She was snipping away at my husband’s hair, deftly trimming as she carried on a conversation. Among the snip, snip, snips came a word new to me.

“I didn’t volunteer. I was voluntold.”

She went on to quickly explain that she volunteers for the medical team at her church. An event will be held later this year, and her volunteer team was told they were required to assist at this large event. Not asked. Not requested. Told.

While I can understand why their presence would be required, it made me squirm a little to hear the way it came across.

I have deep roots in volunteering. Not because I lead volunteers, but because I am one. I made the decision years ago to use my time, abilities, and efforts to serve other people.   It may be in the form of leading a reading group at my son’s school, teaching a classroom full of preschoolers at church, or picking up trash after a community event. But however I choose to volunteer, well….I choose to do it.

I want to be valued and respected for what I am able to contribute as a volunteer. I don’t want to be taken advantage of. I don’t want to be guilted into participating. I don’t want to be micromanaged.

So how do I make sure that I am leading my volunteers that way?

I don’t lower my expectations.

Ask anyone on my current volunteer team if I expect a lot from them, and they would give you a resounding YES!. I am not saying that I expect them to be at every event, expect them to never call in sick, or expect them to choose volunteering over family. What I am saying is that you have chosen to do this, so I expect that you will put your best efforts into volunteering! Excellence isn’t about what you do – it’s about who you are.  You will always receive the worst behavior that you will tolerate. So what will you tolerate?

I will push you toward a higher commitment.

Every volunteer starts out performing at a level that is lower than their full potential. Guaranteed. Part of my job as their leader is to help them see that they are capable of, and gifted for, more. I am not pushing you toward a higher commitment because I want you to have more sweat equity in our organization. I am pushing you toward a higher commitment because I believe you are capable, and I believe it will change your life.

I will always give you the “why” before the “what”.

Here’s the thing – if you are asking someone to accomplish a task, you may or may not get a favorable response. But if you ask them to use their time, abilities, and efforts to make a difference, you will always make their decision clear. I’m in the middle of reading Simon Sinek’s classic, Start With Why. (That is going to prompt several more blog posts!) I want to inspire people to make a difference, not manipulate them. I want people to hear that they have the opportunity to change their life and someone else’s life, not just meet a need.

A volunteer is not a cog in the machinery of your organization. A volunteer is the heartbeat of who you are. Somewhere along the line they have chosen to align their time, energy, and efforts with your vision. They don’t need to be voluntold. They need to be given the opportunity to be who they are.


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