Do Volunteers Require Management?
From Volunteer Program Management: An Essential Guide, 3rd Edition, by Joy Noble, Louise Rogers, Andy Fryar
Over the years there has been much debate over the use of the word "management" in relation to the supervision of volunteers.
Some feared that applying management practices would inhibit the freedom and spontaneity of volunteers, while others argued that you don't manage "people" - rather you manage programs, equipment or other resources. This was one of the reasons the term Volunteer Coordinator was the preferred title for so long. However the word coordinator does not in most cases cover the many duties and skills required to manage volunteer programs. The term Volunteer Program Manager has therefore been adopted in many organisations...to more accurately reflect the role. It is important to note here that it is not the term 'management' that needs to be questioned - but rather the manner of management.
Peter Drucker (1990), in speaking about the fact that management may be regarded as a "bad" word in not-for-profit organisations, reminds us that management needs to be seen as a tool, not an end in itself.
Volunteers will walk away from organisations failing to provide them with satisfying experiences. Many are highly educated, well informed and bring with them a great deal of experience to their volunteer position. They expect to be provided with facilities, support, and where appropriate, training to perform the job. They are not looking to be either ignored or over-regulated. They require and expect that their ideas, skills and experience will be utilised, and to be part of the planning and decision-making processes in a well managed and supportive environment:
The days of accepting volunteers into the organisation and operating in either a laissez faire or dictatorial fashion are past. Management expertise is just as vital to ensure the time, skills and commitment of volunteers is maximised, as is the case with paid staff.
Effective management does not mean organising volunteers in a way that limits their initiative. The reverse is true. Effective management involves understanding the concept and issues involved in volunteering and ensuring that the expectations of the volunteer are met and that their personal attributes and skills are matched to organisational requirements in a way that is beneficial to those receiving services, the organisation and the volunteer.
Volunteers are a unique human resource and need to be recognised as such by the organisation. There are not the "sticks and carrots" associated with paid employment such as promotion pay packets, threats of job loss, etc. Volunteers are there because they choose to be. They can leave without giving notice. This unique situation requires skill on the part of the Volunteer Program Manager to ensure the volunteers are satisfied, that their expectations are met and retention levels are high.
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Excerpted from Volunteer Program Management: An Essential Guide, 3rd Edition
, by Joy Noble, Louise Rogers, Andy Fryar (Adelaide, Australia: VSA&NT, 2010). Available in the Energize, Inc. Online Bookstore at http://www.energizeinc.com/store/5-210-E-2