Respecting Your Volunteers’ Time

When I was preparing to become a volunteer leader for the first time, I was taught an important lesson about working with volunteers. It was impressed upon me that every volunteer has a certain amount of time that they are able and willing to donate to the organization. The time available varies depending on each individual’s family, work, and personal commitments. Yet everyone still has a personal participation limit. So as a volunteer leader you have to value their time and make smart decisions about how to use that time in a way that will most benefit the organization.

  • Is that one hour meeting the best use of everyone’s time? Is the meeting really necessary? Could the same goals be accomplished with a shorter meeting or a conference call?
  • Will 40 hours spent on this big event benefit the organization that much more than 20 hours spent on a smaller event? What is the ROI for the amount of volunteer time contributed to each event? Do the benefits of a program justify the time needed for it?
  • Does the volunteer task actually benefit the organization or is it just “busy” work? Is time vs. benefit considered when selecting programs and activities? Where is the most going to be accomplished for the time put into it?

While this is a simplified view, it’s an important mindset to have. By understanding that volunteers can only do so much, the focus shifts to maximizing their efforts. The other important lesson I learned is that you never, ever, ever waste your volunteer’s time. Volunteer time maybe be “free” to the organization but it’s a valuable resource that needs to be used wisely.