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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