4 Ways to Empower Your Volunteers

It is a well-known fact of association management that volunteers not only make the association run well, they are vital to fulfilling the mission. They are the “reach” of the association, providing value as promoters, workers, thinkers, and doers. I enjoy working with volunteers, as their passion and drive for the organization helps keep me excited and motivated to keep improving.

Our volunteers provide expertise, knowledge, experience, and wisdom to the association and its staff. As chief staff leaders, we must always be mindful that volunteers want to be a valued part of the organization. Part of being valued is being empowered.

Empowering your volunteers does several things to advance the association. First, it frees up staff to handle situations that only they can or should do. Secondly, it displays trust between staff and volunteers. Thirdly, it unleashes action by a passionate member that helps the programs and services succeed.

Sometimes, as staff leaders, we can get into a mode of “I can do this myself,” rather than delegating an appropriate task to a volunteer. We tend to do that as a matter of efficiency and having the knowledge that a task was done properly and on time. However, involving volunteers, and empowering them to succeed, has more far-reaching benefits to the association than just saving you some time. You’ve fueled their passion, and given them acceptance; as such, you’ve displayed trust. That volunteer will be a “cheerleader” for the organization at every turn.

Here are four tips to help you successfully empower your volunteers:

  1. Passion = Position. By this, I mean that what really motivates a volunteer should mirror the tasks or positions you assign. For example, if your volunteer is a great speaker and motivator, then have him or her perform a keynote or breakout session at your conference. If a volunteer is really good at accounting, and enjoys the numbers, perhaps the audit committee is the right fit. Match up their passions with what you want them to do.
  2. Clearly articulate the mission, the time frame, and the expectations. Be very clear about what needs to be done, how long it’s going to take, and what the deadline is. Then put it in writing. Don’t tell them how to do it; rather, just paint the picture of what success looks like. They’ll get there and you will be amazed at the creativity.
  3. Consistent communications foster empowerment. Volunteers are volunteers because they want the association to succeed and grow. Communicate with them regularly, and make the communications with them different and separate from the general information (newsletters, blogs, etc.) given to the membership. Treat them like special “insiders,” and they’ll work hard for the organization.
  4. Just let go. If you have a more “controlling” personality or management style, empowering others is likely not your natural default position. But for your professional relationships with your members and volunteers, letting go and giving up some control is healthy for all involved. Again, show trust and you’ll get results.

Your volunteers can be a positive adjunct to your programs and services, making the difference between “good” and “great.”  Empowering them to lend their expertise and great attitude to the organization’s mission makes everyone succeed and makes your professional experience much more enjoyable.