But how much control is really needed? And what are the consequences of getting it wrong?
During my years working with volunteers I’ve seen some of the results of micromanaging volunteers:
· volunteers become stifled
· skills go unused
· volunteers become disengaged
· they feel undervalued
· they become overburdened with paperwork and reporting
· volunteers are seen as a nice “add on” but people believe that really you need to pay someone to get the job done
In the worst case volunteers vote with their feet and leave because they can’t do what they volunteered to do.
Many people seem to think that the alternative to micromanagement is no management at all – simply throw volunteers out there and see what they do. But this just isn’t the case.
Volunteers will flourish in an environment where they are given support, information, guidance and resources to carry out the role they have chosen to do. There can be plenty of contact with staff (or with senior volunteers) without there being an attempt to control or know the tiniest detail of everything every volunteer does.
Some time ago the head of volunteering at a large, volunteer-led charity was asked why they trusted volunteers to build relationships with the local press without any controls or checks on press releases by staff. The response was that the huge volume of excellent press coverage gained by volunteers made it well worth dealing with the very occasional (although sometimes serious) issue of bad or incorrect coverage, i.e. the benefit outweighed the risk. If they stopped volunteers speaking directly to the press they would lose out on a lot of great coverage.
I believe this is something more charities should consider. When deciding whether a volunteer can do something we sometimes just think of the risk, but we should think about the benefits too, and also of the risks if they didn’t do it.
If we have the right volunteers doing the right roles with good support we should be able to trust and empower them to get out there and do it. This is now common practice when managing staff, and the same should apply to volunteers. If you trust a suitably trained and supported staff member to do a certain task you should trust a suitably trained and supported volunteer to do the same task. We are all humans after all.