Thursday, July 7, 2011
A Letter to People Who Volunteer
Our organization thrives because of your hard work and commitment to our shared vision. You give your talents and expertise freely which enables us to thrive, provide valuable services, and save money (you also are core to our staying in legal compliance as a non-profit, but that sounds pretty cold...but thanks!). We couldn't do what we do without you. Really!
Working with volunteers can be challenging for professional staff. We have experience and training too and sometimes our efforts and passion get overshadowed by yours (you give it away for free while we get paid!). But I know we are truly in partnership with one another. In fact, I have to remind myself, non-profit organizations were not created to be the professionally run institutions that they have become; they were always intended to be entirely volunteer led. But I am glad you are here!
Sometimes it's hard to remember that volunteers are not extensions of staff or unpaid staff. To think this way actually devalues your generous gift of time. You are purely, thoughtfully, kindly a volunteer. Period. I need to remember you are, for example, a volunteer who is a doctor or a volunteer who is a fundraiser or a volunteer who is a community leader. You are a volunteer who brings your personal and professional expertise and resources to help us advance our common goal. You round out what we are as a professional staff. Cool.
The demands placed upon volunteers are great. I recognize this fact clearly. And I know that you volunteer in addition to maintaining your paying job, raising a family, commuting, being a student, and other life functions. I cannot expect that you are here 40 hours a week like me. If you were to do so, you should be paid. My job is to leverage those hours we do spend together in service to our organization. I have to take some responsibility for how well you are able to serve our organization. If it's not working too well, chances are staff has something to do to make sure it gets better. We need you.
I count on you to serve and to guide me. I count on you to teach me something, to share your resources, and to be of generous spirit. I count on you to be willing to do what is needed to be done. I count on you to show up on time and do what you say you are going to do. I count on you to be a member of the organization and a donor too. I count on you to be an ambassador of our good work in the community. I count on you to come to me when we have a problem so we can work it out, for the sake of our organization and its reputation in the community. I count on you to let me have a professional say and not try to overpower my expertise because I am staff and you are a volunteer. I count on you to do yourself what you think others should be doing (for example, I need you to be a donor if you think they should be a donor). I count on you to be willing to be counted on.
And counting on one another is a mutual thing. You can count on me to bring my best professional expertise to the organization and to serving you. It's what you pay me for. I will work with you and understand your role. Clearly. I will honor this timeless tradition of volunteerism and work with you, support you, and hold you up...as I know you will for me. I will respect you and all of your expertise and gifts. You are not free labor to me; you are a valuable resource! I will be of good cheer and appreciation for your service and I will seek to clarify and make appropriate adjustments when things need to be adjusted. I will know and appreciate the distinction between leadership volunteers and front-line/program volunteers and be clear when I am asking you to do something. I will not ask you do anything I would not do myself, unless it is an specialized skill you bring, of course. I will appreciate you and you will know it.
Just like you volunteer at this organization and maintain a life and profession outside of this volunteer service, I, too, will volunteer in an organization somewhere. You can be a role model for me. You can also be a mentor for me. I will be a donor and a volunteer and a resource and a leader. Somewhere. We can have a passion for the organization/cause we have in common and I can have a passion for something else too. I need to walk my talk. To be an effective manager of volunteers, I probably need to be one too! I will. My best training for volunteer management did not come from a classroom or a training seminar; it came from volunteering myself! You're welcome!
More than anything, Volunteer, you were on my mind this morning. I was feeling a heap of appreciation for your service and expertise. You do make me a bit crazy at times (sometimes you are a bit demanding!), but I have come to realize how much you mean to our organization and what we mean to you. Passion looks, well...passionate at times. Your service to our organization is incredible and I am glad to know you.
You are my hero!
The Staff of Your Non-Profit Organization