3 ways to improve your volunteer program from Australian Red Cross’ Roz Wollmering

Red Cross Volunteers

Roz Wollmering manages 30,000 volunteers as the National Manager Voluntary Service at Australian Red Cross. Here, Roz shares some practical tips and inspiration for volunteer and human resources managers who have the challenging task of recruiting, retaining and motivating today’s volunteers.

Roz Wollmering will be a guest speaker at this year’s Not for Profit People Conference November 13-14 in Melbourne.

I love working in the not for profit sector because…

It really matters. My passion for promoting volunteering in the NFP sector has had a profound effect on my personal development, my wellbeing, and my connection to others in addition to helping to change the world. My life choices have been guided by this passion because I believe it matters and because it reflects who I am.

What do you do at Red Cross?

I motivate and inspire people to open their hearts and minds to the benefits of volunteering. I do this through passion and action and a genuine belief that volunteering builds more connected, empathetic individuals and communities.

I also develop strategic frameworks, monitor implementation plans, write reports – lots of reports actually, negotiate boundaries, and get frustrated by set-backs, barriers and challenges. That’s when I imagine a world where everyone has the opportunity to volunteer.

What led you to develop a new strategy for volunteering at Red Cross?

As part of a seven-year, across-the-board reform at Red Cross, we momentarily took our eyes off voluntary service and in our strategic mid-term review, we realised that we needed to refocus. We had become complacent.

More recently, we recognised that valuing voluntary service required cultural change and a strategic commitment. Who are we without volunteers? As a humanitarian movement, the principle of voluntary service is integral to everything we do, every day and in every way. The world around us was changing. Our options were: change with it, be the change or become irrelevant. We chose to be the change.

What are the most important changes that you’ve made to the Red Cross volunteer program?

Some important changes I promote are:

1)    Steer away from what volunteers can offer, but rather, what can voluntary service offer your clients and communities. Let’s stop looking at our own toes and call upon ourselves to be better partners externally.

2)    Empower and support volunteers by connecting them to the causes they care about. Gone are the days of instructing volunteers to do tasks. Today’s talented volunteers seek engagement that uses their full skill set and commitment, in contributing to social change, influencing the community agenda and enhancing connections between people.

3)    Recognise the need to invest in building our own capacity – our people, systems and resources. This investment includes systems, infrastructure, capacity and increased financial resources dedicated to support voluntary service.

How have you measured the success of the volunteer program at Red Cross?

Like any humanitarian and social change endeavour, measuring the success of a volunteer program is incredibly challenging. Some of our volunteers have been volunteering for years, and I wonder if we’ve ever asked them what the measures of success are from their perspective?

That’s why we seek stories from the people we work with in the community and ask them:

  • How has volunteering affected them and their lives?
  • Has volunteering connected them to others in their communities?
  • How is the volunteer experience shaping their lives and changing who they are?

In terms of recognising cultural change at the organisational level, it doesn’t take long to intuitively know if a culture of valuing volunteering is present when entering an office or building. You can see it, hear it and feel it in your heart and all around you.

What is the major difference between managing paid staff and managing volunteers?

Firstly, let me say that that managing staff and volunteers must be an integrated approach.

However, a manager of volunteers can’t use payroll, award systems, employment law, and other management policies and controls to motivate, reward and achieve success with volunteers. Therefore, in considering the differences, in my experience, a manager of volunteers relies on certain capabilities to achieve success;

  • Influence;
  • Negotiation;
  • Integrity;
  • Networking;
  • Motivational analysis;
  • Communication;
  • Trust

I think there is less management control and power and a more level playing field. Often, there are deep complexities related to personal values and identities at the cutting and defining edge of “how much contribution will I give?” Being aware of and attending to these is vital.

What do you think is the biggest current threat to the not for profit sector?

Ourselves. Becoming moralistic, egocentric. Not seeing the need to change and adapt. Not seeing a horizon of hope. Not working together, not working across sectors.

Meet Roz and hear more about how Red Cross’ volunteer management experience can help your organisation’s volunteer program succeed, at the Not-For-Profit People Conference on 13-14 November.

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