Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Professionalism and Volunteering Styles

Susan Ellis' January Hot Topic Why Can’t We Make Progress on Public Perceptions about Volunteering? and a link to an article posted by Jayne Cravens on cyberVPM highlighted how very many times, the word "volunteer" is associated, in people's minds, with something negative and, how some volunteers refuse to be identified as such, preferring other titles.
I think it is because of two reasons:
  1. the public perception of what a volunteer is
  2. the reality of what a volunteer manager is (and, I am afraid, is not)

Volunteers. Hustinx and Lammertyn (2000) began realizing how the meaning of volunteering was changing. The traditional framework, they found, was (and IS) old and not appropriate for reality that is changing. Volunteers are no more and no longer altruistic martyrs, whether secular or religious ones. They are no more and no longer all about community, since they find reasons to volunteer in themselves (may I add a big fat "Thank God" for that?).

Therefore, those volunteers are no longer people with a huge inferiority complex, trying to "give back" to the community out of guilt for being richer, healthier or luckier, and whose guilt we can take advantage of through some recognition event. They are trying to self-actualize and are WAY healthier than they were before. Logical consequence is, we better behave healthier too, but... are we able to?

Again the same authors found out that volunteers aren't as ideologically loyal to an association as they had been in the past. So trying to play the guilt trip on how they should "build a community", "save the environment", "owe their to their fellow humans" and similar things is not just dangerously similar to the "forced volunteerism" of the Soviet Union, but is just not going to work. Better find another trick to engage them, but... again, are we able to?

Volunteer Managers. Ever since volunteer management was invented as a profession, we started giving volunteers some well-deserved training. Thus they stopped being incompentent do-gooders, at least theoretically, a long while ago. In case they still are, we can look in the mirror if we want to find the culprit. It's a matter of professionalism. VPMs should not accept people unwilling to get trained, period. No matter how nice they are, or how well they rub us.

Many many times, in the field of volunteer management, we interrogate ourselves on the meaning of the very word "professionalism". My rendition of such word is "person that does her/his work at her/his own best".

Susan Ellis' December Hot Topic, Chicken or Egg: Why Are Our Professional Associations Weak?, was all geared on why volunteer management professional associations are so weak. In that occasion, I wrote to Susan's:

"VPMs don't belong to professional associations because they feel they don't need to. Since every situation is so peculiar, VPMs feel they don't need a pre-packaged, anecdotal opinion from experts but some sound, reliable guidelines to build their knowledge onto. Because so rarely evidence in best practices is given (beyond anecdotes), VPM voice is (and will stay) unheard, not even listened to, by those who takes political actions. I think the only way out is to change our practice and accept we have to back up our theories if we hope to become influential."

So I am asking you:

  1. Shooting from the "mountain" of our personal ANEDOCTAL experience, can be classified as "doing our best"?
  2. Can't we really go beyond and raise above it?
  3. Can't we demand our leaders to refer to facts, studies, research, when they explain their opinions, so that we can understand how they "got there", so to speak, and have a dialogue that creates meaning, rather than imposing it from one "superior" side, on another?
  4. How is that our associations aren't fighting for having "best practices" that are more similar to science than to fiction?

If I were a competent professional in another field and were considering donating my time, if I were a person upgrading my knowledge regularly, reading research rather than just best-sellers and make a truth out of them, well, if I were one of those persons I for sure:

  1. wouldn't accept to be called unskilled/untrained do-gooder by associating myself to an organization that tolerates such behaviours, and
  2. wouldn't accept to be supervised by a person that most of the times doesn't know the reasons (if any exists) for something "has to be done" the way it is presently done.

I am not saying, of course, that all or even most Volunteer Managers are or behave like that. I on the contrary know many of them that share my same discouragement at the present situation.

I am saying, however, that it is baffling, to see professional associations, advocates, and "experts" not coming out to improve the image of the whole category by raising their own standards (rather than "showing the truth" to others).

If nobody follows you, it's because they think there isn't that much to follow. It's up to you to change their minds, IF you want to be followed, OR to just shut up, IF you don't feel like working as hard.


Blogger Michael Lee Stills said...

Hi Rosanna,

Congratulations on pioneering a blog related to volunteer management. I have been toying with the idea for some time now.

Susan Ellis is a good source of info. Get her book, "From the Top Down". Also, visit www.avaintl.org and check out the process for obtaining professional credentials. AVA is an international professional association for our profession. The credential is a CVA (Certified in Volunteer Adminstration).

FYI, in an earlier post you cite Nancy Macduff as McDuff. Nancy has a good site as well at www.volunteertoday.com.

I've seen you around the web, all the best with your blog and, yes, Volunteer Management is way more than a Human Resource position and not well understood by many.

5:50 pm  

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