As the sun sets on 2019 I am in reflective mood, turning my thoughts back to the last twelve months as I prepare for the Christmas break.
In some respects, 2019 has been in tough year.
In February we lost one of the leaders in our field, Susan J Ellis.
Volunteer engagement professionals around the world lost an advocate and a friend, someone who was as fearless in her evangelism for what we do as she was in challenging us to grow and move forward.
Susan was also my mentor and my friend for more than twenty years. With her death I lost someone who was incredibly important to me.
Then, just a few weeks after Susan’s death, my mum died. Mum had been taken into hospital with suspected jaundice just after Valentine’s Day. It turned out to be cancer. She lasted just eight weeks before the disease took her. It was – and still is – a massive shock to me and my family.
Losing two people who shaped my life up until now – albeit in different ways – was a real kick in the guts. Needless to say that by late April I was ready for 2019 to be over!
This year has also had its challenges on the work front. If you ever thought the life of a consultant was one that led to riches, let me tell you now that you are very wrong! Hearing of my work trips to other countries may sound like I lead a glamorous life (and I am certainly very fortunate for), but the current climate for business means I’m squeezing the financial margins all the time. International work is simply a necessity when work at home is scarce.
Some of the recent challenges in the UK are:
The legacy of the years austerity and resulting tight budgets for things like training and development
Uncertainty and nervousness caused by Brexit
The low strategic priority many organisations give to volunteering, which means the idea of engaging a consultant to develop volunteer engagement is off many people’s radar
The sometimes extremely long decision making timeframes organisations go through when they do want help – the record so far is about eighteen months from enquiry to delivery!
Of course we all have challenges and I’m not looking for sympathy or a pity party. I’m simply being honest about the challenges of what I do as I look back on the year that’s gone.
Of course it hasn’t all been doom and gloom, far from it. Running a one-person volunteer management training and consultancy business for more than eight years has been a rollercoaster ride with many more ups than downs.
Whilst 2019 was the first time in five years that I didn’t visit my beloved Australia, I did go to Canada twice and the USA three times (albeit briefly – two visits to the States were barely forty-eight hours long!). It was an immense privilege to:
Co-present the opening volunteer engagement plenary and run workshops at the Points of Light conference in St Paul, Minnesota
Deliver the opening keynote address to the Volunteer Management Professionals of Canada / PAVRO conference in Ottawa
Work with an amazing team at this years “The Future is Now: Tech trends” hybrid conference, broadcast from Hamilton, Ontario
Make my first visit to South Dakota to present at a state-wide volunteer management conference in Sioux Falls
Work with the wonderful people at the Minnesota Historical Society again
Deliver workshops in Ontario for some fantastic clients (I just missed filming of The Handmaids Tale outside the training venue by a few hours!)
Whilst it always sounds like the majority of my time is spent overseas, the reality is that I mainly work in the UK. I’ve had some wonderful clients this year and met some amazing people doing excellent volunteer engagement work. I’ve been to Scotland and Northern Ireland (hint hint Wales!) and all across England. What I see and hear from the volunteer managers I meet is inspiring and invigorating, giving me huge pride to be a part of this amazing profession.
To all of my clients a huge thank you for hiring me in 2019. I hope you’ll have me back in 2020 (hint hint)!
To everyone I have met, trained and spoken with, thank you for your time, energy and commitment. I look forward to seeing what you achieve next year.
To anyone I didn’t work with in 2019, well bookings are open now for 2020 so get in touch and let’s make it happen!
Finally, this will be my last article of 2019 with the next one going live on 10 January 2020. Thank you to all of you have have visited my blog and read the articles I have published over the last twelve months. Your continued support is both humbling and very much appreciated.
I wish you all a restful and enjoyable holiday and look forward to engaging with you throughout 2020.
Around this time last year I took the opportunity to reflect on why I do what I do every day. Now, a year on, I want to take a slightly different approach.
In April 2020 it will be nine years since I sat down at my desk for the first time as an independent consultant, event speaker, trainer and writer. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then but the core values behind my business, Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd, remain the same. Shortly after the company launched, I wrote a piece on my old blog site explaining those values and I want to revisit that because the principles I signed myself up to back then still hold true today.
So, here is that 2011 article. It has been edited slightly to tidy it up – I think I have become a better writer in the last nine years and can’t help but make some changes! (NB. a link to the original version is at the end of this article).
Organisational values. Rarely have I encountered a topic in my career that has provoked so much scepticism. From those who are totally against corporate values to those who just think its is all hot air and no action, it’s unusual to come across anyone who thrills to the idea of discussing values.
A former boss of mine talked about people, not companies, having values. People, he argued, are all individuals and have differing values. Companies cannot force their values onto people, so there is always going to be some tension between people living their personal values and abiding by corporate values. The conclusion, therefore, was that talk of corporate values is pointless.
On the other hand, one charity I know restructured and, rather than deciding which skills and competencies they wanted and redeploying and recruiting staff accordingly, they decided to focus on values. The recruitment process was focused on exploring individual employees’ congruence with the charity’s values. Those with the strongest fit stayed. Those with the weakest fit were first in line for redundancy. They firmly believe this has given them a more committed staff base to build on for the future.
One of the nice things about being your own boss is that your corporate values are your personal values. There should be no conflict between the way the firm goes about its business and the way the owner behaves. That’s why I want to use this article to explain the six values of Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd, or as I put it on the website, what I believe about the way I go about the work of engaging and inspiring people to bring about change.
1 – Honesty
This is a non-negotiable for me. It is an absolutely fundamental value. That’s why it is first in the list.
I will always be honest in my dealing with clients and potential clients.
I will not sell you a service if I don’t think you need it.
I will not commit to doing a piece of work if I don’t think I can do it (either because of availability or fit with my skills).
I will be honest and upfront about how I can help and what it will cost you.
I will also be honest in what I say and write about the volunteering movement. In my view there aren’t enough people speaking up and speaking out about volunteering issues. I want to help fill that void with honest views, opinions and advice. That’s what I hope this blog will increasingly be used for.
This is a critical time for the volunteering movement in the UK and I hope in some small way that I can honestly and helpfully speak and write about the issues we face.
2 – Passion
It say’s on the company website:
“At Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd we are passionate about the potential of people, about their potential to effect change and make the world a better place.”
In fact passion is a word that I keep hearing when people talk about how I go about my work. I am happy about that because, for me, being in the volunteering movement isn’t just a job, it is a vocation.
I am passionate about volunteering, about what I do, about how I do it and about the difference it makes. I want to bring that passion, that enthusiasm to my work with clients. I want others to share that passion and enthusiasm. I want volunteers to feel even more passionate and enthusiastic about their work and the difference it makes. I want paid staff to feel even more passionate about what they do and the challenges & opportunities they face.
It is this passion about the potential of people that is at the core of my vision for the business to engage and inspire people to bring about change.
3 – Fun
According to a survey I once read, the average person spends 99,117hrs at work during their life. That’s about eleven years! I don’t know about you but I don’t want those eleven years to be devoid of any enjoyment.
That’s why I want to bring a sense of fun to my work. Yes, what my clients and I do is serious and we take it seriously. But let’s also get serious about having fun.
In early years education children learn through play, through having fun. Who says this has to stop when you’re a child? In my experience people learn more if they are having fun learning. I know I do.
So I want to enjoy my work and have fun doing it and I want that to be your experience of working with me too.
4 – Integrity
There is a great book on leadership called ‘The Leadership Challenge’, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. In it they argue that a critical ingredient to effective leadership is integrity – living out your values.
That’s why I wanted to blog about them here, so I can be open about them and let people judge for themselves if I live them in my work.
Kouzes and Posner sum integrity up in a chapter on leaders modelling the way as DWYSYWD – Do What You Say You Will Do.
That’s my goal – please tell me if I get it right (or wrong!).
5 – Value
In the past I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in shaping the content for conferences. One of the things that delegates had always fed back about previous events was the price – it was, in their view too, high.
From the view of the organisation I was working with, the price was the minimum they could offer as it allowed them to break even, just. So we took a different approach. We increased the price just enough to cover inflationary rises to our costs but re-focused the content so that is gave really good value to the delegates. After the next event we got very few comments about the price, but lots about how valuable the conference had been.
Value refers to the perception of benefits received for what someone must give up, in this case the price. Where the organisation in question had gone wrong in the past was in focusing solely on the price (keeping it as low as possible without making a loss because they thought this is what got people to book places) rather than on the value of what people were paying for.
That is an important point I am taking into my new business.
I have to charge a fee for what I do. This is my livelihood now. This is how I pay my mortgage and feed my family. That’s why there is a price for what I do.
But if you hire me I hope you don’t feel like you get a service that simply costs money (price). Instead, I hope you feel like you get a service of real value, a service that is built on many years of experience and that is dedicated to bringing you benefits that will help you achieve your goals.
6 – Effectiveness
Someone wisely said that efficiency is doing this well but effectiveness is doing the right things well.
There isn’t much to add really, it speaks for itself and that’s how I want to help my clients – focus on doing the right things well.
I’d love to hear from you in response.
Have you worked with Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd over the last nine years? Do you think we lived out our values? How? And if not, why not?
What values are important to you in your work? Why?
Please leave a comment below so we can explore this topic further together.
Earlier this autumn, the BBC aired a show called The Big Hospital Experiment. In my view it should be essential watching for anyone leading volunteer engagement in any setting, especially healthcare.
The programme followed fourteen young people giving their time for four weeks as clinical volunteers on wards at the Royal Derby Hospital in England. The hospital has a long history of volunteer involvement but this was something new, volunteers undertaking clinical tasks alongside nursing staff and doctors in challenging departments like Accident and Emergency (A&E), Cancer, Renal, Paediatrics and the like.
The volunteers undertook a range of tasks, from monitoring patient’s blood pressure to feeding to intimate care (washing and toileting) to simply sitting and having a cup of tea with patients and their families. The roles were part of a pilot designed to assess if clinical volunteers could work effectively alongside medical staff too improve patient care and increase the capacity of medical professionals to do what their specialist training required them to focus on.
It is important to note that the show made no judgement about whether placing volunteers in these roles was ethically good or bad, both in regard to the responsibilities placed on the volunteers but also whether such roles should be undertaken by paid staff, not volunteers.
Almost all the young people were new to this kind of work. Little was said about the recruitment and selection process (were they chosen because they ere the best for the roles or because the producers though they’d make for good TV?) but we did get to see all fourteen of them doing two weeks of training before their first placement. They were also closely supervised throughout the pilot by ward sisters, the senior nurse who trained them, and executive nursing staff motioning the efficacy of the pilot.
Here are my reflections on the four episodes.
It’s fair to say that nursing staff were cautious about the pilot, fearing that too much time would be taken up managing the volunteers, detracting from patient care. This wasn’t helped when cancer ward volunteer Will requested a different break schedule for his shifts so he could have more frequent cigarette breaks.
Very quickly, however, the nursing staff discovered that by investing some time in the volunteers they developed engaged, committed and productive people who were keen and able to help in meaningful ways. This demonstrates that if we get the right people in the right volunteer roles, train them properly, support, trust and encourage them to do a good job, they invariably will.
This episode focused on the emotional impact of the work on the volunteers. What wasn’t really acknowledged was that everyone experiences challenges adjusting to the emotions faced in a hospital setting. On day one you have the same lack of experience and strategies for coping, whether you are a nurse, doctor or volunteer.
Similarly, how everyone copes when they do get onto a ward is different. For example:
Will (he of the cigarette breaks) came face-to-face with the reality of death as he cared for a patient. After initially struggling he persevered and adapted.
In comparison, Erik, who had led a sheltered and spoilt life before the programme, struggled more with his role. He made excuses for not turning up one morning because he couldn’t face being with the patients. He arrived four hours late for his shift, leaving the ward short-handed.
Finally, Aleshpa was placed on the children’s ward with a boy called Blake. She stayed two hours after her shift ended to check on the results of Blake’s MRI, such was her concern for him. So much for volunteers being unreliable!
On the Head and Neck ward the lead sister had already made her mind up about the clinical volunteers – the experiment was extended into subsequent weeks after what she judged as strong early success.
Fittingly there were three key points for me:
Patients and the families can respond differently (in a good way) when they engage with a volunteer rather than a paid nurse or doctor. This unsalaried credibility was a real asset for the wards involving volunteers.
The senior executive nurse noted the importance of placing people into the right roles. Piotr had excelled in A&E but struggled with the increased interpersonal engagement with patients on another ward. Finn had struggled on the cancer ward but was very effective when placed on a ward treating older people.
After Charlotte experienced three patient deaths during one shift on the renal ward I thought about how few of us are exposed to such experiences at such a young age. I’m pretty confident few of the nursing staff would have had such experiences at Charlotte’s age. So, yet again, a person’s ability to cope in roles such as those given to the volunteers is not down to their pay grade. It’s related to their competence, confidence and temperament, all of which can be screened for during recruitment and addressed in training.
The final episode focused (in part) on how different volunteers responded to more challenging patients.
Mark had been admitted to A&E having been found unconscious in the town centre. He was homeless, an alcoholic and had taken an overdose. One volunteer was immediately compassionate towards Mark, whilst another privately remarked that people like him should take personal responsibility and sort themselves out. After spending more time with Mark, the latter volunteer’s views softened as their understanding and empathy for the patient grew.
The point was also repeated that patients can respond differently to volunteers than paid staff. Eric, a patient who has been bed bound during his hospital stay, got out of bed for the first time thanks to the efforts of two volunteers. None of the paid staff had managed this with Eric. The success of the volunteers was attributed by the nursing staff to the strength of the relationship the volunteers had with Eric because of the time they’d spent with him.
As the episode concluded we learnt that the hospital senior management had judged the pilot a success and were rolling it out on a permanent basis across the hospital. Furthermore, two of the volunteers, Piotr and Michael, had decided to join the NHS, as a nurse and paramedics respectively.
As I said at the start The Big Hospital Experiment is must watch TV for anyone working in volunteer engagement. It would help challenge the prejudices and stereotypes some paid staff hold about the competence and reliability of volunteers. Also, when was the last time a programme about volunteering and volunteer management got a four-part prime time series on the BBC?! To not watch it would be a missed opportunity.
Did you watch the show?
What did you think?
Leave a comment below – I’d love to read your thoughts and reflections.
I’m sat writing this article on 11 June 2019. My weather app tells me it feels like six degrees celsius outside (42.8F). It’s pouring with rain and blowing a howling gale.
On British summer days like this I wish there was an element of truth when I say to people “If I had £1 for every time I’ve heard someone ask if we should call volunteering something different…”. If it were true then, after 25 years in volunteer management, my view wouldn’t be of rainy England but something like this…
Yes, we’re still we having the same old debate. If we called volunteering something else wouldn’t it make it more attractive to non-volunteers? Wouldn’t it sound cooler and sexier, like GamesMakers did at the 2012 Olympics?
“…distinct from work experience and volunteering. It is about creating lasting social change on big issues that matter to young people and their communities. It can be used to address inequalities, challenge racism, and improve women’s rights.”
Calling volunteering something different doesn’t solve a problem, it creates new ones. Every time we come up with a different term for volunteering we have to spend time, effort and energy explaining what it is so people understand it.
Look at what the report mentioned above found:
“Social action was a familiar term to 75% of young people, but only half were able to define it”.
“In other words, whilst they may of heard of it (social action), half of young people don’t know what it is. If we are going to have to work hard educating people, why not do so with a term that probably has higher recognition but a bit of an image problem (i.e. volunteering)?”
What then is holding us back from rebranding volunteering as an alternative to inventing new words for it?
I think part of the problem is that organisations can have a very traditional, almost purist, approach to what is and isn’t volunteering. This then reinforces a traditional, outdated view of volunteering which isn’t attractive to people. For example, if valid volunteering requires a regular, long-term commitment to low level tasks then count me out. I want something more dynamic, flexible and meaningful that I can dip in and out of.
”Managers must avoid reinforcing stereotypes and spurious distinctions about volunteers, and agree to work with, support and strategically position people who fall “outside” the realm of the limited idea of the “true” or “real” volunteer.”
That’s why I have always loved the late Ivan Scheier’s definition of volunteering – doing more than you have to, because you want to, for a cause you consider to be good. It’s a personal definition. It implies organisations should start with what people want to do, the passions and experience they want to bring. It means creating roles with them that both meet our needs and fit with their availabilities and interests. It means a volunteering experience they enjoy, they find fulfilling and rewarding, and that doesn’t conform to the stereotype of old fashioned models of giving time.
“Language is incredibly important. It enables us to shape our thoughts and ideas, give voice to our emotion and shape identities.”
John was talking about the need to keep debating what volunteering is because society is always changing and so, therefore, is volunteering. But John always came back to and used the term ‘volunteering’. He didn’t go down the linguistic equivalent of the emperors new clothes, with terms like social action. We mustn’t either.
We have to reclaim and re-brand the word ‘volunteering’ so that its essence isn’t lost or diluted as others try to give it new names.
That’s why I run a workshop called ‘The Philosophy of Volunteering’. It gives people space to think hard about their fundamental beliefs on volunteering and what that means for their practice as leaders of volunteer engagement.
Sadly, ‘The Philosophy of Volunteering’ is one of the sessions I am asked to do least. What a shame! It’s exactly the kind of session we need to ensure we resist clinging to an outdated, purist doctrine of volunteering in a fast changing world. It’s exactly the kind of session we need to help us inject new vitality and energy into the v-word.
Whilst it would be nice to get booked to run my philosophy workshop more often (hint hint!) there are other steps we can take to ensure the word volunteering remains relevant and important. Here are just two ideas:
When you hear another word for volunteering being used (e.g. social action, community action, time giving, pro bono etc.) ask why the v-word isn’t being used. Challenge any spurious distinctions being used to justify not calling something volunteering.
Keep abreast of how society is changing and what that means for volunteering. Years ago people giving short term commitments weren’t seen as valid volunteers, that status was reserved for the long-term, high commitment people. Those times have changed (thank goodness). How might today’s orthodoxies need to shift for the future?
What else would you add? What do you think about the use of v-word?
Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear what you think.
This article will be a little different from my usual musings on volunteer management and leadership. I thought it might be interesting to give you a glimpse at what it is like doing an overseas work trip as a volunteer engagement consultant.
People often say how lucky I am to be able to travel with work, and I am. It’s a privilege to work with passionate Volunteer Managers around the world and to learn from their experiences. But travel overseas isn’t always the glamorous experience it might appear. So here is a warts and all summary of six nights away in the USA last month for the 2019 Points of Light conference.
16 June 2019
Arrive at Grantham railway station in Lincolnshire around 2pm for my train to London. Thanks to it being a weekend, first class is a cheap option so I won’t have an issue cramming my suitcase into limited the limited bag space down the back of the train. If only my flights were first class too!
London Kings Cross to Heathrow via the tube and Heathrow Express is blissfully uneventful. London is so much nicer at the weekend without all the commuters striving to be the first into the office (seriously people, what’s the rush?). The struggle comes in finding the Hotel Hoppa bus stop at Heathrow Terminal Three for the service to my hotel. The Hoppa service is a great idea but so confusing to understand for a UK resident and seasoned traveller like myself that I’m amazed foreign visitors, unfamiliar with the airport, can use it at all.
After waiting for 30 minutes the bus finally turns up and a short while later I am at my hotel and getting settled in for the night, knowing I have an early start in the morning.
17 June 2019
Alarm goes off at 450am. Another wait for the Hoppa bus back to terminal three, thankfully not half-an-hour this time.
Slightly worried to receive an email from American Airlines that my connection from Chicago to Minneapolis-St Paul has been brought forward. It was already a tight one hour and 45 mins, and that’s now been reduced by 20 minutes.
Breakfast and coffee at Heathrow before boarding a lovely new 787 Dreamliner to Chicago. I spent almost 17 hours on one of these from Perth (Australia) to London last year, so today’s eight hour flight time across the Atlantic will be a breeze.
Happily my flight leaves on time and, even better, looks likely to arrive 30-45 minutes early at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Unfortunately, as we are about 100ft off the ground the pilot has to go around because the plane landing before us hasn’t cleared the runway. That means another 30 minutes in the air and the hopes of making my tight connection take a blow.
As is typical at O’Hare, the border control queue is huge and takes ages to get through. I grab my suitcase and head for flight connections where they tell me I need to leave 45 minutes to get to my next flight as the usual train between terminals is closed for maintenance and I’ll have to re-clear security (TSA). With only 35 minutes until the connecting flight leaves, I reluctantly change my plans, re-checking myself and my bag to be put on standby for a 5pm flight (instead of my original 120pm departure) and confirmed on an 840pm fight. Endless additional hours at an airport await – such fun!
The replacement bus service (it isn’t just the UK that does these then) gets me to terminal three where I jump on the free wifi to: tell the person in Minneapolis who is picking me up that I’ll be later than planned; and advise my keynote co-presenter (the brilliant Beth Steinhorn) that I will miss that evening’s technical run through.
But what’s that airport tannoy announcement saying? Turns out my 120pm flight has been delayed to its original departure time of 145pm, about ten minutes from now. I rush to the gate and explain the situation to the gate agent – who puts me on the flight! Happy days. Much frantic messaging ensues before takeoff to rescind my earlier delay notifications.
After all that stress I arrive at Minneapolis-St Paul pretty on time. Sadly, my suitcase doesn’t, having been re-checked for one of the later flights. American Airlines make arrangements to get it back to me, hopefully that evening, and I head off to the hotel.
Checking in I explain the bag situation and ask them to take the bag in for me, even if it arrives in the middle of the night, so I don’t have to stay awake – no point making the jet lag worse. No time to rest though, as I head straight out for the technical run through with Beth and get first sight of the room where tomorrow morning we’ll be doing our keynote address to 750 people.
I then connect with my friend Barry Altland for an early dinner before heading back to the hotel for some sleep. At this point I’ve been up for about 22 hours, it’s 9pm, I have no suitcase and I need to be up at 5am as we have a final technical run through at 7am ahead of the main session at 830am. All of which means I am delighted to see an email telling me my suitcase is due to arrive at 330am!
Please make the glamour of overseas travel stop!
18 June 2019
After a few hours of bad sleep I wake at 145am having dreamt my suitcase has arrived, but was empty. I check my email and see a message that my bag has indeed been delivered. I dash down to reception where I am re-united with my clean clothes and other essentials! I unpack at 2am and grab three more hours of sleep.
After a final early morning tech run through, the keynote address kicks off on time and is a success. We showcase examples of volunteer managers as catalysts of change, featuring three stories on video and two in person thanks to our guest speakers, Jess and Joanne. Feedback is overwhelmingly positive, which is gratifying after six months of preparatory work to pull the session together.
After lunch at the food truck festival outside the venue I get to attend a session by the amazing Dana Litwin on dealing with volunteer problem behaviour, by way of cuddling penguins (or stabby footballs as Dana calls them) and a bit of singing (I said Dana was amazing).
Next up is meeting my friend Tony Goodrow, CEO of Better Impact, to discuss two possible work projects over a beer and dinner. Then straight to the Al!ve and Better Impact networking reception. I get to meet in person a few people I have known online for a while as well as re-connect with fellow blogger Meridian Swift.
Sleep comes easily when I finally reach my bed.
19 June 2019
Oooh, I get a lie-in this morning – until 6am!
Given the six hour time difference to the UK I spend breakfast dealing with email and social media before the three block walk back to the River Centre in downtown St Paul.
The morning is more sessions and networking following lunch at the food trucks again, catching up with fellow Volunteer Managers in the sunshine to the sounds of an esoteric DJ who the conference organisers have hired.
In the last session of the day I go from attendee to presenter, delivering (for the first time) my workshop, “All Volunteer Mangers Are Liars”. It seems to go across well with the 150 people in the room with yet more lovely feedback. I do like the willingness of American’s to be effusive with their praise if you do a good job.
That’s the formal programme done but it’s straight to the Intercontinental Hotel for a reception hosted for funders to which I have been invited. From there, Beth and I head out for dinner to reflect on yesterday’s keynote and discuss the thorny issue of payments for volunteers and how the rules and practices vary between the USA and UK.
Once again, I don’t struggle to sleep!
20 June 2019
Up at 6am again, clearing messages from back home before heading to the conference venue for my 830am “Philosophy Of Volunteering Workshop”. This is one of my favourite sessions to run. 150 of us have ninety minutes of fun, challenge and great conversation about the values and beliefs we have about volunteerism.
Over coffee I have a revelation in event catering as the snacks provided are maple glazed doughnuts with bacon. How have I lived for 45 years without these?!
Before we know it the 2019 Points of Life Conference concludes with a very American closing session featuring cheering, a singer, a TV news anchor, the brother of a former US President and the announcement that the 2020 conference will be in Washington DC. I’m left wondering how that style of closing event would go down at home.
The conference may be over, but work isn’t. I catch up with fellow Energize Inc. Associate Betsy McFarland who I had the privilege of seeing present a workshop earlier in the week. Betsy heads off for her flight home and I get stuck into work I need to catch up on after three days at the conference.
I treat myself to dinner at a restaurant I like in St Paul which happens to be next to the park where the city’s jazz festival is kicking off. Despite the wet weather a big crown has turned out for a rather good latin jazz band.
21 June 2019
Rising early again means I have the best part of a day until I fly home. So getting to experience the St Paul legend that is Mickey’s Diner for a late breakfast with Meridian Swift is a welcome distraction from hours of boredom before meeting my lift back to the airport.
My flight to Philadelphia passes uneventfully and I easily make my connection to a British Airways flight to London, even having time for a quick meal before the scheduled departure at 10pm. All of which means I’ve spent 15 hours awake before I even get on the plane that will take me back to the UK. There is nothing more glamorous than sitting in hotels and airports on your own waiting to go home (disengage sarcasm mode).
22 June 2019
BA do their thing and get us into Terminal Five at Heathrow nicely ahead of schedule. The connections to Kings Cross go smoothly, too smoothly in fact as I end up with over an hour to kill before my train home.
I finally make it back home about 2pm, six days from when I left. By the time I go to bed I have been awake more than 36 hours and have just the Sunday to recover before I drive to Liverpool on Monday to run some training for a client. This trip may be over, but the next is about to begin.
Back in December 2018, Seth posted a short article to his daily blog. It made me think and challenged me in equal measure. I’m going to quote the whole of that post here because I hope it’ll get you thinking too.
There are some jobs that are only done by accredited professionals.
And then there are most jobs, jobs that some people do for fun, now and then, perhaps in front of the bathroom mirror.
It’s difficult to find your footing when you’re a logo designer, a comedian or a project manager. Because these are gigs that many people think they can do, at least a little bit.
If you’re doing one of these non-dentist jobs, the best approach is to be extraordinarily good at it. So much better than an amateur that there’s really no room for discussion. You don’t have to justify yourself. Your work justifies you.
The alternative is to simply whine about the fact that everyone thinks that they can do what you do.
The thing is, it might be true.
In other words, there are some jobs that are only done by accredited professionals. Doctors. Lawyers. Accountants. Dentists.
Most jobs aren’t like that, including the role of Volunteer Manager.
If some people think they could do a little bit of some jobs – like logo designer, comedian or project manager – wouldn’t many more people think they could be be a volunteer manager? After all, having coffee with someone and asking them to give some time to a good cause isn’t exactly rocket science, is it?
I’ve had many experiences where someone asks what I do and I tell them I lead and manage volunteers. I then get told all about volunteering and how easy it must be to work with volunteers because that person was once a volunteer. In those moments it’s almost as if I have wasted the last 25 years of my life dedicated to this work, because the person I’m talking to clearly thinks they could do it just as well with no prior experience.
If, therefore, most people think they could do what we do then, according to Seth, Volunteer Managers have two choices about the way we approach our non-dentistry job.
We can be exceptionally good at it, our work justifying us, our roles and our contributions to our organisations & communities.
Or we can whinge that nobody understands what we do.
“The low levels of participation in employer-supported volunteering (ESV) reflects a wider lack of awareness of this kind of volunteering. As well as scope to increase awareness, the fact that around a third of volunteers who participated in employer-supported volunteering in the last year felt their employers did not actively encourage it suggests there is more that could be done to promote it.”
That was the conclusion of NCVO’s Time Well Spent report, released back in January. Despite more than twenty years of attention being given to ESV in the UK it remains a marginal way for people to get involved in volunteering. Why?
First, nobody seems to have successfully sold the concept of ESV into the small and medium sized business community (SMEs). Many have tried, but ESV persists in being something large employers embrace more than SMEs, perhaps because the absence of some paid staff during the working day may be less acutely felt amongst a larger staff team.
Second, many volunteer involving organisations still get hung up on whether ESV is really volunteering. The thinking goes that if the volunteer is taking time out of their typical working day, and so being paid by the employer for that time, then they aren’t really a volunteer. Whether or not you agree with this thinking (and I firmly disagree), from an employers perspective it must be frustrating to see good causes spurning the offer of help simply because of some definitional minutiae.
Next, I think some non-profits only engage in ESV because they see it as a route to getting a donation from the employer. This creates a tension between corporate fundraising and volunteer engagement functions, tension that holds the organisation back from making the most of the opportunities presented by potential – and consequently frustrated – corporate supporters.
Finally, ESV is still seen by non-profits as either traditional team challenge activities or initiatives that deploy the professional skills of their staff into the community. Both present problems. Team challenges frequently suck up non-profit time with little positive return. Sure the employees have a great time, but sometimes the organisation, for example, gets a poorly painted room and has to hire in professional painters to fix the work done by the volunteers. Skills-based volunteering can also be challenging, especially if skilled employee volunteers are seen as a threat by paid staff who may resent volunteers doing similar work to them ‘for free’.
Yet, new ways of doing ESV are developing that most non-profits aren’t even aware of, let alone embracing. In fact, I think the non-profit sector are increasingly falling behind the thinking of businesses when it comes to this form of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Consider the recent pilot in the USA by Starbucks and their charitable arm, The Starbucks Foundation. This is something Meridian Swift and I explored in two articles last year – you can find the first one here and the second one here.
This Starbucks pilot is one example of where employers are heading. They know that millennials want to work for employers who are truly engaged in the community, not those who just pay lip service to their warm, fuzzy CSR statements (I read somewhere that more than 50% of Millennials accept a job based upon a company’s involvement with causes). So, in an increasingly competitive marketplace for recruiting millennial talent, these businesses are developing innovative approaches to make them the employer of choice amongst young people.
What Starbucks have done is the tip of the iceberg, more will follow and, whilst these initiatives are mainly stateside, it won’t be long before they migrate to this side of the Atlantic.
Just like paid time off to volunteer during the working day, many non-profits see these innovations as ‘not volunteering’ and will steer clear. But that isn’t going to stop businesses exploring these ideas. They simply can’t afford to ignore what the the millennial workforce wants and, if we won’t get on board, they’ll simply do it without us.
As we saw at the start of this article, ESV appears to remain a marginal way for people to volunteer. In a changing landscape for CSR volunteering, finding a solution will require non-profits, fundraising departments and Volunteer Managers to embrace very different thinking about the employer / non-profit relationship of the future.
What do you think?
Note: I am aware that ESV happens in a wide variety of ways, not just paid time off work, and with employers in the private, public and voluntary sector. However, as the point of this article is not to explore the wider variety of ESV activity but to question why it isn’t making a big difference to volunteering rates, I have not explored this breadth of activity. Hence the use of the term employers and what may seem like an assumption that the supply of volunteers is only from private sector employers.