Take off the kid gloves: Promoting accountability in volunteers

I recently read a terrific blog post “Yes You Can Fire Volunteers” written by Peggy Hoffman*, President of Mariner Management & Marketing LLC, and a dedicated volunteer herself. She clearly articulates what I believe was her frustration at the general lack of management that appears to happen within the area of ‘volunteer management’ summed up with the conclusion ‘you can fire volunteers!’

Her post immediately struck me. My first reaction was to respond via the comment section and thank her for so succinctly identifying the so-called ‘elephant in the room’!  My simple comment quickly developed into something more complex. Here is my take on the issue.

First, let me just say Volunteer Managers everywhere need to read Peggy’s blog and stand up and cheer! If we continue to let our volunteers down by not holding them accountable to their volunteer work, we will be the ones to blame for creating an environment within our organization that devalues the impact that volunteers can make.

I firmly believe that when we support and encourage people to perform at a high level, more often than not, they will. Conversely, if we don’t expect and recognize excellence, it is unlikely to occur.

As Hoffman states, “Every volunteer and the staff who work with them deserve to work in an environment that honestly and transparently honors strong performance and addresses problems.”

This idea should hold true for both paid staff and volunteers alike; otherwise, it could be a problem. Perhaps the label ‘volunteer’ gets in the way. If this is the case, then maybe we should change labels and stop devaluing ‘unpaid staff’ with well-intentioned excuses. If they fail to perform their roles to the level your organization needs, address that issue in the same professional and respectful way you would with a member of your paid staff.

Only when volunteer managers consistently hold their unpaid staff to the same performance expectations of paid staff will the rest of the organization see the real potential that skilled talented passionate unpaid staff have. Only then will your co-workers start to imagine what a powerful resource you have in the volunteer force.

Karen Franco, Director of Communications at Volunteer Calgary

*Peggy Hoffman is president of Mariner Management & Marketing LLC, an association management company.  She Twitters at @peggyhoffman and blogs at the Idea Center.


About Propellus

Propellus is a non-profit organization that has been empowering organizations since 1955. Through a dynamic range of consulting, training and member services, it helps organizations envision and realize new paths, practices and possibilities. Propellus guides, mentors and educates clients, arming them with tools and resources to help boost organizational effectiveness. Propellus strengthens organizations; in doing so, it leads the way toward building thriving communities.
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