Atiya Hakeem 2015 Q&A: Volunteer Management

What is your approach to people management and development?

Recruit people willing to learn, show them how to do the job, help them if they have problems, and encourage them to use their initiative to figure out how to do the job better.

How would you build the organisation’s capacity and ensure we are making the most of volunteers’ energy and skills?

I think a better relationship between Board and committees is a basic first step. Board needs to be supportive of the Orgs committees, both in terms of ensuring they have the resources they need and in terms of allowing them room to do their work without encumbering bureaucracy. In such an environment, committee chairs will be able to better focus attention on their projects, including ensuring that their staffers and volunteers are trained, supported, and mentored.

A lot of the tensions between the Board, Committees, Volunteers and the public stem from the fact that a lot of those volunteers over-invest because they are passionate about fandom, end up close to burnout, and tend to be overworked, which isn’t sustainable in the long run.
A) In your experience as an OTW volunteer/staffer/Board member, how did you deal with this, both for yourself as with people you were responsible for,
B) How would you promote an atmosphere where volunteers don’t feel this pressure?

I don’t agree that volunteer overwork is the cause of the tensions between groups. I think the issue is more that each group feels a sense of ownership in the Org (or one or more of its projects) and that they are unhappy if they feel that things are being poorly run and they aren’t being allowed input or given respect. The fact that many volunteers put in a great deal of work can, of course, add to their feeling of investment, and the feeling of resentment when they feel they are being mistreated.

I think that feelings of investment are not at all a bad thing. They motivate the public to support the OTW’s projects both by their participation and their donations; they motivate volunteers to work hard to ensure the Org’s projects succeed, and they motivate staffers to run for Board. The solution is to work to give each group a reasonable level of input and control. For the public, there should be transparency and opportunities to voice their opinions. Volunteers should always be kept up to date on the doings of the Org’s leadership, and should have forums such as Open Board meetings and Office Hours to be heard. Committees should be granted as much autonomy as possible to run their projects, and should be involved in decisions that affect them. Always, at every level, people should be given respect for their contributions.

I think hard work and long hours are much less likely to cause burnout than the feeling that one’s work is unappreciated or futile; these solutions should help with that.