Nurturing potential via voluntary organisations

by Penny Sharland


Organisations in which people give enormous amounts of their life to the work, and in which people are giving a great deal and getting very little, need to ask what the costs are.


What is the cost to the work?

It is possible to devote a great deal of time and effort to the job without being very effective.  People may not be taking time to stand back and reflect on their work; development may be restricted as people repeat existing skills rather than learning new ones.  Those who are new may have fresh ideas and a different perspective.  Without time taken to assess current skills, redistribute  tasks, and plan training, the organisation will fail to be as effective as it could be.


What is the cost to the people?

"Getting the job done", no matter what the cost to staff and volunteers can lead to poor health, damage to relationships and self esteem, ineffective work, and dangers in the workplace.  Staff may burn out,  have accidents, leave or withdraw from the team.  Personal animosities can develop because differences are left to fester and a high turnover of staff can make the delivery of the service inconsistent and disjointed.  Paid staff may even find themselves stuck - unable to get another job because of their own low self esteem, or because of poor references and feeling they are not valued, or not doing their best for the organisation long after they enjoy it, and feel guilty about wanting to leave.  Others fail to turn up, but have no opportunity to say why their commitment is wavering.


What are the costs to the service user?

If the organisation focuses only on the task, then in the short term the users of the service will probably get a good deal.  In the long term though the service on offer may deteriorate.  People may drift away and it will be hard to encourage new users.  The reputation of the organisation in the local community may be damaged and the effectiveness of the service therefore compromised.



Balance is the key to effective work, and people working with voluntary organisations need to consider their own personal balance in terms of their work pattern and their lifestyle.


A balanced work pattern:  






Salary satisfaction

Personal development

Values into practice

Skills and knowledge  


  Giving to the job    Getting from the job



A balanced lifestyle:  









The managers and funders of the organisation also need to consider the balance between task and process within the time available for work.


Balance of task and process  

Delivery of the service

Development of new ideas


Staff meetings  



Staff development

Training on site

Supervision, Staff meetings

Courses off site

Use of external consultant

Social events,

Talking over coffee 





If the balance is right the benefits will be substantial.


The benefits to the organisation

To be really effective an organisation must build in time to review and evaluate progress, to check priorities and to ensure that staff are trained and supported.  Investing in staff and volunteers results in better work, a greater likelihook of achieving the aims and a better chance of surviving the difficult changes facing many voluntary organisations in the nineties.


The benefits to the people

People with entrepreneurial flair, who use inventive and ingenious ways to work with few resources, still need training and time to look at the process of their work, how they work together,  how they support each other, and how effective they are.  It is important to find the right sort of training properly to meet their needs, and one which does not force them into a commercial or statutory sector model of work.


Organisations which are rooted in caring values have a moral duty to care for their staff and volunteers.  If people give of themselves at work, they deserve and should learn to expect investment in them

            to refresh and challenge them;

            to inform and improve knowledge and skills;

            to help deal positively with change and disappointment;

            to ensure they contribute effectively to the work.

It is obvious that if staff feel valued and respected they will work better.


Benefits to the service users

If the service is effectively organised, able to adapt to new circumstances, manage change, listen to the views of the users,  and model a way of valuing its staff, then service users will recognise this and want to be a part of it.



Organisations like Framework can contribute to this quest for balance in voluntary organisations.  We ourselves model a way of working which allows us a proper balance between giving and getting; we take time to get training, supervision, and to review; we spend time together, and we balance our work with other interests.

In our work with organisations we work with staff and volunteers both on the content of their work, e.g. an organisational review or a planning day - and on the way in which they do that work, e.g. a training needs analysis or training on communication.  In this way organisations are reminded of the balance between the task and the process, and will become more effective as a result.


[With special thanks to Framework colleagues]


The author of this article works with Framework North.  Penny describes Framework as an independent sector organisation delivering training and consultancy to the not-for-profit sector. 


Framework can be contacted at:

20 Shawclough Drive,


Lancashire OL12 7HG.

Telephone: 0706 48067  

Website: www.framework.org.uk