Five reasons senior managers should listen to their volunteer managers

At this year’s AVM conference I had a discussion about the varied and creative ways volunteer managers have tried to get volunteer management on the agenda of senior management in their organisation. The leadership of organisations, big and small, still fail to pay due attention to the volunteer managers leading and supporting the volunteering that powers their organisations. It doesn’t make sense.

Why I think volunteer managers should be listened to in their organisations

1. They can unlock the potential of volunteering for your organisation

Volunteering can do more when it has support, strategic leadership and commitment from the top. Recognising, supporting and investing in your volunteer manager(s) is essential to unlocking the potential of volunteering for your organisation, and to achieving your mission. It also demonstrates, internally and externally, that the organisation takes volunteering seriously and recognises the value of the contribution it makes, crucial for attracting new volunteers and for retaining existing ones.

2. They are your in-house experts

They know more about how volunteering works in your organisation than anyone else. They also bring added knowledge and experience from other volunteer managers they network with, e.g. the Association of Volunteer Managers. They may also be part of local or regional networks.

You can draw on this knowledge and experience when developing organisational strategy and during the business planning process. Volunteering would become better aligned with the strategic objectives of your organisation, and you will already have considered how changes might impact on the experience and operational role of your volunteers.

Involving them in business and financial planning will also help your organisation to allocate adequate resource to volunteer management and support. They may also be able to suggest ways to use that resource more effectively.

3. Volunteer managers connect people – they can bring staff and volunteers together to turn your strategy into reality

Volunteering usually underpins the whole range of activities an organisation does and so volunteer managers have to develop effective working relationships with staff and teams across the organisation. Working with them can help to improve understanding of volunteering across the organisation and how it can contribute to the overall mission. They build and maintain relationships between staff and volunteers; important if you plan on developing and improving how staff and volunteers work together or are considering involving volunteers in new areas of your organisation.

4. They know a thing or two about motivation

Motivating people to give up their time freely to support the work of your organisation is a challenge but it’s something they do every day. It’s one of the skills unique to the role that should be celebrated. Their knowledge and understanding of what motivates people and how to harness this motivation in a way that supports your mission can be shared with you and other managers and can help you to work differently with staff and support their work with volunteers.

5. They can help you understand how they are performing and to improve it

Brilliant volunteer managers aren’t born, they are made. All volunteer managers will need support to develop to some extent and performance management is a way to do this. Work with them to set objectives that align with your mission and get them to measure and report back on what they do. This will not only help you to understand whether they are being effective but will also help to raise the profile of their role in the organisation. It will provide evidence of the impact of volunteer management in your organisation. Helpful if you need to convince your board to invest in volunteer management and support.

For volunteer managers themselves it identifies strengths and areas for improvement to inform next steps for their professional and personal development. With this knowledge you will be better placed to support them to identify and access training, resources and networks. Thanks to social media this no longer always requires them to leave the office but it does require you to allow them to set some time aside.

Still not convinced?

Talk to those in your organisation who have responsibility for managing volunteers about how you can support them. What better time to start the discussion than International Volunteer Managers’ Day?!

There are more pointers on how to value volunteer management in your organisation in the useful guide, ‘Recognise, support, invest: Your Guide to Valuing Volunteer Management’ (PDF 483 KB). It was produced by Volunteering England back in 2010, but most of the tips have stood the test of time.

Is formal volunteering finished?  a speech Justin Davis Smith gave at the 2014 AGM of the Association of Volunteer Managers.

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Kristen Stephenson Kristen is NCVO’s Volunteer Management and Good Practice Manager. She’s interested in raising the profile of volunteer management as a profession, and the development of approaches which can help volunteering deliver for people, organisations and communities.

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