Problems with Managing Volunteers

I am reading Gods of Management by Charles Handy. I am just over half way through and so far I have found it both fascinating and depressing. He adequately highlights the differences in culture within organisations and then complicates this by pointing out that knowledge of the culture surrounding the organisation, such as the country it’s in, is also important.

I have just read a section on voluntary organisations:

“…it needs to be emphasised that voluntary groups are always harder to run well than more ordinary organisations.”

He describes three different types of voluntary cultures and the problems that they face. The first type of organisation is fellowship. In the Perl community an example would be a Perl Mongers’ group. It’s a group of people who come together for mutual support and enjoyment. Anyone is welcome to join and management would never be spoken of – even though there is management involved in organising meetings and the group may have a leader.

The second type is service. This happens when people realise that it isn’t enough to organise meetings and that more community needs could be met. It gives rise to structured organisations like The Perl Foundation. This is a natural progression but can be a problematic one. The service will be run much more like a standard company as it needs to be managed, controlled and directed.

Why is this problematic?

Handy states that the biggest problem is a change in ethos. Anyone was not only allowed to take part in the fellowship – they were encouraged to do so. But the service only wants specific people with specific skills. In the case of Perl anyone can join the Perl Mongers but not everyone can become part of The Perl Foundation.

The Perl Foundation is looking for new members and I am applying for the role of Steering Committee Chair. Over the next few weeks I will discover whether I have the specific skills required to manage a group of culturally diverse volunteers.

3 Responses to “Problems with Managing Volunteers”

  1. Simon Says:

    What’s the third type? Or should I go read the book? 🙂

  2. Stray Taoist Says:

    If they have any sense, they will give you the job.

  3. karen Says:

    He calls the third type “campaigning” – an organisation that seeks to raise awareness of a cause or to fight for peace or something equally worthy. These organisations are led rather than managed and they again embrace all who want to be involved. They require a very personal and forceful leadership, a person who can clearly articulate what the movement stands for.

    There is a really nice paragraph about how the three voluntary organisation types exist within a church but this loses impact out of context of the rest of the book.

    Don’t buy it. I’ll lend it to you when you are next up in Tokyo.