by Ruth Leonard
For me, the power of volunteering is people seeing a need in their community using their own strengths and assets to address it and make a difference. Even more excitingly – and importantly – one of the assets which groups of individuals from disparate backgrounds bring is alternative thinking and cognitive diversity to approaching an issue, which can help lead to new opportunities and solutions.
Yet frequently when volunteering – and therefore the volunteer management infrastructure to support this – is discussed, the tone turns towards transactional. Volunteers are there to fill gaps identified by an existing organisation, and role descriptions to describe the precise requirements. In order to encourage flexibility, organisations suggest splitting the current proscribed activities, so elements can be done by different volunteers, and take into account their individual motivations.
So, what would volunteering look like if organisations gave the ability to develop the solution to volunteers? What if they worked with people wanting to gift their time, skills and experience to shape these activities?
How could leaders of volunteering create an infrastructure to enable this, and what are the skills that volunteer managers would lean on and develop to maintain?
Volunteering needs to be meaningful, and meet an organisation’s strategic objectives, but I don’t think these need to be contradictory. Involving people who are not embedded within an echo chamber of employment, and therefore have the intellectual freedom to present alternative options, creates possibilities which an institution may not have been able to see.
Changing the tune
There are a couple of ways leaders of volunteering can change the tune. The first is to recognise the importance of volunteer management in creating an effective way for supporting and enabling volunteers. The second is to empower and give confidence to people who involve volunteers, to embed flexibility into the infrastructure that allows volunteers to create their own gift.
The current melody of volunteer management is to package our volunteer roles as offers and products, and then market these to our volunteer ‘customers’ to join the human resource ‘workforce’. How exciting would it be to riff on the leifmotif of co-creating and using our skills of working with volunteers to co-develop the solutions?
I love Margaret Mead’s quote:
“never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I believe volunteer management provides the essential organisation that enables ‘thoughtful, committed citizens’ to achieve their ends, and prevents the energy dissipating. The vision of AVM reflects this: Connecting leaders of volunteers to make change happen together.
This year, join us to celebrate International Volunteer Managers Day by:
- completing our annual survey,
- bigging up another volunteer manager on Twitter,
- taking part in our five-minute mini mentoring, or
- sharing your ‘Change the Tune’ pledge.
Ruth Leonard, Chair of Association of Volunteer Managers
International Volunteer Managers Day takes place annually on 5th November, and is an opportunity to celebrate the profession of volunteer leadership. Find out more on the IVM Day website.
Ruth Leonard is Chair of AVM, and Head of Volunteering Development at Macmillan Cancer Support.