Managing a Voluntary Sector Organisation - Yasmin talks about her role at Derby Women's Centre
Think about volunteering when you're in paid employment. Yasmin says: 'I still continue to volunteer and find that this keeps me involved at a grass-roots level. It gives me the opportunity to give something positive back to the community in terms of my skills and experience. Small organisations are primarily volunteer-led and therefore they do not have the capacity or resources to access or buy in specialist support and so by volunteering my time I am able to develop my own skills and at the same time help develop the skills and capacity of another organisation.'
Being the eldest of 5 children, I was always planning, organising and leading some activity or other for my younger brothers and sisters and, when not busy doing that or sometimes at the same time (!), I would be mediating or negotiating as to who was going to have control of the television remote or whose turn it was to do a particular chore, or even engaged in some of form of risk management or conflict resolution. Looking back now, I guess this was the stage where I began to unconsciously develop, nurture and put into practice some of the skills I would later need and rely upon as a manager in the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS).
I knew from about the age of 5 that I wanted to help people in some way or other and by the age of 14 I knew I wanted to support people and communities to address issues of inequality, injustice and isolation, but in particular I wanted to focus on women's issues.
At the age of 14, I joined a local youth group and began to conceptualise the type of job/career I wanted for myself. The youth group activities not only offered me the springboard I needed to hone and develop the future skills and experiences I would need to work in VCS, but also brought me into contact with committed, professional, passionate and inspirational youth and community workers.
At the time of joining the youth group, there were growing tensions between the Indian and Pakistani communities in my area, based on the political tensions back in India and Pakistan. This growing tension was at odds with my own experiences. Although it didn't impact directly on my friendship with my Indian friends, it was a source of growing concern for both communities in the UK.
Through the youth group, and under the guidance of the youth worker, we explored ways in which we could negate the growing tensions and identify pathways through which we could bring the commonalities of both communities to the fore and put aside issues which divided us. The commonalities we agreed were based on the shared heritage of history, music, language and dress. And so was born the very ambitious plan to host the first National Outdoor Asian Arts and Music Festival. What an experience this proved to be!
I had the privilege of being amongst the founding members of APNA ARTS (the festival organisers), and at the age of 18 was one of the main volunteers with responsibility for co-ordinating office functions and supporting and directing other volunteers. This volunteering opportunity proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made and one I would whole-heartedly recommend to all, irrespective of whether they're in employment or not.
During the course of the next two festivals, I learned about fundraising, financial planning and management, risk management and partnership working. In addition I learned that to be successful in the sector you needed to have the ability to think laterally, to be innovative, resourceful, and occasionally to take calculated risks to achieve the required results - this is not for the faint hearted. But above all, to succeed you need to be passionate and committed to helping those who are marginalised, isolated and unable to participate as full and active citizens in their communities because of barriers of language, disability, race, gender, health, religion, sexuality and what is now commonly referred to as social exclusion.
I have moved on from volunteering to work in a variety of paid roles. I have worked for a Council for Voluntary Services, in the Regeneration and Development Directorate as the manager of the Capacity Building Service. I have worked for Connexions as the manager of the Mentoring Programme, and I have been Deputy Director of a local Racial Equality Council.
In my current role as manager of Derby Women's Centre, I manage a team of 9 full and part-time staff. The skills required to do this include the ability to manage, lead, motivate, inspire and delegate. I have responsibility for ensuring continued funding and sustainability of the organisation. This requires a lot of patience, resourcefulness and the ability to write bids, understand budgets and to be thick-skinned because ultimately I am responsible for sustaining the salary of 9 individuals.
A typical day for me at the moment involves several meetings to discuss current and future projects, research, supervising staff and responding to issues, keeping the Chair of the organisation in the loop, ensuring health and safety is adhered to and networking with partners and competitors alike.
Some of the key skills used on a daily basis are written and verbal communication skills, for instance giving presentations, public speaking and report writing. Other skills include leading, motivating and inspiring staff and being able to listen, hear and understand what is being said and not said: the ability to read between the lines can be useful, as is the necessity to be patient, sensitive and tactful. When dealing with sensitive issues and information it is important to listen, be empathetic, non-judgemental and discrete.
As part of my journey to this point, I have learned a lot on the job, but I have also been involved in study at university. At the moment, I am studying community regeneration. This is providing me with the underpinning knowledge to complement my existing and continued work practice. In addition I have validated my management practice through the NVQ Level 4 in Management, and a Level 3 in Mentoring and Coaching. I have attended various small courses and workshops such as Supervision Skills, Employment Law, Financial Planning, Conflict Resolution etc. Continued development is crucial in any sphere - and particularly in the VCS, because of the need to influence or respond to social policy initiatives, the changing and evolving agenda locally and nationally, or just to keep abreast of employment law or other key developments and initiatives.
I still continue to volunteer and find that this keeps me involved at a grass-roots level. It gives me the opportunity to give something positive back to the community in terms of my skills and experience. Small organisations are primarily volunteer-led and therefore they do not have the capacity or resources to access or buy in specialist support and so by volunteering my time I am able to develop my own skills and at the same time help develop the skills and capacity of another organisation.
On a personal level, I have enjoyed the challenges and setbacks encountered during my journey, but the most rewarding aspect for me has to be the knowledge that I am making a positive contribution to changing things for the better for those who feel they are not able to make the changes on their own. The most challenging aspect of managing a small organisation is being a jack of all trades and a master of none! This is perhaps the only job in which you can be the manager, the administrator, counsellor and cleaner all at once!
If you'd like to pursue a career in the VCS it is important that you first gain some experience in the sector through volunteering or getting involved in the numerous activities and opportunities which exist. In addition whilst studying it is important to develop transferable skills like written and verbal communication (useful when presenting ideas and information); research (useful when planning new services or activities or applying for jobs); presentation (useful for interviews and when sharing information with groups); marketing (useful when branding and promoting); budgeting/financial planning (useful when costing projects and services); negotiation (useful for getting the best deal/price/service/salary); listening (useful for everything!) and team work - (in any sphere of employment, team work is important for sharing ideas, concepts, expertise, skills and workload).
There are many resources and materials available online about the VCS and the one that I would direct anyone considering working in the sector to would be the Community Development Exchange (CDX). This is a really useful resource and covers the values and principles of Community Development which underpin the work that I and others do. An understanding of Social Policy, Discrimination, and Social Exclusion would be a good starting point to understanding the social and political context of the work the sector is engaged. I would recommend journals such as Critical Social Policy and Social Policy and Society.
Working in the sector can be very rewarding but equally very frustrating. The majority of people who do so are poorly paid in comparison to other sectors, they work on short term contracts - sometimes as short as six months - have little or no job security, and do not always receive the recognition they deserve for working in some very difficult circumstances. However, the majority who do work in the sector do so because they are driven, passionate individuals whose reward and job satisfaction is derived mainly from helping others to make a difference.