Overcoming the Volunteer Leadership Challenge

by Pat Thomas

Over the past 15 years, I’ve been invited to participate with and, in some cases, lead the boards of several nonprofit organizations. And, I have had the pleasure of contributing to many breakthroughs in partnership with my committed colleagues.

Volunteer Leaders Make the World A Better Place

In my experience, I’ve learned that volunteer leaders often share basic attributes and qualities necessary for service. Included on this list is a strong affinity for the organization’s mission whether it serves people, animals, or our world as a whole. I’ve also found that most volunteer leaders want to leverage their social capital and skill sets to solve society’s ills. Accountants, lawyers, social workers, doctors, corporate executives, and other professionals will link arms with members of their networks to add value where it is needed.

Overpromise and Underdeliver

Although there are many talented, caring, and dedicated people who serve as volunteer board members, there are often significant gaps that occur between their good intentions and actual results.

In the absence of performance evaluations and salary decisions that represent leverage for traditional leaders in business, volunteer leaders must rely on their skills as influencers and enrollers of others in order to get anything meaningful done.

The old maxim that busy people are called upon to do and give more is often very true for those who volunteer, and these leaders are often members of multiple boards and other volunteer efforts that sometimes leave them with competing priorities and general overload.  As a result, promises are sometimes made but not always kept; and, performance gaps can halt an organization’s progress or even threaten its existence if the gaps are significant enough.

Creating a Context for Meaningful Conversations

Volunteer leaders need a method of engaging other volunteers in conversations that provide a context for communicating expectations and encouraging high levels of commitment without making demands.

Best Year Yet®, a planning and goal-setting program that is committed to enhancing the performance of nonprofits worldwide, provides a useful and effective template for initiating this action, as the following six steps will demonstrate:

1.       REVIEW PAST SUCCESSES, BREAKDOWNS, AND LESSONS LEARNED

A reminder of the accomplishments of the past and missteps that provide wisdom for the future can often get volunteer leaders refocused on their shared experiences and accomplishments to date.

2.       CREATE GUIDELINES FOR THE FUTURE

Best Year Yet® provides guidance for crafting simple but memorable instructions or pieces of advice that will help to keep all members of the group on track.

3.       DEFINE STRATEGIC GOALS

Shared priorities will move the group forward and demonstrate the interdependence between and among volunteer members and the organization.

4.       COMMUNICATE STRATEGIC GOALS THROUGHOUT THE ORGANIZATION

Communication of the plan of action to volunteer leaders and throughout the organization clearly defines the gaps to be addressed and encourages buy-in at all levels.

5.       ALIGN INDIVIDUAL CHAMPION, BOARD  AND ORGANIZATIONAL GOALS

The Best Year Yet® program encourages a spirit of group ownership by documenting the connections between and among volunteer leaders and the larger organization and its employees.

6.       CONDUCT REGULAR INDIVIDUAL AND GROUP ASSESSMENTS

Easy-to-use online performance assessment tools record and report on actions taken, results completed, and remaining gaps to be filled.  Everyone with a need to know is informed on progress, and positive peer pressure encourages onward movement of identified goals and tasks.

Nonprofits at times live or die as a result of the efforts of volunteer board members, and finding and using a method of communicating performance gaps and successfully addressing them is essential for the ongoing viability of these organizations.

The Best Year Yet® program supports volunteer leaders by providing: a structure for ongoing information sharing; data on the status of goals, projects, and programs; and, a disciplined approach through a goal tracking system that is easy to use, transparent, and transformative.

For volunteer leaders who desire to make a difference for humanity, Best Year Yet® can fill the gap between sincere, well-meaning intentions and bona-fide results. I’ve witnessed its impact on groups I have worked with long enough to believe in the power of Best Year Yet® for moving volunteer leadership groups from challenges to breakthroughs.

Based in the New York City area, Pat Thomas is a Best Year Yet® Partner, Executive Coach and Management Consultant who uses her years of corporate experience and prior board affiliations to build on the capacity of nonprofit leaders, their teams and boards to deliver on the vision and mission of their organizations. Contact Pat at her website: www.thomascoaching.com and via email at pat@thomascoaching.com.