Lessons in Volunteerism

Posted by Stephen Lemire on August 24, 2012 at 9:55 AM

Not only have I been an executive director for a number of different nonprofits that relied on its volunteer board of directors as well as some volunteer staff, I have also served as a volunteer board member and staffer at other organizations. Aside from their major responsibilities and roles within the nonprofit, it is important, many times, to recognize that they are all volunteers when thinking about major concepts such as recruitment, retention, satisfaction, and performance.

What I have learned as an Executive Director

It's helpful for nonprofits to focus on their volunteers as individuals rather than as a group. With this in mind, it is useful to recognize that there are many varied reasons why volunteers participate (to further the mission, to use their skills, to feed their ego, to network, to socialize, etc.). If you are able to best recognize the individual's primary reason for volunteering then you can place them in the most appropriate setting(s) which will hold their interest, make them feel valued, and keep them coming back to be productive.

(There are, however, some group considerations such as a founding board which can be unique.


What I require to be an effective volunteer Board Member

Assure that my role is focused on the big picture

Do not allow me to feel that my time, effort, nor energy is being wasted

Provide me with needed information in advance of meetings to help me be prepared

Present me only with actionable items, not reports

Make my opinions matter – that they be considered, not necessarily implemented

Make me feel respected

Identify my unique skills versus those of other board members

Do not duplicate my efforts with those of other board members

Do not consider me to just be a blank check

Do not expect me to serve on too many standing committees

Help me to continually become a better board member – provide board development

What I require to be a productive Volunteer Staffer

Help me see the big picture that I am contributing to

Make me feel appreciated

Make me feel like part of the organization, not an appendage

Assign me to specific tasks and responsibilities

Teach me how to do a certain job, if needed

Do not have me go through the motions or waste my time

Do not duplicate my efforts with those of other volunteers

Help me to continually become a better volunteer – provide training

Volunteers can be the lifeblood for so many nonprofits. How they are treated will go a long way to determine whether or not they keep coming back, if they bring others to volunteer with them, whether or not they have positive things to say about your organization, and, ultimately, if they are productive.

Categories: Nonprofits, Executive Directors, Management

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