Published by Rachel Noel on 15th September 2016

Loving Volunteers: Loving those you lead – and inspiring others to do the same, by Richard Steel. Grove Leadership Series No. 3. Reviewed by Ed Davis

Loving Volunteers: Loving those you lead – and inspiring others to do the same, by Richard Steel. Grove Leadership Series No. 3.

Grove Books, 2011, 28 pages, ISBN 978-1-85174-782-5, £3.95.

Reviewed by Ed Davis

loving-volunteersWorking with volunteers is a fundamental to leadership in the charitable sector, and the source of many benefits and challenges. Yet there seem few resources to guide those leading volunteers. Richard Steel’s booklet makes a welcome addition to Grove’s Leadership Series.

He admits his title raised eyebrows. Steel chose ‘loving’ over ‘motivating’, ‘inspiring’ or ‘leading’ because, drawing on Jesus’ example, he believes love is the essence of Christian leaders’ calling towards those for whom they bear responsibility. It illustrates his concern to prioritize the wellbeing of those who serve as well as the organization.

Steel offers chapters on Why People Volunteer and What the Leader Can Do to Respond, Loving and Leading, The Spiritual Side of Volunteering, and Gen X and Beyond. He clearly draws on substantial experience in the Church and beyond – his enthusiasm for working with volunteers is tangible. He has a good grasp of the value volunteers can bring to an organization if allowed to flourish – and also the distinct challenges. Of particular value is the chapter on Gen X and Beyond, which explores the seismic shift in how younger generations approach volunteering – and implications for the future. Here is a challenge to complacent notions of ‘Big Society’.

Within the constraints of the Grove format, Steel identifies challenges, but doesn’t always work through complexities. Examples include the tone-deaf octogenarian chorister (what constitutes a loving response either now or 60 years ago?) and implementing unsuitable suggestions to make a volunteer feel valued (how to safeguard the organization’s effectiveness?). There are occasional contradictions: Christian volunteers are driven by love, yet a later summary of motivations includes habit, duty, guilt, self-interest and being in the wrong place at the wrong time! Quotations from volunteers give a grounded feel, but sometimes seem too anecdotal to substantiate broader observations. It would help to address practical considerations such as how to: recruit to a team of volunteers, manage conflict between volunteers, and establish mutual expectations between volunteers and organizations.

Grove Booklets carry the strap-line: ‘Not the last word… but often the first’. This is a fair comment on Loving Volunteers, which provides an entry point. By focusing on love, it provides a valuable corrective to overly instrumentalist approaches to volunteers.

Revd Ed Davis is Anglican and Coordinating Chaplain, University of Bristol.

This review first appeared in MODEM Matters Issue 16 in May 2011.

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