Rob Jackson: Three ways to tell if senior managers really value volunteers

If you spot the signs that they are less than genuine, challenge them to move beyond warm words, writes our volunteering expert on the eve of Volunteers' Week

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

Volunteers’ Week is upon us again, starting on Monday 1 June. The annual celebration of volunteering and the contribution of volunteers to our society seems to roll around faster and faster every year.

Events are planned across the country to recognise, reward and recruit volunteers. Many of these will feature chief executives and senior managers giving speeches and handing out certificates to volunteers. But how do you tell if what we read and hear from sector leaders is genuine positivity about volunteers and volunteering or just warm platitudes trotted out because it is Volunteers’ Week?

Here is a handy guide to three things to look for that might reveal leaders are being less than genuine:

Despite what your leaders say in Volunteers’ Week, do volunteers actually feature in their thinking, planning and, crucially, your actions, in the other 51 weeks of the year?

Is volunteering inherently linked to the strategic goals of the organisation? Is there a clear link between the outcomes volunteers are expected to achieve and the organisation’s mission and vision? Is the lead staff member with responsibility for volunteering proactively engaged in planning and strategy work by top management? Are volunteers considered at the start of planning for any and all new initiatives? Is volunteering part of a broader supporter journey linked to fundraising, campaigning, membership – or is it standalone?

If the nice words of a Volunteers’ Week speech aren’t backed up by real, tangible actions at a strategic level then there is work to do.

What reporting on volunteer activity do your leaders ask for?

Is success measured simply by numbers of volunteers or how many you have recruited? Is there any focus on outputs or outcomes achieved by volunteers? Do these tie into the mission of the organisation and its strategic plan? What about the impact volunteers have? Does any of this feature in the organisation’s key performance indicators, or scorecards? Does the leadership team talk about how much money volunteering saves the organisation? Are you asked for any reporting data at all on volunteers?

What your leaders ask for by way of reporting speaks volumes about the importance they place on volunteers and how well they understand volunteering.

Are your leaders involving volunteers in their own work?

I don’t mean the board of trustees and management committees – they have no choice but to work with them. But do your chief executive and senior management colleagues involve volunteers directly in their own work? They may be called pro-bono or strategic consulting roles – because we can’t call anything with real value and impact "volunteering", can we? – but is there any volunteer involvement at all beyond work with the board?

If your leaders are positive about volunteers but aren’t actually open to working with them in their own roles, then there is a disconnect between what they say and what they are prepared to do.

If you spot any of these signs in Volunteers’ Week, then find a way to challenge those chief executives and senior managers to move beyond warm words and start actually taking volunteers and volunteering seriously. It may be best not to do it at the volunteers’ lunch or whatever event you’re at, but definitely don’t ignore the signs. Arrange a follow-up meeting and make your point there.

You may find that by Volunteers’ Week 2016 your leaders walk the talk on volunteering, rather than just recycle a speech containing warm fuzzy sentiments.

This article was originally published on the Third Sector blog

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