by Karen Ramnauth

CIPD Central London Branch joined up with the Association for Volunteer Managers on 20th June 2018, for a panel discussion to address the thorny issues and burning questions around the relationship between HR and volunteer management. AVM Director Karen Ramnauth shares her reflections on the event

The event started with a casual vote of those present, which mantra did we subscribe to? Is HR and volunteer management a marriage of convenience, or a match made in heaven? By the end of the evening I don’t think anyone had changed the mind-set they had arrived with, but I found the intervening dialogue thought provoking.

My journey home on a hot tube train gave me time to reflect on my own journey into the field of volunteer management. So many of us have freely admitted that we fell in to the profession, by happy accident, or changed roles from HR management, or even training. For me, I’d just accepted that this was my job and never really considered my circumstances before.

Two observations from the panellists struck me in particular:

Firstly, the acknowledgement that HR professionals operated with pride in a quasi-legal environment.

Secondly, the very open ended question, as to whether volunteer management was attracting the right quality of individual.

“As volunteer managers, it is our decisions today which will define precedent, and best practice tomorrow in this burgeoning profession.”

When I changed my career direction I had a choice to make. I could have continued on to a Masters in Human Resources Management and joined the ranks of HR professionals, or I could and did go on to become a Volunteer Manager. In all honesty, having already practised as an Attorney-at-Law, the prospect of working in a quasi-legal environment held rather less appeal than it might have in different circumstances. I also knew that volunteer management as a profession was on the cusp of a great spurt in growth and popularity. I found myself seduced by what I still believe to be the greater challenge – managing people and change in a less regulated environment. There is also greater freedom to be found in defining the rules before choosing to follow them. In my role the boundaries are less defined by legislation; rather by the balance between risk management and good quality engagement.  As volunteer managers, it is our decisions today which will define precedent, and best practice tomorrow in this burgeoning profession.  That’s a powerful responsibility to hold!

I’ve always valued the importance of human connections, and I wanted to work with people with a genuine passion for their role, to understand their motivation, provide the right support to make their volunteering experience worthwhile and see them relish their successes. My team is comprised of professionals from several disciplines. Despite the unique skill mix, we all have an equal seat at the volunteer management table, and we thrive. To be a good volunteer manager you need to be a strategist (to manoeuvre through your organisation’s internal politics), an engager and an enforcer. And an idealist too – when you think you’re ready to give up, instead you just keep going!

I owe a great deal of thanks to the organisers of the event. Through attending, I’ve realised that I didn’t fall into this profession; subconsciously I chose it. That realisation has made all of my discretionary labour worthwhile, strengthened my passion for volunteer management, and renewed my commitment to the aims and objectives of AVM. Cheers CIPD!

The panel was chaired by CIPD and AVM member Elizabeth Wigelsworth, Branch Development and Volunteer Manager of CIPD.

The panel included: 

  • AVM’s Chair Ruth Leonard (also Head of Volunteering Development, Macmillan Cancer Support; 
  • David Webber, Head of People and Organisation Development at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust; 
  • Magda van Leeuwen, Member Engagement Specialist at the Royal Society of Chemistry; and 
  • Mike Feszczak, Business Engagement Manager at Volunteering SA&NT in Australia.

About Karen

Karen Ramnauth is by day Voluntary Services Manager at South East Coast Ambulance Service. She is also a  Director of the Association of Volunteer Managers.