunteer involving organisations. Involving volunteers effectively is however far more complex than simply a numbers game.

Mr Maude identified the need for training as key for any public sector workers wishing to become managers of volunteers. As with any profession, training is key to learning the necessary skills to be able to work in that profession, however it seems that Mr Maude fails to take into account that the need for practical experience is as much, if not more, needed in mastering a profession.

There seems to be a perception that managing volunteers is easy and that anyone with even the smallest amount of management experience can do it. If Mr Maude’s remarks as reported are indeed accurate and represent the views of the Coalition Government it would seem that (as with the previous Government) they still have much to learn about both volunteering and volunteer management.

While up-skilling potential and existing managers of volunteers is vital in developing the effectiveness of volunteer involvement it can only be realised through good governance and proper resourcing. If Mr Maude and the Coalition Government are serious about supporting volunteering and realising the Big Society, their focus should be in encouraging the senior management teams and trustee boards of volunteer involving organisations to invest accordingly and in proportion to the vital nature of volunteer support and involvement..

Yours faithfully,

Sean Cobley

Chair, Association of Volunteer Managers

sean.cobley@volunteermanagers.org.uk

Is ‘good society’ key to volunteering

In today’s Guardian Society Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of NCVO, points out that the voluntary and community sector is key to a ‘good society’.

He highlights ways in which the VCS interacts with government and local government to achieve its missions.

I think that the relationship between the VCS, government and local government is intrinsically connected to ‘how we do things here’ and that impacts not only on whether and how we contract, but more importantly and interestingly for members of i-volunteer it impacts on whether and how we volunteer.

I know that every society has some kind of culture and tradition of helping others it certainly isn’t unique to us, but how we organise it, how we enthuse and motivate others, how we support volunteers and volunteering is necessarily very connected to how we live in this society – and which in turn helps us to be part of ensuring that the VCS continues to develop and strengthen our local communities.

We have alot to learn from others engaged in volunteering all over the world, we have more to learn from one another which is why I have overcome my fear of technology to share my thoughts and hear what otehrs have to say.

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic/2010/feb/17/future-voluntary-sector-role)

Volunteer manager training fund cut by £1m

AVM’s Debbie Usiskin is quoted in Third Sector’s article “Volunteer manager training fund cut by £1m

A long-awaited fund to p rovide training for volunteer managers will distribute £1m less than first promised.

The Office of the Third Sector said it would provide £3m rather than the £4m promised last year to support and train volunteer managers. The missing £1m will be diverted into the third sector action plan.

The fund, set up in response to Manifesto for Change, a report by the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, will be distributed by infrastructure body Capacitybuilders from the summer.

Debbie Usiskin, vice-chair of the Association of Volunteer Managers, said she was unsurprised but disappointed by the funding cut. “The need for specific and effective training is urgent,” she said.

An OTS spokesman said: “We make no apology for reviewing our budget. Our work has been refocused to support the sector at this critical time.”

The fund is part of a £6.6m package of volunteer funds unveiled by the OTS this week. It has set up a £2m, two-year fund for charities aimed at helping disabled people overcome barriers to volunteering; this was also promised in response to Manifesto for Change. The tender process to run the fund opens this week.

The OTS has also announced a £1.6m, two-year fund to build a “volunteering legacy” from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Association of Volunteer Managers response to the Conservatives’ Green paper

Our recommendations to the Conservatives’ Green paper “A stronger society: Voluntary Action in the 21st Century”.

We are pleased to note the commitment to excluding any notion of compulsory volunteering and keeping the distinction between volunteering and other forms of community service.We are also pleased to note the commitment towards moving to a culture of three-year rather than one-year grants, although we believe this should be a first step towards five-year grants in recognition that the practical implications of recruiting staff, setting projects up etc means even three year funding rarely provides an effective three year project.

1. Direct funding for volunteer management

Effective investment and support in volunteer management is of paramount importance in developing volunteering. The majority of volunteer managers say that on current resources they could not support more than another 10 volunteers in their work (Management matters: a national survey of volunteer management capacity, 2008).

AVM does not believe that Government should permanently fund volunteer management, rather that it is for organisations to recognise that volunteer management is an essential part of their core business and to prioritise accordingly.

However, many organisations do not have a culture of volunteer management and therefore the ability to recognise the importance of volunteer management.

We recommend that a future Conservative government establishes a volunteer management ‘pump-priming’ fund, whose aim is not just to develop volunteering in a particular geographical area, with a particular client group or an under-represented volunteer demographic but also to assess the impact of having a volunteer manager so that the organisation has the evidence to prioritise its funding in the future.

This fund would partly replace current funding programmes that target specific under-represented groups to volunteer.

A properly skilled and supported volunteer manager has the skill and knowledge to involve volunteers from under-represented groups. Simply targeting under-represented groups does not always meet the needs of clients and fragments the volunteering population rather than developing volunteering as a continuum through a person’s life.

2. Provide an access to volunteering fund

Establish and continue to provide a fund to cover the additional costs, over and above any reasonable expenses, of adjustments that need to be made in order for disabled people to engage in volunteering.

3. Ensure policies and initiatives are ‘volunteer-management’ proofed

Volunteering has a role to play in helping deliver government targets and we envisage volunteering will become even more important during the current recession. However, too often, organisations are expected to deliver services, and involve more volunteers, without that necessary support. As a consequence, service delivery suffers, quality suffers and the volunteer experience suffers, thus making it less likely that they will volunteer again.

Government should therefore ensure that all policies and initiatives that involve and affect volunteering are promoted across Government are ‘volunteer-management proofed’ so that there is the volunteer-management infrastructure to support the volunteering development.

4. Develop a more volunteer-friendly society

Many people and organisations still find still find bureaucracy, regulations and attitudes one of the man obstacles to volunteering, for example, job centres failing to adhere to Department for Works and Pensions regulations that allow time for volunteering while claiming benefits.

Action is therefore welcomed to develop a society where volunteering is more accessible by:

  • ensuring that there is proper cross-departmental working that ensures volunteering initiatives are not misapplied or misunderstood;
  • ensuring that regulations, legislation and policies are understood and acted upon within the public sector;
  • developing regulations, legislation and policies in consultation specifically with volunteer managers (not just the volunteering sector which normally means chief executives), so that there are no unintended consequences that discourage volunteering;
  • where services are being commissioned, to ensure that commissioners recognise the ability of volunteers to deliver services and the added value that involving volunteers brings to a contract; and
  • To lead by example by enabling and actively encouraging government staff to volunteer.

Our full response is here.

AVM response to Voluntary Action in the 21st Century

Letter to 3rd Sector regarding OrangeCorps

I wanted to share with you a letter I sent to Third Sector in response to the interview in last Weds (20th Aug) issue in case it doesn’t get published. I’d welcome your thoughts!:

Sir,

I read with interest your interview with Stephen Green, Chief Executive of RockCorps.

While thinking the RockCorps concept is an interesting and innovative idea in introducing young people to volunteering I am left feeling a little troubled about incentivising volunteering in this way. If young people are more willing to give than ever as Mr Greene states, why then to they need to be offered concert tickets to volunteer? Volunteering shouldn’t be about personal material gain.

It would be interesting to find out how many of the 35% who went on to volunteer elsewhere did so without being offered something material in return. While I understand that the idea is to introduce young people to volunteering, can 4 hours really give them a proper idea of what it is really like to be an active citizen?

Offering concert tickets in this way would also seem to be a payment in kind and of sufficient value to be a “consideration”. Is this not an overt contract as the work is in exchange for the tickets which is clearly expressed and acknowledged by RockCorps? Legislation and good practice is different in the US and wonder if this model needs adapting for the UK.

Kind regards,

Sean Cobley
Director, AVM