An interesting theme ran through several conversations I had over the past few weeks … people were either frustrated in volunteer roles or people couldn’t figure out how to engage volunteers.

Oddly, the frustrated volunteers were exactly the type of people the other group was looking for.

After spending a significant amount of time in the non-profit sector and working with military reservists and cadets I saw several very comprehensive programs established to effectively lead volunteers. Quite frankly those efforts kept those who didn’t know how to lead employed and gave consultants a decent revenue stream.

In my opinion, the only difference between leading a volunteer and leading employees is a system of compensation.

I recall a staff meeting when a manager started complaining about volunteers who were given tasks and when that staff person checked in after a couple of months the work was not done to her satisfaction. I spoke up and asked, what would you do if one of your paid supervisors left another employee for months with poorly defined tasks and then got angry when it wasn’t done right?

The response …”I would discipline them!” Really! The only problem I had was to figure out if this person was the pot or the kettle.

A terrific friend of mine who is a very accomplished businessperson and a community leader of the highest order related to me that she had been asked to take part in a membership drive. At the inaugural committee meeting a consultant sat everyone down and instructed them all on what they must do as part of the committee. These volunteers are all very accomplished in their own right and to be treated like five year olds must have been very off putting.

How would you respond this was your boss talking to you like that? Let alone how you might respond as a volunteer.

I served with volunteers who when given authority, responsibility and were held to account lead the responses to some of the most complex disasters of our time. I saw reservists when treat like the professional soldiers they were accomplish super human tasks.

Whether paid or unpaid, people want to:

  • Have honourable and engaging work to do;
  • Be given clear expectations
  • Feel they are part of something bigger than they are;
  • Be employed at or above their current capacity; and,
  • Be respected and appreciated.

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