Changing Volunteer Blues - TurnAround Executive Coaching

I’ve had experience with three effective volunteer organizations – the United Methodist Women, the typical traditional Black Church, and an Indo-Chinese Caucus. Of course, you may know many others.775_6051438

If you want to grow and scale your mission – do you have a chance of success with volunteers?

A lot of us are very familiar with difficult volunteers on committees, co op boards, community boards, and church trustees. Finding volunteer structures which work well is like the bitcoin investments. They look reasonable but most people are finding bitcoin mine (fields)!

What lessons can we see from non-profits that use effective volunteer teams?

  1. They believe in the mission. Women were excluded from mission activity in the Methodist Church so they made their own organization. Literally, thousands of small committees sprang up to meet, hold fundraisers, and spread the vision. After the organization became wildly successful, the men suggested merging the two organizations 😊
  2. They are accountable. I remember three all-stars
    • A woman who started a food bank, expanded to a network and got government funding
    • A woman who was in charge of sound, lighting and media weekly for 5 years and always professional and on time
    • A woman who played as a volunteer in a band and was practiced and professional

Sadly, I did not take their good examples to spread a culture of accountability in the organizations. It is socially awkward and sometimes splits small organizations when families are involved and one member is called to accountability. One family with 5 children wanted a church to provide a part time job to the oldest undisciplined boy. He was called to task after wrecking a riding mower but the family still left the church.

3. They have the skills and interest in the job that they accepted. There was a screening process that ignored politics and chose people who could actually do the job. I remember a chair of a Boys and Girls Club who was enthusiastic about generosity and also raised funds. Contrast that with people who get on the Finance and Stewardship committee because they are nosy

4. They are recognized. The traditional Black church has been very effective with titles and recognition to sincerely thank people who accept the volunteer responsibility.

5. They have a sense of community. The Indo-Chinese caucus had meetings until 2 in the morning and endless other meetings to drive action that affected American Indo-Chinese communities and homelands. No one looked at the clock because there was such power in solidarity.

Most of the websites that I check tell you about effective practice for volunteers. Since you’re reading this, your problem is taking an ineffective structure for volunteers and changing it!

When you start the process, you are going to get pushback from stakeholders who like things the way that they are:

  • Volunteers who took a job for status and self-esteem
  • Volunteers who feel that they have earned an important job because of loyalty
  • Family members who believe the reports of someone who got caught
  • Volunteers who see the money in an organization and look for ways to enrich themselves
  • Pressure groups who see the volunteer as their voice, regardless of other issues
  • Volunteers who are champions of stability in a time of change so they really want to be volunteers at large instead of accountable for a specific task that they have been assigned
  • Volunteers who see this assignment as good for their resume so they are short term and don’t want interference

Getting past these barriers to effective volunteering is a lonely and soul-searing task at times. And volunteering is declining in the USA (Murphy, 2015). So we are getting the volunteer dregs plus the smaller number of qualified people.

I honestly can’t think of a solution that does not involve coaching. The coach offers the leadership team support and clarifies the plan to be effective and successful through volunteer support.

Maybe you’re tempted to give up after this report? Never!  Volunteer effort still remains a powerful resource to scale your nonprofit work! Like everything else, you can’t do something meaningful that doesn’t involve emotions.

The golden nugget – accept some uncomfortable emotions and get a coach to guide the process of the leadership group. Success and a culture of accountability  is the result!


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Murphy, N. (2015). 3 Disturbing Facts About Volunteering in AmericaThe Cheat Sheet. Retrieved 11 March 2018, from

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