Influencing: the essential volunteer management skill

rob-jacksonRob Jackson is director of Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd. Rob has more than 21 years’ experience working in the voluntary and community sector, holding a variety of strategic development and senior management roles that have focused on leading and engaging volunteers.

In almost five years of regularly blogging about volunteer management, one of the themes I keep coming back to is influencing. It is also an increasingly popular theme that other volunteering commentators are addressing. Indeed, my Australian colleague Andy Fryar often remarks: ‘I believe that the leadership of volunteers has now evolved to a point where we need to find the time and space to become a persuasive profession, to influence, to develop key relationships – instead of simply adding another volunteer to the team’.

Many in our sector see volunteering as good but not essential. Despite the sheer number of volunteers working for civil society organisations and the significant contributions they make, volunteers continue to be seen by many as unprofessional, well-meaning amateurs, incapable of doing anything properly. Where volunteers do make a significant contribution, they are usually called something else: campaigners, major donor committee members, trustees, board members etc. This further reinforces the view of volunteers as non-essential, peripheral contributors to the work of some organisations.

That’s why I co-wrote From The Top Down – UK Edition, a book aimed at CEOs to help them understand their role in delivering effective volunteer engagement. However, I have been frustrated that influencing so rarely appears on training programmes for managers of volunteers, the topic getting pushed out in favour of the usual subjects such as recruitment, retention etc.

So I was really happy to be asked by NCVO to run a new training course on influencing for volunteer managers on 14 June.

Three things volunteer managers can do to influence effectively in their organisation

  1. Start by looking at why your organisation involves volunteers, drawing a clear distinction between the strategically important contribution volunteers can make and the common but unhelpful mindset that volunteers are simply a way to save money. That will give you an opportunity to review your organisation’s strategic vision for volunteering, or start working on one if you don’t have one.
  2. Use a variety of influencing strategies to help you clarify the change you want to bring about, as well as how to engage with different stakeholder groups to realise that change, identifying the highest priority tasks to focus on. Think through how recognition, reporting and dealing with problems can all create ‘teachable moments’ to help you influence others more effectively.
  3. Finally, create an action plan so you have clear, prioritised and defined actions that will put your influencing into practice straight away.

When developing your influencing skills, having the opportunity to work with peers, learn from each other and build informal support networks can be extremely helpful. On 14 June you can join me and other volunteer managers to learn how to be more influential in your role and support and encourage each other to take this forward in your own organisation.

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