“When you can lead volunteers well, you can lead almost anyone.” John C. Maxwell The complete 101 collection
Leading volunteers is vastly different than being a boss at work. Volunteering is a service. Benevolent people work for a cause through service. Those who lead any service group commit to a cause worthy of their support. However, some are not so charitable and choose to join an organization for perks instead of the work. That’s what makes leading a volunteer organization so tricky.
It’s hard to manage everyone’s commitment level. Also, there are constant streams of tasks that urgently grab your attention.
If you have led a volunteer organization, then you’ll be able to sympathize with others who have. I have volunteered for several positions at my church to better my leadership experiences. Here are three things you need to know to effectively lead a volunteer organization.
Ask for help, and people will come
It may be the same people every time, but they’ll come. Human beings are hard-wired to serve because we want to feel useful. There’s a purpose to live when you extend to others an invitation to serve. You’re allowing people to help one another.
On several occasions, I have asked people to attend moves for members of our congregation, participate in park clean-ups, and donate canned goods and packaged products for food banks. Frequently, I’m there to chip in alongside these good people who chose to serve.
It can be discouraging when only a few people show up to a project that requires many to accomplish. However, your task is to manage the resources you have, people included, to best achieve the tas.
Here’s how to manage your resources:
1. Ask how many it takes to do a job on your list.
2. Ask what equipment/resources you need to get each job done.
3. Prioritize your list.
4. Make a shift rotation for longer jobs
This list is challenging. But, when you’re working with volunteer schedules, resources, and attitudes, you have to manage your own expectations about what gets done. This makes your job a little harder, but it’ll keep your volunteers well-informed if you do it right.
Explain your vision and motivation will follow
I remember one of my Army bosses put unit us leaders into a room to design a vision statement for the unit. It was tedious and laborious, but it was worth it in the end. Finally, the group started to buy-into the vision statement and work more effectively.
Similarly, you can share your vision with your volunteers. People are inspired by leaders who have a vision, however great or small. It allows individuals to shape their opinions and life tasks to contribute to a worthy cause. You don’t have to go through a week-long seminar to understand your vision, but you have to share it through your actions, thoughts, and conversations with your volunteers.
If you want a useful resource for creating your vision, I recommend Start with Why by Simon Sinek or The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey. These are the two of the best thinkers on leadership.
When I have to make a vision statement or develop a mission plan, I ask myself a series of questions. I ask myself:
1. What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?.
2. What do you believe in?
3. Why do I believe in this cause?
Next, write that down and share it with others and why it’s important to you. Inevitably, someone else will be inspired by what you said or did, which will inspire others to act as well.
Not everyone wants to participate, and that’s OK
The hardest thing to remember is that you’re not going to inspire everyone. You have to be content with that. Also remember, not even Martin Luther King Jr. converted everyone to his way of thinking, nor Joan of Arc, nor General Robert E. Lee, nor Abraham Lincoln, and the list goes on. If they couldn’t get everyone to participate, then take comfort in your abilities to work with those who have chosen to volunteer.
Rejection is part of being in charge of a volunteer group. You’ll even face rejection from within your group, and that’s OK. That’s how a group blossoms into something more significant. Talk to the people in your organization and see how you can make it better.
The best way to learn from your mistakes is to review your work. Here’s how I do it:
1. What was my mission?
2. What did we do well before the event? What can we improve on for planning and resource gathering?
3. What did we do well during the event? What can we improve on during the event?
4. What did we do well after the event? What can we improve on after the event?
It seems redundant, but this will save you in the future when you plan similar events. You learn from each experience and apply it to the future. Many volunteer organizations (and working organizations) do not take the time to review themselves objectively. You find problems and develop solutions quicker, maintain things you do well, and refine your administrative processes to create a capable team.
The ones you need to pay attention to are those who fully contribute to your organization. Critics and complainers will always find something to gripe about, so don’t waste your time with them. Instead, focus on building up your area and take relevant criticism to heart when needed.
There’s a reason why volunteer organizations are some of the most challenging places to lead. You’re operating with an unstable workforce coupled with significant responsibilities. Despite this, your vision means everything to your volunteers. So make it known.
Volunteer organizations are the lifeblood of society and contribute to a variety of global solutions. You just need the vision to make it happen!
Have you ever led a volunteer organization? What are some issues you ran into? Let me know in the comment section below.