Position Statement: Why volunteer management requires specific skills
Skills – Third Sector champions the skills of volunteer management. From our research and experience we know that the nature of volunteering means that people who manage volunteers require specialist skills – skills that are distinct from those needed to manage paid staff. By skills we mean the knowledge, understanding and experience that someone needs to do their job well.
Volunteering has a long tradition in the UK and this is set to increase under Big Society proposals to get more volunteers involved in shaping and running public services. Volunteering is “an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or individuals or groups other than close relatives.”
Over 40% of the UK population formally volunteers each year, and 25% of the population does so each month, which adds up to 24.7m volunteers a year. This equates to 1.2 million full-time paid employees and contributes approximately £21.5 billion to the economy. Volunteer management is essential to make sure that volunteers make the best contribution and get the most out of the experience.
A volunteer’s relationship with an organisation may not be defined by legal structures and contracts, and there can be significant differences in the motivations, commitment and availability between staff and volunteers. In addition, volunteering can sometimes be ad-hoc. A volunteer can walk away from the organisation at any point.
Managing volunteers is a skilled job that is different from managing paid staff. While the role has more in common with other management roles at a senior or strategic level, at the day to day level there are a number of important differences. People who work with volunteers on a practical level, need to understand and know how to:
- Recruit, motivate and retain volunteers – needs an understanding that people volunteer for many different reasons and knowing how to maintain volunteers’ enthusiasm and commitment is a real skill.
- Design task descriptions for volunteers - needs knowledge of how to design and disseminate task roles so that volunteers and staff are clear about how that role fits in with the work of paid staff and other volunteers.
- Manage the relationships between volunteers and paid staff – needs an understanding of the differing needs, interests and responsibilities of both volunteers and paid staff and the ability to manage these complex relationships.
- Induct, support and supervise volunteers – needs knowledge of how to give volunteers regular feedback and how to balance any concerns about their performance with maintaining their commitment and without compromising the quality of the work of the organisation.
- Apply the legal and other regulatory requirements – needs knowledge of how these differ from those that apply to paid staff.
These activities require a firm understanding of the context in which volunteering occurs and specific knowledge and skills that meet the needs of volunteers.
At a strategic level the skills needed to manage volunteers and staff are more closely aligned. However, organisations get better value from their volunteers if volunteer managers and senior managers have knowledge and understanding of:
- Developing and investing in structures that support volunteers
- Developing volunteers’ skills and training needs
- Involving volunteers in designing and developing volunteer programmes effectively
- Succession planning for volunteers
- Aligning volunteers and volunteering with the organisation’s strategy.
Skills development for volunteer managers
National Skills Network for Volunteer Management
Skills – Third Sector is developing a new national skills network focused on volunteering and volunteer management in collaboration with a number of partners. This will join up and share information about good practice, good skills development, accredited training and provide web-based resources. See National Skills Framework for the Voluntary Sector
Advanced level Apprenticeship in Volunteer Management
Skills – Third Sector is supporting future volunteer managers’ skills by developing an Apprenticeship.
National Occupational Standards
The specific skills that volunteer managers need to do their job well are set out in the Managing Volunteers National Occupational Standards. These detail the particular knowledge, understanding and experience that volunteer managers need to do their jobs well, whether they are managing volunteers on the ground or at a strategic level. These can be a valuable and useful tool for preparing job descriptions, reviewing roles and responsibilities and can be used for appraisals. They can also be used to identify which areas someone needs to develop their skills and knowledge.
Evidence for specialist volunteer management skills
Research on Valuing Volunteer Management Skills carried out by the Institute for Volunteering Research identified: “several differences between managing volunteers and staff including differences in terms of motivation, recruitment methods, attendance at meetings, taking holidays, boundaries between paid and volunteer roles and the need to deal with mental and physical decline as volunteers got older.”
The volunteer managers interviewed felt strongly that: “There was a need for volunteer management to be seen as a more clearly defined profession.”
While The Manifesto for Change, which presented the findings of the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, concluded that: “Effective volunteering requires effective management.” And that “The first step in valuing volunteer management is for an organisation to acknowledge that it involves volunteers in its work and, therefore, needs to consider how those volunteers are supported.”
Volunteer England’s Recognise, Invest, Support: A guide to valuing volunteer management also concludes: “the level of benefit an organisation stands to gain from volunteering is directly correlated to the amount of recognition and support it provides, and the investment it makes, in volunteer support and management. The more your organisation recognises, supports and invests in the people that manage your volunteers, the greater the benefit it will receive from volunteering.”
Our experience and the evidence from research is that investing in volunteer managers is the best way to raise the skills and opportunities for all volunteers in the voluntary sector. Not understanding the different skills needed to manage volunteers and how they differ from managing paid staff, can lead to poor quality services for the people who use the services, poor volunteering experiences for volunteers and, at worst, can lay organisations open to legal prosecution and industrial tribunals.
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