A major challenge that many volunteer managers face is managing volunteer programs rather than directly managing volunteers.
That is, they are located in a central office but often managing teams of volunteers who autonomously run their own programs or are under the supervision of other staff and volunteers. This can include community branches, community services programs, education programs, flora and fauna projects and working bees.
While volunteer managers do their best to visit these programs, they are usually only spot visits, due to time and resource constraints. In good faith, volunteer managers rely on communication from the relevant manager and/or team leader to ensure that the programs are running in accordance to their objectives.
But the only way to really know how the programs are functioning is to be a volunteer in your own volunteer program. This is when you get to see if the promise of the program is actually delivered.
We see it happen in management, when managers head ‘back to the floor’ to work with their staff - but why doesn’t it happen more with volunteers.
Years ago my dog (Jack) and I volunteered as part of a program to visit nursing homes. It was designed to bring some pet therapy to the residents, many of whom had had pets throughout their lives but were now without that companionship.
With much eagerness, Jack and I applied, completed the audition and training (I don’t know who was more nervous!) and then were told about how the program would run:
Unfortunately it all unravelled when we arrived for our first shift. No-one knew about us. There was no log book to sign in to. There were no badges in sight. The staff were far too busy with their own jobs to worry about a girl bursting with enthusiasm and her little white dog.
While the program had done all the right things with regards to recruitment, testing and training, there was a clear disconnect between the administration of the volunteer program and the delivery.
All it would have taken was for the volunteer manager to spend one shift in the home and they would have seen that what we had been advised, was very different to what was realistic in a busy nursing home environment.
I see this quite often with volunteer programs. Despite the best efforts of the volunteer manager:
So head ‘back to the floor’ and volunteer in your own program, you might just be surprised at what you learn.
......So what happened to my dog and I? Well we just took ourselves around to meet and greet visitors and then got chased out of the home by a less than impressed resident. To say we were exhausted afterwards was an understatement!
Georgie Stayches is Founder and Managing Director of Fetching Events & Communications, a boutique agency specialising in event management, communications and volunteer management.