I don’t often work with volunteer-led organisations. Let me clarify that. I work with a lot of boards that are populated with volunteers and who have at least two or three paid staff, sometimes more. I don’t often work with organisations where there are only volunteers, who sit on the board and who run the operation on a daily basis.
I’ve recently had experience of working with just one such organisation. And perhaps it is a bad example.
It occurred to me that in volunteer-only organisations, leadership and communication are so much more important. Volunteers give of their time, sometimes of their own equipment and expertise to ensure an organisation is functioning. Besides the usual expectations of volunteer management systems, there is the additional requirement of ensuring that everyone is always on the same page and working towards the same goal. Seems quite obvious, but when it isn’t something that is required or ‘driven’ by one person such as a CEO, it can be quite difficult for volunteer chairs to provide that point of reference.
The situation is even more challenging in volunteer-only organisations where the regular, almost daily response is “We’ve always done it this way.” Whether as a complaint or a defence.
It can take a lot more effort to lead, grow and develop volunteer-only organisations. But if you can get the leadership and communication right, volunteers will be completely committed and will attract more people who will want to help and the organisation can grow exponentially. Get leadership and communication wrong and at the very best you will have stagnation, at worst – collapse.
Have you ever worked with volunteer-only organisations? Have you had good or bad experiences? What were some of the tools and techniques that worked for you?