Volunteer Management In The Next Decade

Karl Wilding continues our tenth anniversary blog series with thoughts on how Volunteer Management’s journey to date will shape the next ten years.

In the ten years since AVM was established, much has changed in the world around us that has impacted upon volunteering and therefore volunteer management. Some of this surprised us: a financial crisis, a decade of economic stagnation and social tensions, albeit punctuated by the highlight of volunteering during London 2012, and more recently the decision to leave the European Union. Some changes we saw coming: the demographic pressures and changing social attitudes of an ageing, more diverse and more atomised society. What we probably didn’t see was how quickly these changes would come about and the pressure they would place on our communities and the services we use. We probably also didn’t see how the opportunities that digital technology would deliver, or some of the social fractures it would deepen. Building bridges between communities of place and interest is more vital than ever, a tension that saw volunteer management hit (for the first time?) the front pages of our national newspapers recently.

We live in interesting times. It seems to me that these wider social, demographic and economic changes will continue to shape and reshape volunteering over the next decade, though only the most foolhardy venture to make predictions these days. What therefore might AVM members want to mull over as shaping the next 10 years?

For me, the slow burn of demographic change will reshape volunteering and how we think about how we work with those who want to engage in the communities (note the plural) around them. Public services are already being refashioned so as to involve service users more in their delivery. Boundaries between paid and unpaid staff will blur as we try and cope with pressures from a growing, but ageing, population. Note also the less flexible labour markets that many argue will result from the decision to leave the European Union.

Informal volunteering, such as acts of neighbourliness, especially seem important as reducing demand is seen as a way of helping public services better cope. The Royal Voluntary Service’s increased focus on social action might be indicative of the way forward here. Do we need to (re)think volunteer managers as convenors, catalysts, shapers of people who want to get involved in their communities? If so, is it a radical rethink or an evolution of change already afoot? Either way, it will be more important than ever that we build and strengthen the bonds of community. More people helping people.

But it’s about more than just individuals doing good things: bringing people together so that they are more than the sum of their parts, working out how best to involve businesses who feel a responsibility to the community, and working out how to work alongside our public services are all part of the emerging landscape. We’ve learnt over the last decade that volunteers don’t always just appear spontaneously; or even when they do, good organisation and infrastructure enables volunteers to make a bigger impact.

Effective, impactful volunteering needs good infrastructure and networks. As government and business become more interested in social action, the case for investment in volunteer management might become more apparent, based on experience. In turn this will inevitably lead to more thinking about value for money, greater calls for management information, and more data collection. That has to be a good thing, but for some it might be the less attractive side of continued professionalization. If that leads to less of the ‘let’s sprinkle some volunteers on the problem’ type thinking, then a more data-driven approach is OK by me.

The topic of data leads to a discussion of digital (aka #techforgood) and how that might shape the future of volunteering. This is the most difficult to call: AVM’s ten year anniversary coincides with the device that pretty much kicked off the smartphone revolution, the iPhone. Could anyone seriously have predicted the impact that would have on pretty much every aspect of life? Current trends might suggest an ever-more efficient brokering of people who want to get involved with opportunities that fit (based on the data that your phone now collects about you); more emphasis on place and opportunities based on where someone happens to be; and more mopping up of small bits of spare time as the smartphone facilitates activities such as mentoring, remotely. Finally, tech blogs are currently awash with discussions of AI and machine learning. I can’t even begin to understand how these will shape volunteer management – they will – but in terms of volunteering itself, volunteers are already helping machines to learn how to recognise patterns that have a social outcome, such as this project around slavery. A brave new world indeed.

Volunteer management will not stay static in the next decade. Nor should it. I look forward to AVM leading the discussion around what the brave new world of volunteer management could, and might, look like.

 

Karl Wilding speaks and writes widely on issues facing the voluntary sector. Karl is Director of Public Policy and Volunteering at NCVO, a trustee of both Creating the Future and St Albans CVS, and an advisor to Charity Bank.

AVM’s Thoughts On NCVO’s 2017 Letter To The Sector

NCVO has started the year by with an open letter to the voluntary sector which poses many questions around the role of volunteer management. Here AVM Chair Debbie Usiskin responds and offers our thoughts.

Sir Stuart Etherington, CEO of NCVO, has started the year by publishing an open letter highlighting the part that volunteers can play in building a shared society. More importantly, he makes it clear that we need well supported volunteer managers to help make this happen.

I urge you to read Sir Stuart’s letter and share it within your organisation. He makes the valuable point, very well, that for volunteering to be successful it needs to be adequately resourced; it could spark off a discussion within your organisation about expectations and impacts.

We are attending the NCVO Members’ Assembly in February where we will be contributing to the development of their public policy work. We want to hear from members and make sure that we represent you so let us know what you think following Sir Stuart’s letter.

Of course, we agree with Sir Stuart that this means greater investment in the support that volunteering needs, acknowledging that managing volunteers is harder than managing staff. We look forward to continuing to work closely with NCVO to ensure that volunteering is managed well, and that those who do it are valued.

Reasons to be cheerful… 1, 2, 3!

With the dust settling after a whirlwind conference – our biggest event ever – we wanted to make sure everyone had caught up on the big three changes AVM’s announced in the last couple of days.

Part 1 – new Twitter handle
We’ve had a lot of feedback over the past year about our social media presence. In response to one of the recurring issues raised we’ve adopted a new easier to remember and shorter twitter handle. You can now catch us at @AVMtweets.

Part 2 – refreshed visual identity
Yesterday’s conference saw the first outing of our refreshed visual identity.

Taking the work done since AVM’s inception, we’ve retained the essence of our identity and developed a fresh new look. As the way we communicate and work changes, we’re bringing everything we do together to prepare the ground for the way AVM will evolve over the coming years.

Part 3 – new package for organisations
The third and biggest change announced at conference is that AVM is taking its first steps into engaging organisations as well as individuals. Our popular and relevant membership offering, available to individuals for the last nine years, has been overhauled and is now complemented by new Organisational Learning and Development Package.

We’re working to ensure that volunteer engagement skills are valued and nurtured across the whole of the volunteer involving sector. The new Organisational Learning and Development Package will allow organisations to place themselves at the forefront of volunteering development, and ensure that managers are inspired, engaged and supported by an engaged and knowledgeable network of volunteer management professionals across the country.

More details about the organisational package will be shared in the coming days, but right now you can get in contact with Anne-Marie for an informal chat about what’s involved and the next steps.

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

Increasing the value and impact of volunteer management

Please find attached the presentation and material from the workshop presented at NCVO’s Evolve event on 16 June.

  • Kristen Stephenson, Volunteer Management and Good Practice Manager, NCVO
  • Debbie Usiskin, Vice Chair, Association of Volunteer Managers
  • Rachael Bayley, Director, Association of Volunteer Managers and Head of Volunteering Development, Save the Children

 

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.

Unintended consequences

It was Katherine’s last day at work before retirement. She’d been a Volunteer Manager for nearly sixty years now. Since they pushed the retirement age up to 85 a few years back she’d resigned herself to sticking with the profession for a little longer.

Katherine had seen so much change in the profession since she fell into the role back in 2014 as a fresh faced 25 year old, full of ‘I-can-change-the-world’ optimism and vigour.

“Where did that energy go?”, she wondered to herself.

Her last day at work saw Katherine giving a talk to the local networking group for members of the Association of Volunteer Management Professionals (AVMP). It was an opportunity for her to reflect on all the changes she’d seen and to give people (many new to the field) a sense of the history of the profession. After all, she’d forgotten more about volunteer management than many of them had even known.

Back when Katherine had started, a profession for Volunteer Managers was still in its infancy. The Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM), as they were called back, then had just started consulting members on the development of a code of practice. Wheels that had been slow to turn quickly gathered pace as the discussions intensified and finally, by the end of 2015, the code was in place.

And that was the first problem. The code had been agreed by paid workers who specialised in leading and managing volunteers and volunteer programmes. There had been a fair bit of diversity in that group, some headed up volunteering at a strategic in large organisations whilst others were in the trenches, managing volunteers day-to-day in a range of contexts. That in itself had been an achievement as there had been all sorts of associations and networks for people working in different contexts at that time.

The problem though was that the majority of people who managed volunteers hadn’t been involved. All those volunteers who did volunteer management roles. All those paid staff in organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors but weren’t specialists in volunteerism – the business managers, administrators, nurses, doctors, teachers, fundraisers etc. – they all had no say in the code.

Looking back it was clear that this had been one of the causes of the two tier set up Katherine and others struggled with now. The AVMP which stood up for volunteering specialists and the Association of Managers of Volunteers (AMV) who spoke for everyone else. Sure the two bodies agreed on some things but more often than not they were at loggerheads, the AMV accusing the AVMP of being elitist and exclusionary, the AVMP accusing the AMV of undermining professional standards by not having codes of practice, qualifications etc..

Of course, the codes of practice and qualifications did give the work of AVMP members much needed rigour. Organisations knew that if you employed an AVMP member to run your volunteer programmes you were getting someone who knew their stuff and would do a good job. Lessons had been learnt early on from other fields that just because someone earned a good wage didn’t make them competent. As AVM developed into AVMP between 2020 & 2025 they made sure that their members were highly effective rather than just highly paid.

But all those structures had caused problems too. It had vastly narrowed the entry routes into volunteer management, resulting in a far less diverse field than it had been before. That caused the first criticisms of AVMP being elitist, a legacy that sadly continued all these years later.

With hindsight it had perhaps all been to process focused too, with Volunteer Managers having to jump through endless hoops to prove their worth. That was until a better balance was achieved, with academic and vocational aspects carrying equal weight in the accreditation process. But this still caused problems for those whose years of prior experience suddenly counted for nothing unless they had a piece of paper in their hands. Many of those had simply given up, quit or moved on, often using their experience to take up senior roles in Volunteer Involving Organisations, their disenchantment with what volunteer management had become causing them to sometimes be too hard on their own Volunteer Managers. It had also resulted in a big loss of knowledge and experience that would have been invaluable in the education of new Volunteer Managers.

Of course, those issues worked themselves through over time but it had been a difficult and painful few years for the emerging profession and for the individuals affected.

And then there had been the credibility issue.

All the original codes of practice were clear on what the volunteering was that members of AVMP led and managed. It involved no reward and required no incentive. Nothing of any material value was ever exchanged. Ever. Volunteers only gave time if they freely chose to. In short, volunteering was a neatly defined and fixed reality.

Looking back over sixty years Katherine could see how volunteering had changed and evolved because volunteers themselves had changed. People today lived different lives than people sixty years ago. Looking back it was obvious in a way it hadn’t been at the time that defining ‘valid’ volunteering in terms of what had come before was the wrong call.

In the last sixty years incentives and rewards had become more commonplace and accepted. Volunteering didn’t suffer, it changed.

In the last sixty years (in fact even before then) people got something material out of their volunteering. It had remained the case that volunteers weren’t paid a wage for what they did (that had been a line in the sand that nobody was willing to cross) but schemes such as those that used to be called Timebanking or where volunteers got credits they could exchange in stores had all developed. Volunteering didn’t suffer, it changed.

In the last sixty years people had realised that the absence of a free choice to volunteer wasn’t just there when someone was forcing you to give time in exchange for graduating school or claiming a benefit. Absence of free choice was there – always had been there – when peer pressure was at play, or societal expectations were in place (such as university students having to volunteer if they stood a chance of getting a job on graduation). Volunteering didn’t suffer.

What suffered was the emerging profession of volunteer managers. They drew the boundaries of what was acceptable for their members to manage so tightly that it reduced their credibility to speak out on anything other than ‘pure’ volunteering. They saw volunteering as something that wouldn’t change. When it did they realised they needed to as well. It had been a close run thing for a time with the profession almost dying before it had begun, strangled by its own restrictions. But thankfully things changed.

And so things got off to a rocky start. But the biggest challenge came in the late 20’s.

With hindsight, they should have seen it coming. The same thing had affected fundraising in the 00’s and 10’s. And Volunteering England (as they were back then) had done that work on Volunteer Rights. Yes, the warning signs were there but hadn’t been spotted.

Katherine shuddered as she remembered one of the toughest times of her career.

As the professional of volunteer management had become more established and high profile so the expectations volunteers had of their managers and the organisations they gave time to had grown. More people were giving time, volunteering was more high profile and socially acceptable and those who volunteered demanded the same levels of professionalism from Volunteer Managers that they demanded from doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professions. And when they didn’t get it, they complained.

As the AVMP became more established the complaints increased and increased.

Soon others started to take notice. The media, always on the look out for a negative story, started to run pieces on volunteers who felt let down or poorly by Volunteer Managers and Volunteer Involving Organisations, whether members of the new profession or not (that distinction didn’t matter to the person on the Clapham Omnibus). First it was just consumer watchdog stuff but then the mainstream media picked it up. Newspapers ran negative stories about Volunteer Managers just like they had when the public got frustrated with fundraisers a decade beforehand.

Then the politicians got involved. AVMP staff and board members were called to parliament to explain to MPs why so many volunteers felt poorly treated. AVMP was told to get its house in order. Self-regulation was demanded with the threat of statutory regulation if that didn’t work. Politicians weren’t about to let so many of their constituents feel so frustrated and see nothing done by those they’d put in power.

Whereas fundraising had taken a decade or so to get self-regulation working properly, politicians expected Volunteer Managers to get it sorted in much less time. After all, Volunteer Managers and fundraisers were all in the same sector so they must talk to each other right? Wrong as it turned out. So for a while it had been a close run thing with AVMP frantically trying to play catch up with fundraising colleagues and put in place a scheme of self-regulation before the statutory regulation deadline. They made it, just. It wasn’t perfect and tweaks had to be made of course.

They’d been dark days. The public had turned against Volunteer Managers. Politicians had turned against Volunteer Managers. Many Volunteer Managers turned against AVMP, claiming that all the work to professionalise the field had demonised it instead. That had been another seed that had led to the Association of Managers of Volunteers which still caused tensions to this day.

“Ladies and gentleman, it’s time for our keynote speaker…”

The organiser of the network meeting had started her introduction and it brought Katherine round from her reminiscences. As the introduction finished she got to her feet and walked the few steps to the the podium, ready to share her takes on the lessons of the past.

Katherine’s last thought before she spoke was that she wished she’d know in 2015 what she knew now.


This blog was originally posted here:
http://robjacksonconsulting.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/unintended-consequences.html

Is our destination clear?

In the last few months there has been a growing sense of movement and action by the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM).

Since their last conference in October 2013 AVM has been gathering a head of steam with a new board, new website, regular email newsletters and a more concerted effort to engage with its members. This has resulted in a growing membership and more recently the start of efforts to develop a code of practice for volunteer management. This latter step is significant as it heralds a move by AVM to not just advocate for and support Volunteer Managers but to also establish volunteer management as a recognised profession.

AVM board member Patrick Daniels, writing in a personal capacity, is writing a series of blogs to try and unpick exactly what a profession is. Please do take a look and engage in discussion with Patrick because this debate is key to shaping the future direction of both AVM and the work of Volunteer Managers.

I am wholly supportive of AVM’s efforts to move the debate forward and to try and secure more status and respect for Volunteer Managers but here I want to take a step back and look at two questions that I don’t think get enough attention yet to me are fundamental to the debate.

First, what do we want to gain from Volunteer Management becoming a profession?

All the debate I’ve seen in the last 20 years seems to take it for granted that becoming a profession will achieve something but there doesn’t ever seem to be any serious debate had or consensus reached as to what exactly ‘something’ is.

Do we want more money?

Do we want more credibility? If so, who with? HR? CEOs? Boards? Managers? Staff? Volunteers? The public?

Do we want to be held in higher regard? By whom?

Do we want to be better understood? By whom?

Do we want something else? What? Why?

When we can answer these questions honestly and have some agreement upon them then we will be in a much better place to assess whether the typical steps to becoming a profession that Patrick so clearly lays out will actually achieve the something we want.

Oh, and by the way, when I say “we can answer” and “we can agree” who exactly is we? Members of AVM? The 200,000 Volunteer Managers estimated in the UK? Paid Volunteer Managers? Voluntary Volunteer Managers? A majority? People who manage volunteers but aren’t and wouldn’t consider themselves to be Volunteer Managers?

Second, given the current work by AVM to seek to establish a code of practice for volunteer management as the first step towards becoming a profession (discussions started with members at last autumn’s conference), what exactly is the good – or should that be best? – volunteer management practice that we want to codify?

I’ve asked this question before on discussion groups like UKVPMs and my experience is that people really struggle to answer it. We have things like Investing in Volunteers (IiV) which assess an organisations competence to involve volunteers and we have National Occupation Standards which lay out what basic good practice is (although the NOS are far from ideal, mainly just codifying the process management aspects of Volunteer Managers role) but I don’t believe we have a consensus at all on what makes someone a good volunteer manager.

What do they do?

What approach do they bring?

How do they conduct themselves?

What difference is there between someone who is competent, someone who is good and someone who is outstanding?

If we (and refer back to my earlier point about what exactly ‘we’ means) in the role of Volunteer Managers cannot say what makes us good at our jobs then how can we start to codify that into a set of standards and principles that would apply universally across our diverse field so as to set a robust benchmark for professional standards?

Let me say again, this is not a criticism of AVM. I support and welcome their work. They are great people doing good stuff for Volunteer Managers. What I want to do with this post is help us all think a little harder about why we might be setting off down a particular road and whether the effort we expend in doing so will bring us to the destination we desire.

In a future blog I want to explore some of the potential unintended consequences of Volunteer Management becoming a profession but for now I’d love to hear what you think about what I’ve posted today. Please add your views with a comment below.


 

This post was originally posted here:

http://robjacksonconsulting.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/is-our-destination-clear.html

 

The Case for a Code

A code of practice for professionals in volunteer management

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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.

Volunteering demands a new kind of professionalism

Under pressure, not least from an economic crisis, volunteering’s changing. Its social value is increasingly seen in economic terms. Volunteering’s formal side is eclipsing its informal side and redefining what it means to volunteer in the process. In the midst of this change, moves to professionalise the development of volunteering face greater scrutiny. Rethinking what it means to be a professional offers us a route to rebalance and reevaluate volunteering’s role in today’s society.

Volunteering is a delicate balance of formal and informal giving.

This distinction between formal and informal volunteering goes beyond the usual characterisation of this balance as structural, i.e. that formal volunteering is mediated by formally constituted organisations and entities, and informal volunteering is unmediated mutual help between individuals and groups.

The formal and informal go to the heart of what volunteering is. Whether that’s to do with how we understand the social need volunteering addresses, how volunteering’s ethos is manifested or how we fund volunteering, again and again we see how volunteering lies at the interface between the formal and informal.

In the last decade, when it comes to valuing volunteering’s contribution to society, there’s been a discernible shift in this balance towards the more formal side of volunteering.

Why aren’t we better able to value the contribution of more informal kinds of volunteering?

Typically, the reaction against this more formal volunteering has come in the guise of calls to rein in bureaucracy. Overcomplicated criminal records checks and inflexible insurance policies have, for many, become emblematic of this unnecessary formalisation that shackles volunteering. It’s part of a narrative that sees this formalisation as a kind of creeping institutionalisation of volunteering.

In the last few years, these appeals for a counterbalancing of this formalisation, now also point towards the trend to professionalise the voluntary sector as the latest example of this phenomenon.

Sparks of initiative and enthusiasm

Initiative and enthusiasm, freedom and fun, all are traits commonly associated with a more informal kind of volunteering. For example, can you think of a time when volunteering has been made more fun by making it more formal? More financially secure and more officially recognised may be. But more fun?

Such a crude approach to the balance in volunteering rarely exists in practice. Of course, it’s possible to be fun and financially secure. The point is that we know the art in volunteer management is in understanding the nuanced interplay between the formal and informal nature of volunteering.

It’s about formally conveying the seriousness of the issues that each volunteer works so hard to address. While at the same time, it’s about respecting the inherent informality that comes with relying solely on the personal commitment of each volunteer to get the job done.

How to balance these components of volunteering is the subject of endless conjecture. Fascinating as it is, the point that’s often overlooked is that this discussion now has an added sense of urgency.

Volunteering under pressure

It’s clear there are a number of pressures, not least the current economic climate, bearing down on this delicate balance between formal and informal kinds of volunteering. These pressures pay scant regard to the consequences for how we value volunteering in our society. Such is what’s at stake, at times it almost feels like this comes down to a struggle for the soul of volunteering itself.

Describing these pressures is extremely difficult to summarise. Michael Sandel provides a recent and comprehensive analysis (“What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets“) of the transition we’ve made from the market economy as a tool, to the market society that brings with it the implicit assumption that social value can be measured in economic terms.

Economic values, social values

The formalities and informalities of volunteering may appear esoteric at first glance- a quaint backwater- but each taken together provides glimpses into a form of giving that’s at it’s most meaningful and resonant. In the past, volunteering, a form of giving, was predominantly valued in social terms. Today, the trend is to value volunteering in dual terms: economic and social.

Fundamentally, it is this trend that accounts for the pressures on the balance of the informal and formal kind of volunteering. Economic value is suspicious of the imprecision of the informal and the dependence on the qualitative. Seekers of economic value long for the clarity and certainty of the formal, so often transferable into the quantitative.

It does not need to be this way. There is a balance to be struck. Greater professionalisation if introduced imaginatively, can lead to a better balance of the formal and informal aspects of volunteering.

Volunteering at one with its formal self, commands respect and radiates the self-confidence of an activity that can truly claim to change society. Volunteering’s formal side provides the paperwork that justifies the assertion to be more than mere pastime.

A volunteering that embraces its more informal nature is fleet of foot and capable of reaching the parts other kinds of social action can’t quite reach. It’s often volunteering’s informalities that ensure that when we give in this way, we do so as freely and authentically as we do. It’s giving without pretension. Social change without hubris.

Professionalisation and volunteering

And so to the issue of professionalisation. If it is to succeed in volunteering, we need to be capable of explaining how professionalisation will develop this informal side of volunteering, as well as the formal side.

If the road to professionalisation leads to an even greater imbalance in how we value volunteering, it may come at the expense of freedom and fun.

This requires a complete rethink about what professionalisation means for those involved in the development of volunteering. Too often with most areas of work, greater professionalisation is associated with greater formalisation (greater institutionalisation). According to Richard Reeves and John Knell, there are four principle ways in which professions can define themselves:

  1. Restricting entry into the labour market, e.g. by requiring specific formal qualifications
  2. Organising labour to maximise the profession’s political and economic leverage
  3. Creation and articulation of a professional ethos (set of shared values by which the profession’s work is conducted)
  4. Establishing recognition of the impact of the profession’s work
– Paraphrased from Reeves and Knell’s article, “Good work and professional work” from the Demos publication ‘Production Values

On the face of it, it’s not evident how any of these aspects of professionalisation help volunteering to professionalise informally, as well as formally. Herein lies the challenge for volunteering’s professional development.

There’s a crucial reason for this, which takes us back to this struggle for the soul of volunteering. While other professions have achieved professionalisation replacing amateurs with paid equivalents, for volunteering this presents all kinds of contradictions. Instead, it must navigate a way through to genuinely fuse professional ethos with amateur spirit.

In fact, this is a view that’s increasingly gaining momentum in the public and private sectors, where the question of balancing the formal and informal is more tactical, than fundamental to how it values its work, as arguably it is for the voluntary sector.

Historically, professions have developed assuming what is best for the profession is also best for their customers, clients, patients or service users. Such user groups have had little say in the development of the professions. Ever so slowly, this is changing. Increasingly, professionals seek to understand the ideas and experience of the people who use their services.

In volunteering, we’re equals

There is an attempt to encourage the traditional professions to embrace a culture of egalitarianism, and move away from an overreliance on hierarchy.

There’s a growing body of academic literature on characterizing social relationships in this way that’s developing theoretical frameworks to better explain why these should be distinct social roles. For example, the work of Alan Fiske and Nick Haslam is a case in point which identifies four forms of sociality: Communal Sharing, Authority Ranking, Equality Matching, and Market Pricing. It’s interesting to note how the concept of ‘social value’ is arguably stronger in Communal Sharing and Equality Matching, while the concept of ‘economic value’ is stronger in Authority Ranking and Market Pricing.

The demands for greater participation have been energised even further by growing adoption of social media and the networking facilitated by the web. The professions, particularly in commerce, are waking up to the value of the informal. Businesses hail the hidden value of serendipity of networks for their efficiency, they praise personalisalition for its potential to connect with customers, and promote gathering together in more participatory fashion such as in unconferences. Serendipity, personalisation and participation are all products of an informal approach.

Now consider where the case of volunteering fits into this story of change affecting the established professions.

Volunteering is premised on the cooperation of all involved. As a result, in volunteering the value of understanding between those managing volunteers, the volunteers themselves and the service users, has long been viewed as so central, it goes to the heart of what makes volunteering what it is.

Volunteer professionals often lack the equivalent authority invested in a doctor or a lawyer donning the trappings of formality. The volunteers who gift their labour, knowledge and experience freely, have a clear claim on informality. They are not beholden to any formal contract or wage agreement. Service users supported by volunteers are unlike the patients often caught in a moment of need and expected to submit to where they come in the established hierarchy.

The very strength of the link between a service user and a volunteer is its informal character which bestows it with a flexibility and adaptability more formal roles just can’t have.

The relationships in volunteering are often naturally much more egalitarian than hierarchical. Hierarchy has been unable to take root in volunteering due to the need to blend and balance the formal and the informal. Could it be a fear of hierarchy that lies behind the worry that professionalism leads to a volunteering less free and fun, dampening the spark of initiative and enthusiasm?

Rethinking professionalism

The starting point of any process to introduce professionalisation into how we develop volunteering, must be a belief that volunteering professionalism is founded on a mastery of both its formal and informal elements.

It must reaffirm the spirit of egalitarianism on which volunteering is founded.

It must accord the links that join the professionals, the volunteers and the service users, with the value they deserve.

At a time when the established professions are searching for a less formal path, it would be more than a little ironic if the volunteering profession headed in the opposite direction.

We must learn how to value the unique blend of the formal and the informal that’s testament to volunteering’s enormous heritage.

If we have to rethink professionalism in the process, then so be it.

It must reject the pressures to value volunteering’s social outcomes in economic terms.

This is not a simple challenge. For starters, if there are to be professionals in volunteering they require payment- and this presumes a business model that services this payment.

However, this doesn’t mean that we should jettison the one model that makes it all worth while: the tried and tested model of volunteering. The formal and the informal side by side.

Further discussion

The question: “Has the professional management of volunteering diminished that vital spark of initiative and enthusiasm?” will be debated at the Volunteer Fair (Directory of Social Change) – 31st May 2012.

Background notes on this post with research on informal and formal aspects of volunteering and views on bureaucracy.