The Challenge of Leading Volunteers

The ability to recruit, motivate and maintain volunteers is a daunting task. I did a poll on LinkedIn regarding challenges of Volunteer Leadership and the results were split between “inspiring volunteers to work”(36%) and “keeping volunteers long-term”(32%). From the comments of respondents, it seems that these two issues are the chicken-and-egg of volunteering. Some people felt that, if volunteers are inspired to work they will be definition stay long-term. Others felt that volunteers who were committed to long-term involvement were more likely to be inspired to work.

 In the conversation that ensued, one thing became clear. Volunteers have to understand expectations.  A
Leading Volunteers  s one person put it, “(Volunteers) must have defined roles, otherwise they feel lost, bored and neglected.”Perhaps this is the link that combines all of the issues. It is difficult to be inspired to work if I don’t know what the ultimate contribution of my work will be. It is also difficult (if not impossible) to be committed enough to stay long-term if I don’t feel I have a view of what my role is in accomplishing the overall objectives. Many organizations do a great job at espousing their vision…as an organization. Where they fall short perhaps is in stating their vision (and understanding) for the contribution of volunteers.

While I said before that having a clearly stated objective is important, having a fairly formalized process for describing the role of the volunteer may be the key to success. Many volunteer organizations shy away from putting things on paper because they don’t want to box in their volunteers in terms of responsibilities. But without this clarity of role, there should be no expectation from the leader that volunteers will be accountable to those responsibilities.

One other thing I have to say based on feedback I’ve received from readers. If you are asked to be on the Board of a volunteer organization and you do not have the time or commitment to actually fulfill that obligation with 100% integrity and effort, politely pass on the offer. There appears to be an epidemic of Board members who only show up for the big fund raisers or the showy political stuff, but when it comes to the operational meetings of the top committee, they relegate the Board meeting to somewhere after a dentist appointment or walking the dog in the rain. It is not fair to the organization, nor will it be fulfilling to you, if you are not able to follow-through on your leadership commitment. It is far more helpful, and authentic, to avoid Board or committee appointments unless you can truly commit.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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