Working with Volunteers
It's important to know something about the nature of volunteers and the organizations with which they work. You need to adapt your way of leading so that it works effectively in this type of setting. At the heart of being a leader in a volunteer organization is learning to work well with the volunteers.
Volunteers talk constantly, and they compare notes, aggravations, and lists of real and imagined grievances. Because they don't have the restraints of employees, the talk can turn into action and even, in extreme cases, mass disaffection. Paid or not, volunteers may still possess information and skills that are critical for the organization.
Market research has shown that, in business at least, customers will, on the average, tell four to six friends, family, and associates about positive experiences. For negative experiences, however, that number jumps to the nine-to-thirteen range. Bad feelings and ill will spread like wildfire.
In a volunteer organization, team members often have leverage in their relationship with leaders. At the same time, you can't be a pandering pushover. Seeking cooperation and using indirect methods in dealing with people will be a necessity.
If you've been developing your leadership skills in a corporate setting, you must learn to moderate your expectations. Even when using the tools of a leader, you can still order people who work for you to do things. When necessary, you can single-handedly set a strategic direction or make an adjustment for some change.
That doesn't work in a volunteer organization. People might want to help you achieve goals, but it's likely a second priority. Even with the complete buy-in you need, you'll have to moderate your expectations. You can still achieve what you need; it just takes additional planning and volunteers.
In nonprofit organizations, you might have to work with volunteers and paid staff to achieve a goal. Both have different sets of motivations and conditions. Staff members are there to advance the organization, but they also have the regular duties of employees. Volunteers don't have the impetus of a paycheck, and yet they have more flexibility because they lack the strict organizational demands on their time.
In such an organization, you'll have to harness both types of help and get them to be productive together. Volunteers need to understand why staff may not be at their beck and call, while the employees have to know that the unpaid contributors are vital to the group's efforts.