Article written by Susie Musgrove

Volunteer leadership is a dynamic and ever-evolving space, demanding continuous learning and growth from its professionals. The Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Program for Professional Leaders of Volunteers is a formal avenue for individuals to build their knowledge and skills and recognise their commitment to excellence in volunteer leadership.

Marion Allan, Kate O’Brien, and Nicole Rawson from The Smith Family’s Virtual Volunteering Administration Team completed the CPD Program in December 2023. In this interview, they share their insights and the impact of the CPD Program on their roles as leaders of volunteers.

Commitment to Professional Development

Reflecting on the team’s decision to participate in the CPD Program, Marion highlighted The Smith Family’s dedication to learning and development. She said, “Our organisation is very committed to learning and development for its team members. We have a program called Time to Grow where there’s an allocated amount of time that you can either use weekly or accrue over time.”

This commitment served as a catalyst for the team to embark on their CPD journey together, recognising the program’s potential to enhance both personal and team development.

Nicole noted, “The virtual volunteering space is quite new, so we wanted to explore best practice, and utilise the knowledge provided through participation in the CPD program to create a human-centred, enjoyable but industrious culture for our volunteers.”

Benefits and Flexibility of the CPD Program

The CPD Program’s structured yet flexible approach resonated with the participants. Marion said, “The opportunity was brilliant because it provided learning over the year.” Nicole said, “Having the flexibility and variety of training resources allowed us to pull out what we needed, what was relevant.”

The program also sparked valuable team discussions. Marion mentioned, “We have a check-in and check-out every Monday and Friday, and the CPD program gave us some good points of discussion along the way.”

Practical Implementation of Learnings

One of the most compelling aspects of the CPD Program was its practical applicability. Marion shared, “As we were learning things about current volunteering trends, it really helped us to refocus and tweak some of our documentation and communications.” Kate added, “When you compare our new onboarding materials and volunteer resources to some of our older documentation, you can really see the difference made by us implementing our new knowledge and evidence-based research.”

Nicole highlighted the team’s implementation of the National Standards for Volunteer Involvement: “Interweaving as much of the National Standards as possible into our workflow and interactions with the volunteers has also made such a big difference to the effectiveness of our program.”

Looking Ahead

Looking to the future, the team’s focus is on managing growth effectively. Marion shared, “We are in a period of growth as an organisation, increasing the number of students we support from 60,000 to 100,000! As the workload grows, we need to have enough volunteers to do the work and look at changing the way we manage and distribute the workload.”

Nicole will be concentrating on maintaining a supportive environment. “For me, it’s about making sure I maintain that sense of kindness and support across all our different volunteer teams.”

Kate echoed these sentiments. She said, “We need to focus on finding that balance so that we can grow in a manageable and sustainable way.”

Advice for CPD Program Participants

Offering advice to newcomers to the CPD Program, Kate emphasised the importance of time management, suggesting, “Use your calendar! Schedule time in – make a recurring appointment.”

Nicole shared her practical approach. “I had a little spreadsheet that I would populate as I went… and set myself little goals for every week.”

Marion stressed the value of teamwork. She said, “The thing about doing it together as a team was that accountability factor… the encouragement between each other was really invaluable.”

The experiences shared by Marion, Kate, and Nicole demonstrate the potential of structured professional development to enhance both individual and team performance and show the value of collaboration and lifelong learning. As they continue to lead with excellence, their story serves as an inspiration to other volunteer leaders.

The Smith Family is a national independent charity helping disadvantaged Australian children to get the most out of their education, so they can create better futures for themselves. Find out more.

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