Monday, October 06, 2008

The Difference between Managing Paid Staff and Volunteers

I believe that the management of people-based resources is at its core, the same regardless of whether the people involved are paid or unpaid. I know that many will disagree adamantly with me on this point but please read on to consider the experience I just had that supported this view. Later this month I’ll delve into the negative results of not recognizing this important aspect of the management of volunteers. I was at the AMVR conference in Binghamton N.Y. last week and in one of the sessions, participants were asked what attributes they associated with an effective manager of volunteer resources. The following is the compilation of the responses. · Able to assess the needs of the organization (what needs to get done) · Time management skills · Matching skills (person to task) · Good listener · Good communicator · Multitasker · Educator · Diplomatic · Technical skills (ability to make use of current software) · Trainer and delegator · Able to meet organizational goals · Able to pull together a variety of resource · Work in concert with the organizations mission · Motivator · Team player · Open minded · Flexible · Positive · Approachable · Confident in the organization’s mission · Confident in one’s self · Creative · Relationship builder · Recognize trends · Empathetic · Inclusive · Critical thinker · Able to keep volunteers satisfied Nobody can be great at all of the attributes listed above but does the list describe what you think would make an effective manager volunteer resources? In considering the list while we began to discuss it I couldn’t help but wonder, “If a group of people walked into the seminar room right now and looked at the list without knowing what conference was going on, would they be able to figure out that we were discussing volunteer management? Or, would they conclude that we are discussing people management in general? Or to put it another way, would they conclude that we are discussing the management of paid staff?” With the exception of the specific mention of volunteers in the last bullet I doubt anyone would conclude that the list pertained exclusively to managers of volunteer recourses, or unpaid staff. Think of the position of your boss, not your boss specifically but your boss’s position. Would the list above not just as easily have been developed if the exercise was to list the attributes of an effective nonprofit CEO or executive director, or the attributes you would like to see in your next boss? Every organization and every sector has its own culture, from which stems various styles of people management. When you think of sector here, think entertainment vs. health care for example rather than volunteer vs. corporate. How would you group the following together into two pairs if you are trying to group those that are most similar in workplace culture? 1. A hospice where volunteers visit people in their homes 2. A not-for-profit group of volunteers that builds websites for other not-for-profits for free 3. A software company that builds video games. 4. The nursing department (paid) in a hospital It is not volunteer vs. corporate that should define differences in management style. It is the mission. The culture of working in technology is not the same culture as working in health care. These different cultures generally attract different volunteers for different reasons and the maximum effectiveness in each area will be derived with different management approaches. The bigger differences are not based on not-for-profit vs. corporate but rather they are based on the types of products and services provided by the organization. Many of you might be thinking that the management of volunteers is far different than the management of paid staff because paid staff have to show up. “It is their job and if they don’t show up, they won’t get paid. MVRs don’t have the luxury of money to motivate people.” Ask the manager of any restaurant, a school principal, a retail store manager or a call center manager etc. if payday is the only tool a manager needs to keep things running smooth. At the conference last week , Martin Cowling told the story of while crossing the border into the United States, the border guard had trouble believing his explanation that he was on his way to speak at a conference for managers of volunteer resources. The guard’s comments went something like “They have conference for volunteer management? Why do they need that? You call the volunteers and they show up.” It’s not like that for volunteers and it’s not that easy in a paid staff environment either. Do you know of someone who used a sick day when they felt fine? Apparently not even paid staff just “show up” every time. I own a small company and manage a small salaried staff. Like everyone else I am not strong in every attribute listed above but I can assure you they are all very import elements that contribute to whether or not I am an effective manager. Motivating my staff helps them bring out the best in themselves. I have to be open minded to their ideas. I can make similar comments about each item in the list. The only change required from the list above compiled by MVRs about MVR is the substitution of ‘paid staff’ for ‘volunteer’ in the last bullet. The similarities of management styles related to paid and unpaid people are becoming even more important as our volunteers, like our staff, are coming (or are hopefully coming but that’s another topic all together) from a younger generation. Younger generations want a greater sense of community and self fulfillment out of their work, paid and unpaid. I think that when MVRs don’t recognize their role as staff managers in general, the MVR him/herself, the volunteer sector, the organization and the volunteers themselves all suffer. Check back in the middle of the month and we’ll look at the consequences of thinking that the management of volunteers is nothing like managing paid staff.

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