Job equity for leaders and managers of volunteers

FeaturedJob equity for leaders and managers of volunteers

Last month I wrote an article highlighting the work the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) have done to help organisations with volunteer diversity. The article received positive responses and feedback (thank you!) so in this post I want to feature another piece of MAVA work that deserves wide attention, “Job Equity for Volunteer Engagement Professionals”.

In June 2017, MAVA began a study designed to examine how Chief Executive’s (CEOs) recruit, support, and resource four key positions in USA based non-profit and public sector organisations:

  • Volunteer Engagement Professionals (e.g volunteer managers)
  • Development Directors (e.g. fundraising managers)
  • Program Directors (e.g. staff responsible for running operational departments and teams)
  • Human Resource Professionals (hopefully that one is obvious!)

The study surveyed 464 CEOs and conducted follow up interviews with a 24 non-profit CEOs to obtain deeper insight regarding the survey findings. Key highlights from the study include:

  • Staff leading volunteering are less likely to serve on an executive leadership team than the other three posts.
  • Volunteer engagement staff are more likely to be included in strategic planning than on the executive leadership team, but this is often done indirectly through their line managers.
  • Salaries for volunteering staff are lower in most organisations than those of the other posts examined.
  • Volunteer management jobs are more likely to be eliminated during difficult budget times.
  • Most CEOs recognised that most paid staff don’t understand what the volunteer engagement jobs entails, with volunteer managers often feeling siloed and not valued. For example, CEOs noted the misperception amongst other staff that volunteers are easy to recruit and retain.

The report also highlights the advice CEOs who lead organisations where volunteer engagement is valued would give to their less enlightened peers:

  • Articulate your support for the value of volunteers to the organisation and show the value of the volunteer engagement position.
  • Show your support through actions.
  • Structure volunteer management positions so that they have a high scope of responsibility, are considered to have strategic responsibilities and are linked both with development (fundraising) and fulfilling the organisation’s mission.
  • Involve volunteers at higher levels and throughout the organisation.
  • Invest more resources in volunteering.
  • Invest in training for the volunteer manager, paid staff, and volunteers.

You can see why I thought this study was worth highlighting outside of Minnesota!

When I look at my own comments and annotations to this MAVA study I struggle see how I can do it justice in the few words I have available to me. Here are just a few of my personal highlights:

  • Several CEOs indicated that it would make a big difference if volunteer managers advocated for volunteer engagement and could provide meaningful data on the value and impact of volunteers. That’s a challenge, but we must get better at influencing and measuring the true value of volunteering, not just how many we have and how many hours they give.
  • The need to include volunteer leadership and management in the curriculum of university non-profit management courses. This is something I’ve advocated for a long time – how can we educate people to lead civil society organisations effectively if we say nothing about the strategic value and importance of volunteer engagement?
  • Volunteer Management posts are given a low status, at least in part, because of the titles they hold. People are seen as co-ordinators and administrators and not managers or directors. Pay and status flow from this.
  • Volunteer Managers are viewed in light of their volunteers. If volunteers are unreliable and don’t make valuable contributions to the mission then volunteer managers are not viewed in a positive light too.
  • By describing what they do as a volunteer programme, leaders of volunteers reinforce the view that volunteer engagement is a tactical and not a strategic aspect of an organisations work. This limits the way they are viewed as a strategic asset to the organisation’s work and suggests why Volunteer Managers are often left out of strategic planning discussions.

MAVA’s work on this is both valuable and timely. It may have been done in a Minnesotan context but the issues it highlights are, for me, universal across the volunteer management profession. Dismissing this study because it is from the USA would be big mistake. I commend the full report to anyone who seriously wants to advocate for volunteer leadership and management in their organisations.

MAVA’s work on promoting job equity for volunteer engagement professionals can be accessed online with the full report costing USD$20.00.

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All Volunteer Managers are liars

FeaturedAll Volunteer Managers are liars

Yes, you heard me right, all volunteer managers are liars.

OK, not all of them. But those who I hear saying that people don’t want to volunteer, they are liars. They perhaps don’t realise they are lying, but they are.

People today do want to volunteer. They just don’t want to volunteer to do the things we are offering them.

Look at the latest data from NCVO. It highlights two key things.

First, one of the most common reasons why people volunteer is because they had time (28% of respondents).

Chart showing 2016-17 on why people say they volunteer
Chart showing 2016-17 on why people say they volunteer

Second, one of the biggest barriers to volunteering is people having other things to do with their spare time (35% of former volunteers and 36% of those who have volunteered once a month).



Chart showing 2016-17 on the abrriers people say exist that stop them from volunteering
Chart showing 2016-17 on the abrriers people say exist that stop them from volunteering

Why this contradiction? Simple. Plenty of people do have time to give, they’d just rather spend their spare time doing anything other than volunteering1. They would rather spend their precious leisure hours with their family, seeing a movie, going on a city break, reading a book, going out for a meal, watching their favourite sports team – anything but volunteering.

Our job as leaders of volunteer engagement is to try and market volunteering to people in such a way that they want to spend some of their spare time volunteering with us.

Which brings us back to the idea of all volunteer managers being liars.

I don’t really think they are at all. It’s a headline that got your attention. And it isn’t original. I stole it from Seth Godin and his excellent book, “All Marketers Are Liars”. I’ll let Seth explain:

“I wasn’t being completely truthful with you when I named this book. Marketers aren’t liars. They are just storytellers. I was trying to go to the edges. No one would hate a book called All Marketers Are Storytellers. No one would disagree with it. No one would challenge me on it. No one would talk about it.”

Seth Godin
Seth Godin

Seth goes on to explain why stories are so powerful in marketing:

“All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Touareg, even if it is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better – and look cooler – than $20 no names. . . and believing it makes it true.”

In other words, as recruiters of volunteers, we need to get a lot better at telling compelling stories that make people believe that volunteering is great and make them want to give us some of their spare time. Over to Seth again:

“Marketing is about taking something people may or may not want and telling a story to turn that something into a thing people definitely want.”

Here are two things I think leaders and managers of volunteers can learn about volunteer recruitment from “All Marketers Are Liars”.

1 – Don’t try to change someone’s world-view

You do not have the time or resources to convince someone who firmly believes they don’t have time to volunteer that, in fact, they do. A much better approach is to identify a population with a certain worldview and frame your story in terms of that worldview.

Consider this example. A divorced father sees his children for a weekend every two weeks. He thinks he doesn’t have time to volunteer because of the demands of his job and his desire to spend his spare time with his children. This dad also wants to do interesting and exciting things with his kids when he has them.

The smart volunteer recruiter tells the dad a (true) story about how their organisation’s family volunteering scheme is a great way to have fun and spend time with your children doing something meaningful. This message will likely resonate more with the father – increasing the chances of him signing up to volunteer with his children – than a message asking him to spare a few hours he doesn’t think he has.

2 – Make the most of influencers

“You have no chance of successfully converting large numbers of people to your point of view if you try to do it directly. But if you rely on the nearly universal worldview that people like being in sync with their peers, you are likely to find those who believe your story will share…with their peers. If your story is easy to spread, and if those you converted believe it’s worth spreading, it will.”

This observation from Seth Godin is really important. It’s a validation, at least in part, of the power of word of mouth advertising, one of the most effective forms of volunteer recruitment. It suggests a belief that I have long held about how to influence people to volunteer: instead of encouraging people to volunteer through stories about and images of people in the public eye – typically celebrities – we need to show potential volunteers that people just like them volunteer.

Let’s go back to our divorced dad. A message from a celebrity dad in a similar situation isn’t likely to win him over to volunteering. But if we can show the dad someone like him, someone he can identify with, someone who probably faces the same pressures he does, someone who despite all that still manages to find time to volunteer and has a good time doing so, then that might go some way to convincing our dad to think about volunteering.

Instead of turning to people in the public eye, let’s turn to our existing volunteers. Let’s get them to share their volunteering stories with their friends and families. Maybe see if some of them are willing to be featured in your organisations bigger marketing efforts? It can’t hurt to try and chances are it’ll be more effective than another poster campaign saying, “Help! We need volunteers”.

Front cover of "All Marketers Are Liars"
Front cover of “All Marketers Are Liars”

So all volunteer managers aren’t liars. But we are wrong if we think people today don’t want to volunteer. To get them involved we need to create opportunities that match people’s interests and availabilities. We need to provide a great volunteer experience. We need to tell stories about those great experiences we have available in a way that resonates with the people we want to recruit.

All of this can be a big challenge for us but it is also an amazing opportunity.

Let’s get started.

  1. In fact, the top barrier to volunteering is work commitments (59% and 61% respectively) which is another way of saying people have other things to do with their spare time.

Celebrating volunteering in the NHS

Happy birthday to the NHS!

Yesterday, the UK’s National Health Service marked it’s 70th birthday. Seventy years of providing free healthcare to the British public. The NHS is a national treasure and it was wonderful to see this milestone birthday celebrated.

One of the fun facts I learnt in the run up to the 70th birthday celebrations is that the NHS employs more than 1.5 million people. Only four other institutions employ more – McDonald’s, Walmart, the U.S. Defence Department and the People’s Liberation Army of China.

Of course, paid staff are just part of the story. Almost 80,000 people volunteer in hospitals, a number that some are keen to double by 2021. It has, therefore, been wonderful to see recognition and celebration of the role of volunteering in the NHS as part of the birthday celebrations.

Recognition like that given by the chief executive of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust who, in an article in March 2018, encouraged other NHS leaders to unlock the potential of volunteers.

“Well-managed and properly trained volunteers can help improve patient experiences and support staff, as well as contribute to a more connected community. The potential to maximise volunteering in the NHS is huge. It’s up to all of us to make this happen.”

Then there is volunteering that can help the NHS in ways outside of traditional ‘volunteers in hospitals’ roles and approaches. For example, last year I highlighted the importance of social prescribing and the contribution it can make to reducing demands placed on NHS services. This remains an under-valued approach that could significantly ease pressure on health services across the country.

Then there are organisations like Altogether Better who have spent a decade using volunteering to explore approaches that increase the efficiency of health services, improve the health of individuals and strengthen local communities.

And my personal favourite is the story of Scott Bateman MBE, a former RAF and now commercial pilot, whose father’s death inspired the creation of the UK’s original First Responder service. Scott’s story highlights the innovations that can come from the different perspectives volunteers can offer. Innovations that sometimes face resistance from those already working in a system, such the union representative in 1997 who Scott quotes in his story:

“What does a Pilot know about Ambulance Services, the plan is a nonsense”

So much nonsense that today first responders are a well established and essential part of NHS emergency care provision throughout the country. An innovation born of, and delivered through, volunteers.

So happy birthday NHS. And thank you to the thousands of people who volunteer in, with and through the health service. The care, support and creativity you provide is an essential part of keeping our national healthy and saving lives every day.

Practical tips for volunteer diversity – a new resource

Practical tips for volunteer diversity – a new resource

Diversity is one of those areas that many leaders of volunteers want to give more attention to but it is sometime hard to find practical advice on how to achieve real diversity amongst our volunteer teams. Helpfully, the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) has a new resource to help.

MAVA’s Inclusive Volunteerism Task Force was set up to to explore barriers to volunteer engagement within diverse communities and identify successful strategies for overcoming these barriers. They published their report, “Engaging Volunteers from Diverse and Immigrant Communities: 8 Strategies for Creating a More Inclusive Volunteer Program,” in March 2018. The executive summary is available for free to all whilst the full report costs USD$20 (but is free to MAVA members). Both documents can be accessed here .

The MAVA report provides approachable steps that all leaders of volunteers can take to make progress on engaging a volunteer team that reflects the diversity of the communities they serve. While a small part of the report is focused on Minnesota, the majority of it can be applied in other settings and I found the content highly relevant for a UK setting.

I was especially struck by the first strategy, “Shift Your Language”. MAVA make the point that the term “volunteer” is not universally understood and many communities don’t label the time they give as volunteering. This is a point I have made on numerous occasions – just because people don’t volunteer with us doesn’t mean they don’t volunteer. See my article from 2016 for more of my thinking on this.

MAVA suggest a few of ideas for tackling the issue of terminology. Here are my two favourites:

  • Consider using words beyond “volunteer.” “Help” is one good option, but other broader terms – like “support,” “benefit,” or “give,” are also possibilities. For example, say how people can volunteer, say how they can help – simple but potentially very effective.
  • When recruiting volunteers from diverse communities, focus on how the volunteers can assist their community instead of how they will help your organisation. Talk about how a volunteer can help by giving their time to their community through your organisation, or how they can organise a clothing drive for their community. The organisation is implied – it’s a part of the process – but it’s not the focus.

Of course, as MAVA note, changing our language isn’t enough on it’s own to realise a more diverse volunteer team.

From the fundamental importance of building relationships with different communities, to the importance of organisational culture and an understanding of socio-economic barriers to volunteering, the MAVA report contains lots of useful advice and food for thought. I especially liked this point about offering volunteers flexibility:

“Let’s make it okay for volunteers to have other priorities.”

Yes, volunteering for you may not be the be all and end all of someone’s life. They have other things going on, potentially including volunteering with other organisations.

The report concludes with a helpful “Inclusive Volunteerism Action Plan” to help readers implement real change. They encourage a focus on a couple of specific actions for each strategy, recognising that leaders of volunteers are busy people and achievable action plans are more likely to be implemented.

“With each step you’ll make progress toward a more inclusive volunteer program. The important thing is to keep taking those steps.”

As you can tell, I am a fan of this report from MAVA. In fact, I am a fan of MAVA’s work in general. They are one of the more active volunteer management associations I have come across and I’ve had the pleasure of working with them on a couple of occasions now, including attending their conference earlier this month. So watch out for another article next month which will highlight some recent work from MAVA exploring the status of volunteer management in organisations in comparison with HR, fundraising and delivery roles.

Technology and its impact on volunteer management in the future

Technology and its impact on volunteer management in the future

This is the second article of a two-part series about technology and volunteer management. If you missed part one then please take a few minutes to read it before you continue with this article.

As we saw last time, technology has changed the way we work in volunteer management. We are so familiar are with the technology that is now a part of our lives that it’s easy to forget the extent of the change that taken place in the last few years. Yet, despite all that change, we have adapted, both personally and professionally.

But what about the changes that are coming? Changes that could be even more momentous. I want to look at just two examples and how they may affect volunteerism – Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles.

Artificial Intelligence

HAL, the AI from 2001: A Space Odyssey
HAL, the AI from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Once the preserve of Science Fiction movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” with the sinister HAL, AI is becoming increasingly common in our modern world.

“AI is anything a computer can’t do yet.” – Seth Godin

Seth’s point is that as soon as what was once branded as AI becomes commonplace, we no longer think of it as AI. Consider Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa for a moment. Show them to your 2005 self and you’d be amazed, but in 2018 they are simply an accepted part of our lives.

The same will be true of AI in our work in 2028. What seems outlandish now will be the norm.

Today, AI systems are helping people do mundane tasks like schedule meetings. Just think, no more email tennis to plan in all those meetings with volunteers. What a time saver!

A tennis ball and net on a computer monitor
A tennis ball and net on a computer monitor

AI is also helping with recruitment for paid jobs. An AI whittles the applications to a long-list of candidates before an AI powered chat bot conducts an initial interview, asking pre-agreed questions. In theory this approach is fairer than an human interviewing as the AI interprets responses without the unconscious biases all humans posses.

This approach to recruitment is intriguing and it’s application to volunteer recruitment is clear – volunteer managers could save considerable amounts of time deploying AI in this way, allowing them to focus their efforts on those people most likely to be suitable volunteers.

Think this is pure fantasy? Well, AI is already being used by some volunteer involving organisations. Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) use a chat bot to answer frequently asked questions from volunteers on CHAS’s Workplace by Facebook platform, releasing staff time to focus on other tasks.

Logo for Children's Hospices Across Scotland
Logo for Children’s Hospices Across Scotland

Autonomous vehicle

Despite some bad press recently, driverless cars are here to stay, not least because many people see them as a way to vastly reduce the horrifying number of people killed or injured on the roads every year.

Back in 2015 Jay Samit, writing in TechCrunch, predicted that a human driving a car will be illegal by 2030. We can debate if that time frame is correct, but it’s safe to say that within the next twenty-five years taxi drivers, bus drivers, lorry drivers and other driving related jobs will be obsolete, replaced by AI drivers.

Dilbert debating with a robot about who will do his work in future.
Dilbert debating with a robot about who will do his work in future.

What will this mean for thousands of volunteer drivers giving their time right now? Will they be out of a ‘job’ too, forced to sit on the sidelines as technology does their work for them?

I suppose that depends on whether the core of their role is the driving or, in the case of those who drive other people, the personal connection they have with their passengers? For example: a volunteer who’d drives to empty charity collection boxes may well no longer be needed – especially as collection boxes are likely to go cashless; whereas a patient transport volunteer may instead be able to focus all their attention on their passengers whilst the vehicle does the work of driving them both to a hospital appointment.

If you are managing a volunteer driver scheme right now, what are you doing to prepare for this change? What threats and opportunities does it present?

Closing thoughts

I want to close with the Bill Gates quote I opened the first article in this series with:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”.

The changes I have hinted at above might seem outlandish and far-fetched to some of you, but they are coming. They are the tip of the iceberg in how technology will change the shape our lives and societies in future. Volunteering will not be immune to those changes and we have to think now about what it means for our work as leaders and managers of volunteers. Embracing these changes will not be easy and we may feel ill-equipped to adapt. But adapt we must. Change we must. For, as retired US Army General Gen. Eric Shinseki said:

“If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”

Further reading

For those interested in doing a little more reading about AI I highly recommend three articles that indicate some of the ways in which AI could be harmful, especially as it may not be as unbiased and neutral as some people argue:

Technology & its impact on volunteer management to date

Technology & its impact on volunteer management to date

Bill Gates once said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”. In this new two-part blog series I want to briefly explore how technology has changed volunteer management in the last few years and how it might shape our work in future.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

An age of wonder

As someone who grew up in the technologically simple days of the 1970s and 1980s, I am often amazed by the modern technological world. The jump has been immense, from the computer games loaded from tape I played as a child to the immersive, Virtual Reality Ultra HD gaming consoles available today. Throughout my life the stuff of science fiction truly has become daily reality.

A young man wearing a VR headset
A young man wearing a VR headset

People are fearful

Yet as technology has become a more integral part of our lives, so people have become more fearful that it will have a negative impact, from the Terminator like annihilation of the human race to machines taking our jobs. Such fears are perhaps inevitable but they certainly aren’t new. Since the industrial revolution people have feared the loss of their livelihoods as machines, computers and technology have become more commonplace.

Letters spelling out the word fear
Letters spelling out the word fear

Some jobs no longer exist

From my own childhood, I can distinctly remember visiting my dad at work in the Bolton branch of Barclays Bank. One of the offices was full of women sitting in rows typing correspondence to customers. No more. Today, that work is done by computers. Those jobs are gone.

A typing pool in the 1970s
A typing pool in the 1970s

Some new jobs have been created

We often forget, however, that as these ‘old’ jobs disappear, new ones are created. For example, fifteen years ago there was no such thing as social media and so no job called Social Media Marketing Manager. Now there are thousands of these jobs around the globe focused on promoting brands, products and services via social media.

A woman working at a laptop
A woman working at a laptop

How volunteer management has changed

Volunteer management hasn’t been immune to these changes. Some of the volunteer roles we once relied upon have become extinct, whilst technology has also helped us do our jobs better. Here are two examples:

  1. Envelope stuffing. This was a crucial role in many Volunteer Involving Organisations when I started work in 1994. Few organisations had access to email, so teams of volunteers would come together to put newsletters and mass mailings into envelopes. It was a great way to get people to try out volunteering in an easily accessible role that allowed for lots of social interaction with other volunteers. Today, thanks to email and software like MailChimp, envelope stuffing has gone the way of the dodo.

    Envelopes
    Envelopes
  2. Volunteer management software. If we occasionally mourn for the loss of roles like envelope stuffing, we rarely mourn the loss of some of the more tedious aspects of volunteer management. Today there are a plethora of software products to help us in our work. These tech tools allow volunteers to keep their details up-to-date, manage their own schedules, engage in basic induction and training activities, and much more. Volunteer Managers are freed from a range of administrative tasks that sucked our time and took us away from the human aspects of our role – engaging with volunteers, paid colleagues and the public. Thanks to technology we can now spend more time on the people parts of our roles and allocate more time to do the strategic thinking and planning so necessary for success.

    Two people talking
    Two people talking

Final thoughts

When Bill Gates spoke of underestimating the change to come in the next ten years, he didn’t mention how easily we forget the changes of the past. We live so much in the moment, and with an eye to what is to come, that we rarely look back. I hope the two examples I have shared I have made the case that technology has changed volunteer management in the last few years because, as we will examine next time, there is plenty more change in store for us in the future.

Over to you

In what ways have you noticed technology changing volunteer management in the last 10-20 years? Have those changes been good or bad in your view? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Is access to volunteering making a comeback in the UK?

In mid-April, Third Sector magazine reported that the UK Parliament’s Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement have, in their new “Ties That Bind” report, recommended creating an Access to Volunteering (A2V) scheme. This would be similar to the existing Access to Work scheme for paid staff.

It is, however, important to recognise that an A2V scheme would not be new.

In 2009, following a recommendation from the Commission on the Future of Volunteering’s Manifesto for Change, the then Labour government ran an Access to Volunteering pilot (which the new Conservative led coalition subsequently scrapped as part of their austerity cuts).

dff7457b-454d-4d6b-9ece3bd8b84cf2dc.jpg

Whilst it’s just a select committee recommendation at the moment, I hope that if the new A2V scheme comes to fruition the government will take the time to read the March 2011 “Evaluation of the Access to Volunteering Fund”. This report outlined the operation, successes and learning from the A2V pilot and noted some key findings, including:

  • An estimated 67% of the disabled people involved in Access to Volunteering funded initiatives were new to volunteering.
  • The Fund has been successful in involving new organisations with no volunteering experience or experience of working with disabled people.
  • The majority of grant recipients were either disability-related or community and welfare organisations, suggesting that Access to Volunteering has not diversified the organisation types involving disabled people in volunteering.
  • The Fund was unsuccessful in attracting very small organisations (average annual income of under £10,000).
  • There is evidence that Access to Volunteering created sustainability amongst organisations that received funding. 25 of the 28 organisations spoken to in the evaluation said that they would continue to support disabled volunteers.
  • Access to Volunteering delivered flexibility by encouraging organisations to apply for funding for a wide range of initiatives specific to their needs and aims.
  • Access to Volunteering has primarily helped organisations remove logistical barriers, such as poor accessibility and lack of specialist equipment.
  • There is evidence to suggest that over time, attitudinal barriers, such as lack of understanding of the ability of disabled people to volunteer, have increasingly been removed.
  • Some funded initiatives implemented highly innovative programmes creating long-term means of overcoming negative attitudes to involving disabled people in volunteering or work, and of encouraging social inclusion.
  • Access to Volunteering has improved the wellbeing of disabled volunteers, helping them to ‘move on’ to a better quality of life.
  • Volunteering increased the confidence and sense of self-worth of the volunteers involved, which impacted positively on employability and health outcomes.
  • Where becoming employable was an aspiration for volunteers, Access to Volunteering developed employability primarily by increasing confidence and providing experience of being in a working environment. 11% of organisations indicated that their volunteers had found employment after taking part in Access to Volunteering.

The select committee’s recommendation to revisit Access to Volunteering is a very welcome and long overdue development. I hope the government heed their call and that any new scheme learns from what went before.

I shall be watching developments with interest.

NB. The evaluation of the A2V pilot is not easy to find. Like so many key documents on volunteering from the last fifteen years, documents that should be available to us all, they seem to have no online home. If you would like a copy of the report please get in touch and I’ll send it to you.