Volunteer management is gaining momentum

The big society has put volunteering in the spotlight and increased pressure for more resources

St Mungo's
St Mungo's

Last summer, the Institute for Volunteering Research revealed that 42 per cent of volunteer managers had received no formal training. But with volunteering firmly on the government agenda, charities are under increasing pressure to meet high expectations, not least from volunteers themselves, and many are starting to think about investing in development for volunteer managers.

"There is a real need for volunteer management to become more professionalised because of the political climate," says Amy New, head of volunteer management at Volunteering England. "The ideas around the National Citizen Service and the big society are really driving this forward.

"There is also a growing recognition from organisations themselves of the need for professionalism in volunteer management. Organisations are starting to recognise the need for good practice and proper resources for volunteer managers."

In 2009, the Office for Civil Society made £3m of funding available through the infrastructure quango Capacitybuilders to support people who manage volunteers.

Supporting local projects

The volunteer management programme consisted of three strands: a £1.45m grant fund to support local projects; a £200,000 awareness-raising campaign to change perceptions of the importance of volunteer management, delivered by Volunteering England; and a £1m bursary scheme to fund training and skills development for volunteer managers.

As part of the second strand, Volunteering England created the volunteer management portal - a website bringing together information, training and development opportunities for people who manage volunteers. Under the third strand, 1,300 volunteer managers were awarded bursaries last year to undertake training such as NVQs.

Volunteer managers have various training options. Informal schemes, usually consisting of training events and talks provided by councils for voluntary service and volunteer centres, exist locally. Those seeking more formal qualifications can study NVQs in volunteer management at a number of institutions. St Mary's University College in Twickenham, south-west London, for example, runs an NVQ Level 3 course in the management of volunteers.

Higher up the scale, the Institute of Leadership and Management offers a series of volunteer management qualifications starting at NVQ Level 3 and going up to Level 5. The training body Skills - Third Sector also offers Levels 3 to 5 qualifications and is developing apprenticeships for volunteer managers.

Creating qualifications

Some organisations are creating their own qualifications. The homelessness charity St Mungo's, for example, is developing an accredited course based on National Occupational Standards in managing and developing volunteers. It will be available to paid staff from May, and the charity is considering offering it as a development opportunity for volunteers.

"We wanted something accredited, partly because volunteer management here needs more credibility and status," says Jacqui Randle, volunteer services coordinator at St Mungo's. "We have a big volunteering programme, and what we have at the moment is good in places, but inconsistent."

St John Ambulance created a new volunteering department last year, and part of its remit is to review training for volunteer managers. The charity has been consulting its own volunteer managers and looking to other organisations for examples of good practice.

"Our research has suggested we need more consistency," says Chris Reed, head of volunteering at St John Ambulance. "We want to make our standards the same across the country. That will help us to expand our reach in some communities and ensure people feel better supported and motivated."

Sets of skills

Sue Jones is training manager for the Excellence in Volunteer Management programme - a Level 3 qualification developed by Volunteering England and now run by Volunteer Centre Warrington. She says volunteer managers need a complex set of skills, such as recruitment, leadership and influencing.

Organisations are also increasingly expected to involve volunteers from diverse backgrounds, Jones adds - people with disabilities and the long-term unemployed, for example - and this requires specialist skills.

Despite the growing demands on volunteer managers, there are currently no postgraduate level qualifications in volunteer management, although some master's degrees involve elements of it. Kate Bowgett, volunteer management adviser at the London Museums Hub and a director of the Association of Volunteer Managers, says this is unlikely to change any time soon.

"Volunteer managers are still underpaid, so an MA would not necessarily take you further in your career," she says. "A lot of people wouldn't be willing to invest the money. It would be nice to see more higher-level training, but organisations need to be more aware of how complex the role is and what a fair wage would be to reflect that."

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