Volunteer managers: This new service is here to solve your conflict resolution issues

Some conflict is a good thing in most teams – and that’s as true for teams of volunteers as it is for paid staff.

But what happens if conflict with – or between – your organisation’s volunteers gets to a level where it’s hurting your organisation or the people involved?

That’s what a new trial service called Voluntas aims to resolve. Accessible through the Centre for Volunteering, Voluntas aims to help both volunteers and volunteer managers with conflict resolution through mediation.

Here’s some background about Voluntas and how it can work for you and your NFP, from Voluntas committee member Steve Lancken:

So what is Voluntas?

Voluntas is a group of like-minded people including mediation professionals and members of volunteer and not-for-profit (NFP) organisations. We believe that constructive, timely conversations with a neutral person guiding the discussion will make a difference in the volunteering sector to improve dignity, respect and fairness for anyone experiencing conflict.

And what does Voluntas do?

The Voluntas program is a trial service that focuses on helping volunteers – those who willingly give their time for the common good and without financial gain – and volunteer managers to have constructive conversations.

This help is provided by accredited mediators free of charge to the volunteer or organisation. The service is confidential.

Why develop this new program?

Conflict is a part of everyday life. Most people and organisations resolve conflict themselves. Unresolved conflicts and badly managed disputes, however, give rise to risks and costs that damage volunteers and their organisations.

The Centre for Volunteering and other organisations have told us that volunteers and volunteer managers often don’t know where to get help if they are experiencing ongoing conflict in their organisation.

Further, volunteers and NFPs generally have little or no budget for professional mediation services.

We believe that early assistance in transforming conflict through constructive conversations can prevent conflict from escalating and can resolve conflicts more quickly. This can help everyone get on with the task of contributing through their valuable volunteer work.

Our aim is to create an organisation through which mediation professionals offer their expertise for free to the volunteering sector. For mediators, it provides more opportunities for them to be mentored and supported whilst practising and developing their mediation skills.

How is The Centre for Volunteering involved?

The Centre for Volunteering is the first contact point for the pilot service. Volunteers and organisations are asked to contact the Centre if they are aware of, or are directly involved in, a dispute that could benefit from the assistance of an independent mediator.

The Centre then passes on basic details to Voluntas mediators, who assess whether the situation could be assisted by a professional mediator. Voluntas will contact the individual requesting the service. Any inquiries or referrals are completely confidential.

What happens after The Centre refers the case?

There are five steps after the case is referred:

  1. If assessed to be suitable for the program, Voluntas will refer the conflict to an appropriate nationally accredited mediator from its panel.
  2. The mediator will contact the participants to confirm that they agree to receiving assistance in ‘Transforming Conflict through Constructive Conversations’, and then assess if the dispute is appropriate for the Pilot Scheme.
  3. The mediator will arrange the process including any preliminary meetings.
  4. Voluntas and the mediator will organise venues and make other arrangements.
  5. Participants and organisations will be asked to evaluate the service and share their story in an unidentifiable way.

And for what kinds of situations would this service be suitable?

Some situations that could potentially benefit from this service:

  • Conflict or argument between volunteers;
  • Conflict or argument between volunteers and their supervisors;
  • Conflict or argument between volunteers and volunteer organisations and stakeholders;
  • Conflict about the volunteer role;
  • Complaints about volunteer recognition, engagement or reimbursement of expenses; and
  • Concerns about volunteer treatment, suggestions of discrimination, harassment or bullying.

What if someone’s case is not considered suitable for mediation?

If a situation is assessed as being unlikely to be assisted by the constructive conversations pilot, the mediator will explain why.

For instance, it may be a highly complex legal or financial issue and therefore not suitable. The mediator may suggest other avenues for dispute resolution, including Community Justice Centres, which also provide free services in relation to disputes.

How long is the trial period?

The trial service is expected to run for six months – from February to August 2016. The aim is to identify whether there is a need for this type of service and any common themes or issues that cause conflict for volunteers and volunteer organisations.

How can an organisation or volunteer get involved?

If you are experiencing conflict as outlined here and wish to access to the Voluntas pilot service, please contact the Centre for Volunteering to assist with the referral.

For more information and resources, the NSW Government has released a conflict resolution toolkit on the NSW Volunteering website.

The Q&A portion of this post was originally published by the Centre for Volunteering and republished with permission.

Has your organisation developed good conflict resolution processes? Please share your experience in the comments below!

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