Executive Director's log, star date -6558111
Recent discussions led me to research and think a bit about the topic of working with volunteers, an area I also touched upon recently while talking to fellows of the Shuttleworth Foundation. For the FSFE, the concern I have is our ability to give our volunteers the environment they need in which they can be effective. Any volunteer contribution towards our mission is significant, but through our actions, we can be more or less empowering of our volunteers.
A large part of that empowerment is distributed leadership: within the organisation and throughout our network. We must provide the ways in which our volunteers can take the leadership over their respective areas, knowing they have the authority and the backing of the organisation and its staff, in that work. Traditionally, a lot of that authority has been given implicitly, but as with any organisation growing, a large part of this needs to be made more explicit: we need to be transparent about decision making, our internal structures, and be explicit in the roles, responsibilities and authority which our teams have.
Making sure we have this -- and it will take some time to actually get to a point where we can be happy about it -- is only one part of this puzzle though. Staff and volunteers work in symbiosis with each other: the volunteer contributions make it possible for the staff to be effective, and the staff can help make volunteer contributions effective.
I would like to share some key points which I would want to include in this work as we move forward:
- Our teams should be clearly identified, and each team should have a defined purpose and role within the organisation,
- It should be clear what role the volunteers in each team have and how the team communicates and work together,
- Each role in each team should have some defined description: the role of a coordinator in a team will be different from other members in a team, for instance,
- On an organisational level, the FSFE should have a plan for recruiting, onboarding and following up with new volunteers who join us,
- Our plan should not discriminate and ensure the volunteers engaging represent to the best extent possible the diversity of the wider community,
- We should give our volunteers appropriate guidance and orientation, to help them understand the organisation, the different teams, what our common goals are, and important policies like our code of conduct2.
- We should be aware of our respective volunteers' abilities and their available time, shaping the roles within the organisation such that there are opportunities which fit everyone,
- We should be open to change: our volunteers should be included in all parts of the organisation and have the ability to voice their concerns and their thoughts, to help the organisation learn and become better,
- We should recognise, publicly, the important work our volunteers do, regardless of where it happens in the organisation.
There you have it: nine points of key points in working with volunteers, each of which imply a number of changes we need to institute in the FSFE. Some, we are good with, but on all, we can become better, and more structured.
And if you're wondering about the image cover for this post, it draws inspiration from one of the metaphors I used when first starting my work with the FSFE: I compared the working of the organisation (and then, the relation between the staff members) as that of a kitchen: everyone has a role to play and a failure anywhere leads to an incomplete meal, but the successful cooperation of all provide something amazing.
And all of that, from prep to getting the meal to the pass, depends on communication, which can make or break the whole process. If the garnish is not at the pass at the same time as the rest of the meal, you have a problem, and the only way this can be solved is when everyone in the kitchen work together and regularly communicate.
And so it is in non-profits too.
PS. If you want to support the FSFE on its journey onwards, to empower users to control technology, a good way of doing so it so join us.