VolunteerToday.com ~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism
NEW at our online bookstore: ONE MINUTE ANSWER TO VOLUNTEER MANAGEMENT QUESTIONS: A PRACTICAL APPROACH by Mary Kay Hood. Written especially for the beginner, this book provides a quick reference for the practical aspects of managing a volunteer program.
Screening volunteers is more than chatting with someone interested in working with your organization. Screening is a process of helping the prospective volunteer make the right choice and the organization or agency make the right choice. Here are basic elements of screeningin brief.
Trends: Past to Present
American Demographics magazine has been predicting trends since its inception. It has avoided the fads and gone for the fundamental changes in American culture that impact daily life. Here are some trends they predicted in the past that continue in 2003 and likely into the future.
Risk Management for Volunteer Programs - An Interview with Linda Graff, Author of "Better Safe. . .Risk Management in Volunteer Programs and Community Service" conducted by Nancy Macduff
Risk management has always been part of developing positions for volunteers. Linda Graff has written a new resource book that helps demystify the process, helps volunteer programs see what they are already doing, and provides oodles of resources to be better at it. The following is a conversation with Linda on this important skill, conducted by Nancy Macduff of Volunteer Today. Linda offers four suggestions for dealing with risk management and much, much more. This book is availble through the Volunteer Today online bookstore.
The interview is fairly lengthy, so we're providing shortcuts to each of the questions if you prefer to jump around instead of reading straight through.
1 - Why is risk management important to the management of volunteers?
Linda: Risk management is not just an important part of the management of volunteers, I would contend that it has become an indispensable aspect of volunteer program management.
First, while there are some organizations that have been involving volunteers in meaningful and demanding positions for many years and even decades, there has been a pervasive trend over the last decade in North America to rely ever more heavily on volunteers to do what we would consider to be the real work of the organization.
If you look back at the volunteer management literature of the 1970s and early 1980s, you find many discussions of the questions Who should do what work? and How do we distinguish work of paid staff from work the volunteers might be invited to do?
The answer in the literature was consistently of this nature: volunteers supplement, they never supplant, the work of paid staff.
That particular notion now bears no resemblance to the 21st century reality in the volunteer movement.
Volunteers have been invited out of the back rooms and onto the front lines of service delivery throughout the sector. They often stand shoulder to shoulder with paid staff delivering services to patients, clients, residents, patrons, students, consumers, or whatever other label is used to describe the recipient of the service. Volunteer work is no longer confined to the extras. Its not just the fluff. Volunteer work has moved from being nice to being necessary.
Ask any assembled group of managers of volunteer what would happen if their volunteers went on strike for a week and the greatest majority would blanche and confirm immediately that the absence of volunteers would have a significant impact on their agencies ability to achieve their mission.
So, volunteers are increasingly doing the real work. The real is increasingly risky. Its a simple equation. The greater the face-to-face connection between volunteers and service recipients, the greater the risk. The greater the complexity, sophistication, responsibility of the work being done by volunteers, the greater the risk. When volunteers were confined to envelope stuffing and phone tree work, risks were minimal and risk management largely unnecessary. Now that we have volunteers in the emergency rooms of hospitals, responding to victims and their families at the scenes of crimes and accidents, walking the beat shoulder to shoulder with police officers in community policing programs, implementing search and rescue programs in mountains, wilderness, and winter storm condition ... when we have volunteers working at the bedsides of dying patients in volunteer-based hospice programs across the continent, handling priceless artifacts in museums, picking up and tending to stray animals on urban streets, etc. The examples are quite literally endless of where we are engaging volunteers in service.
As the riskiness of the work increases, so too does the need for organizations to identify and manage the risks introduced through volunteer involvement. It is not only poor management, I believe it is actually unethical to place volunteers in positions of responsibility without conducting a risk assessment and putting into place whatever risk management controls the situation warrants to save volunteers, consumers, other staff, and the agency from harm. We do it for paid staff. Why would we not do it for volunteers? Do we believe they deserve less from us?
If you think about it, the fact that volunteers are not paid a wage, are often not covered by the health and safety protocols typically in place for paid staff, are not likely to have any form of workers compensation insurance should they be injured and unable to earn their living, and sometimes are not even explicitly covered by organizations insurance policies ... we put little to none of the usually supports and safety nets around volunteers, we ask them to work for no money, and we dont even bother to conduct an assessment of where they might be in greatest peril. Often, if an organization has thought about it at all, what they have most likely done is developed a waiver for the volunteer to sign absolving the organization from any liability in the event that the volunteer is injured through their volunteer work. Not only do we not put the appropriate safety mechanisms in place, we try to remove the only redress that a volunteer might still have available to them in the event that something does go wrong!
Linda: Risk management in volunteer programs and community service must start first with an organizational consciousness in the following order:
Once an organization recognizes that risks exist and that simple, inexpensive, mostly common sense strategies can have a huge results in risk reduction, it becomes obvious that risk management is worth the effort and investment. Right now its the consciousness about risk that I think is missing in most organizations. Managers of volunteers know about the risks involved in volunteer service because they are exposed to them every day. Many have still not been able to raise awareness among their supervisors, executive directors, and boards. So thats where I think we need to start.
The second thing I would offer is this simple truism, a line from my new book that goes like this:
An organization cannot manage the risks it does not identify.
Like I said, a truism. But extremely important. We need to go looking for the risks that exist in and around volunteer involvement. We need to look at the kinds of relationships we have created and the potential for abuse. We need to look not only at the potential for unsupervised access to children and other vulnerable people, but we also need to be cognizant of con men looking to develop connections with older people in order to steal or embezzle funds. We need to look at boundary breaches in relationships, the potential for needle sticks in park clean up efforts. We need to be aware that every time a volunteer gets behind the wheel of a vehicle they are undertaking a risky activity. Risk identification is critical.
Some of the risks involved in volunteer participation are the result of persons with ill-intent seeking opportunity to abuse or exploit vulnerable persons. But in reality, we see much more harm and loss created by volunteers with every good intent, but who are placed inappropriately, not trained adequately, and/or not sufficiently supported, supervised and monitored through their placements. So the third thing is to recognize that good volunteer program management is for the most part, synonymous with risk management. If you operate a well-run volunteer program conducting thorough needs assessment, doing appropriate recruitment, having thorough screening and careful placement, and sufficient training, followed by ongoing support and supervision...with those elements in place, much of what we would otherwise call risk management will be taken care of.
Fourth, engage in a formal risk management process. There are risk management systems out there that are not difficult to implement. They are best thought of as a logical series of questions and probes that will lead the manager of volunteers to identify risks in the volunteer program and then develop strategies to reduce risks to a tolerable level. Risk management is not hard to do. Sure it takes a bit of time, but it gets integrated into all of the other things that the manager of volunteers does each day. Its not something added on but, as Charles Tremper and Gwynne Kostin said a decade ago, its an orientation to everything else you do.
Linda: "Better Safe..." is a comprehensive risk management sourcebook. It explains risk management in a simple and straightforward manner. It offers an easy four-step risk management model that leads the program manager step-by-step through risk identification and evaluation, into the identification of a wide range of risk control strategies that are typically available in each risky situation. It is written in simple language. It is crammed with hundreds of great suggestions on how to reduce risks related to all kinds of volunteer programs. It is full of checklists, hints, worksheets, and sample forms so that the reader can immediately implement the strategies it describes.
I think many managers of volunteers are all too aware of risks in the programs they operate. Indeed, it is the manager of volunteers whos lying awake at three oclock in the morning, worrying about what if??? Risk management just sounds too difficult or too foreign to launch. This book demystifies risk management. Readers find comfort in the recognition that they are already engaged in a great deal of risk management every day. "Better Safe..." just helps them to be a bit more systematic about much of what they are already doing.
"Better Safe..." is layed out in a very accessible way so that readers can focus on the pieces they need most at any given time. Icons in the margins point readers to tips, cautions, policy suggestions, and ideas and topics that might be of particular interest to organization management. The forms and diagnostic worksheets are meant to be put into use, so they are reproducible directly from the book. Real life case studies bring the content to life, and make the read both easy and interesting.
This book lays it all out for the manager of volunteers. The rationale, the legal context, the risk management process step-by-step, backed up with hundreds of tips and tools to put it immediately into practice. Im a little biassed, of course, but I think this is an essential resource on a topic of great urgency to volunteer program managers or anyone who works with voluntary organizations or programs.
Linda Graff's book is availble through the Volunteer Today online bookstore.
Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: Recruiting and Retention: A Marketing Approach, by Nancy Macduff.
DAILY POINTS OF LIGHT AWARD FORMS AVAILABLE
The Points of Light Foundation has forms available to nominate volunteers and volunteer organizations for the Daily Points of Light Award. It is designed recognize individuals and groups that demonstrate unique and innovative approaches to community volunteering and citizen action, with a strong emphasis on service focused on the goals for children and young people set by the Presidents Summit for American's Future. The award is given five days a week, excluding holidays. If you would like nomination forms, contact Crystal Hill at 202-729-8000.
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