Are you worth more than your volunteer manager salary?

Start the New Year by reflecting on your value in the workplace

Last month as we closed out 2017, I asked the members of my Volunteer Managers Leadership Circle to reflect on what they had accomplished over the year together, and to consider on how those accomplishments related to their overall professional value.

The accomplishments were as varied and impressive as the individual members.

Here are just two examples –

•  One member said that her goal starting out was to bring herself back from the edge of burnout and that she not only accomplished that, she discovered that she brought in more volunteers by setting healthy limits around her work and delegating more to her team.

•  Another member had thought she might change professions before the year was out, but since then she has earned her CVA, embarked on a major revamp of volunteer policies and procedures, and realized that she could transform her volunteer program from a department of one to a team that she had the chops to lead.

These leaders of volunteers are probably a lot like you. They are dedicated, incredibly skilled and work with integrity. And from these examples alone, you can sense how much value they contribute to their organizations.

Even so, the members of this group had trouble answering my second question.

Do you earn a competitive salary, and – if you are underpaid, how to you manage that disconnect?

Every single member had the same response – they did not know if their salary was below market or not:

•  One member, who works for a fairly large nonprofit, said that her human resources department did a salary survey for the entire organization. HR determined that she was being paid $5,000 less than market value. Her first response when told about her upcoming raise was that she didn’t deserve it – especially compared to staff who ran programs.

•  Another member said, “I’ve always been told that your salary shouldn’t matter if you love what you do. But I have to admit that reasoning never made sense to me.”

•  Another member seconded that observation, adding that her salary was supplemental to her spouse’s, so she accepted the salary and raises she was offered.

The Leadership Circle was grappling with an issue that I’m guessing most of us can appreciate. They did not know how to equate the value of their specialized skills and talents – not to mention the gains they had made in the Circle – with what they brought home in their paycheck.

Even so, this group was very engaged in the conversation. It seemed to be a relief to finally talk about salary and how it affected their work because the question is always there in the background.

So how do we make sense of our professional value when we do not receive a salary that’s commensurate with our contributions?

Business Guru Seth Godin, who blogs a lot about the relationship between price and value, says:

“If you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, there are only two possible reasons:

  1. People don’t know what you’re worth, or
  2. You’re not (currently) worth as much as you believe”

Clearly, I believe that volunteer managers fall into the first group.  In large part, we’re not paid what we’re worth because our decision-makers don’t fully understand what we do. And if that’s true, then how do we show them?

Here are four ways to demonstrate your value:

  1. Get clear about your value and the value of your program. Right now – without waiting for your next performance review, take the time to write down ALL of your workplace accomplishments for 2017. Then, put a dollar value against each one. You may find it challenging to assign a monetary value to your actions– that’s partly the point. This exercise will start you thinking about your value and how you can communicate that to your nonprofit leaders.
  2. Set the intention to demonstrate the impact of your volunteer program in more that output measures like the number of volunteers or clients-served – and make it your business to get that data in front of decision-makers.
  3. Make our collective data available by sharing the results of Tobi Johnson’s Volunteer Management Progress Report. The report is providing a growing body of knowledge about salary ranges across the profession. Some volunteer managers have already used this information to advocate for raises.
  4. Remember that the emotional impact of volunteer work is impressive and that stories are powerful. Find new ways to get your volunteer stories out there to build your program’s credibility and inspire others. – on the website, shared in staff meetings, through social media.

Finally – and perhaps ironically, our profession is about to receive a boost from the new federal tax laws. Nonprofits stand to lose a substantial amount of charitable income from donors who are no longer incented to take a tax deduction. Doesn’t that make volunteers – and those of us with the skills and experience to lead them – more valuable than ever?

As volunteer managers, we’re the ones who help our nonprofits fulfill their missions in a cost-effective manner. And we’re the one who build relationships with the individuals most likely to continue giving of their time and money.

We’re not superfluous. We’re priceless.


Volunteer Managers: tell the full story of impact with volunteer groups: My February 13 webinar walks you through the what and how of creating mission-driven metrics.  Check out Creating Impact Indicators for your Corporate Days of Service. Space is limited – register today!


  • What a fabulous post and one that is hard to disagree with. I would also add to the ways to demonstrate your value a list of all the skills which are required to run an effective volunteer program.

    I think some organizations may not have a good idea of what to look for when hiring a volunteer coordinator or what is really required to do the job well, as witnessed by Meridian Swift’s great blog this fall,

    • Absolutely, Laura. Oftentimes, nonprofit leaders don’t fully understand the wide array of skill sets needed to sustain a volunteer program. And thanks for sharing Meridian’s post!

  • Thank you so much for this article. I have been a Volunteer Administrator for over 15 years and I struggled to bring value and worth to the position of volunteer management. I have found that depending on the industry the salary fluctuates. The primary problem I have seen is that the reason Volunteer managers are not valued monetarily is because there is no educational track for this position. When the role began in companies it was an actual volunteer position. Then as time grew the paid position was created, often being occupied by those previous volunteers. As time went on some companies realized that a degree would be beneficial to do the job but the volunteer administrator has never really left the “volunteer” mindset of those executives. They are still seen as “just” volunteers. I’m not sure how to change that unless a true creation of a career track done. Even our titles are interchangeable and it shouldn’t be. Some are called “coordinators” when they are managing an entire program and its staff. Some are called Directors yet their role is identical to someone called a coordinator in another agency. In the hospice field volunteers are required by Medicare but the role of the volunteer manager is not even considered a part of management or the executive. It saddens me and it is very frustrating. I do hope things change.

    • Thanks, Crystal! You bring up so many important points. I agree on the need for an academic career track for volunteer engagement. The degree would add value and credibility to our work – not to mention provide practitioners with great training.

  • Crystal – Those are great comments too. I wonder if this goes back to the old mentality that volunteers are “free labor” thus volunteer coordinators aren’t considered a priority when it comes to recruiting and paying staff who manage the volunteer program.

    I also liked your comment about an educational track for the role. It would be wonderful if colleges and universities which train future leaders in non-profit management would require a course in volunteer engagement or if more agencies that hire volunteer managers would require them to have a CVA or similar credential.

  • Thanks Elisa. I am particularly struck by your insights about the new tax laws – yes, volunteers will become a much more critical component of an organization’s fundraising efforts.

    This is because the new tax laws mean that many people who previously itemized deductions will now take the now-increased standard deduction – and therefore, they will no longer be able to take advantage of charitable deductions. As a result, the people who donate to an organization will almost exclusively become (1) the wealthy folks who will continue to itemize, and (2) those people who have a deep connection to the organization and will donate regardless of whether they get a tax deduction or not. And who comprise a big chunk of this second group? – VOLUNTEERS, that’s who!!!

    So volunteer managers now have a perfect opportunity to discuss with their senior management the value of volunteers – both programmatically and philanthropically.

    • Thanks, Chip! It’s great to hear from someone who understands what nonprofits stand to gain from developing strong volunteer relationships.

    • I really don’t want to miss this point regarding the new tax laws and volunteers. Just how exactly would this translate into more volunteers just because they don’t itemize anymore? Are you meaning that these people that donate (most likely smaller amounts than the wealthy) can be identified and then solicited to turn into volunteers? Just looking for clarity.

      • Hi Teresa. The new tax laws won’t lead to more volunteers (sorry). And no, the new tax laws won’t turn donors into volunteers.

        Instead, what the new tax laws mean is that volunteers will have to become a more important part of an organization’s fundraising efforts. This is because the nonprofit will almost surely now have fewer small-dollar donors (because they won’t get a tax deduction for such donations any more if they no longer itemize). So the nonprofits will have to turn the focus of their fundraising efforts toward people who care deeply about the organization and who perhaps don’t care whether they get a tax deduction for their donation or not — and these highly-committed people are the organization’s volunteers. Is this explanation more clear?

  • I have a bit more anxiety about the new tax laws…as an Engagement Manager, my position is both responsible for volunteer engagement and nestled in Development. If/when donations aren’t coming in…the volunteer manager is yes indeed more important than ever, however, that necessitates taking the perspective of “playing the long game” rather than reacting to budget pressures.

    In response to the educational track, I studied at the University of Texas and earned my Masters in Social Work and a portfolio in Non-profit Management. Coursework was well rounded, but the best, most informative class was instructed by Sarah Jane Rehnborg (now retired). I can’t beleive how much the information presented helped me focus the lessons of previous volunteer management, while giving me the tools to seek out ongoing resources. Point being, there are different fields that lend themselves particularly well to Volunteer Program Management, and Social Work (macro) has definitely been one pathway! I do use clinical skills everyday when working with groups and individuals, but the macro lens has truly helped in strategic planning and increased engagement.

    • Hi Jess, thanks for your comments. I can see how the tax changes put pressure on development teams to shift their strategies quickly and ensure that contributions continue. I also wonder if there is a way for your volunteer manager to assist in more than the long game — is there a way that your VM’s existing relationships with volunteers may help increase giving in the short term, too?

  • This is an important topic that some might not want to talk about. I could not imagine not thinking the work that I do is worthy of a $5,000 raise. We must advocate for the importance of the job if not for ourselves then for the person they will hire after we leave. Do we not want the next professional to come into a job with a decent livable salary? Would that next person not think more of the organization if they see the volunteer manager is paid at market value?

    I am always prepared to justify my volunteer program and the great work that we do to anyone that asks. It could be the Mayor or a resident, they will receive the same passionate response from me about why my staff works hard to connect volunteers to programs. At the end of every month I send a quick bullet point list of my program’s accomplishments to my boss (who is not a volunteer manager and oversees a vastly different group of departments). At the end of my fiscal year I take all of those bullets and am 100% sure every accomplishment is in some way listed in my 4 page annual report. That annual report is justification for my salary and it’s full of proof that community engagement and relationship building is worth paying a volunteer manager a good wage. We had 2,300 paid staff this year and my program had 8,200 volunteers. I don’t think anyone in HR would say they don’t deserve a raise. If you have the opportunity, take it! It will speak volumes for moving our profession forward.

    • Thanks so much, Corina. I’m impressed with the proactive measures that you take year-round to ensure that your leadership is aware of your program’s accomplishments. Also, regarding the volunteer manager who at first felt undeserving of her raise — that was only a first response as she came to realize that her salary was now more in line with her value.

  • Telling the stories of volunteer impact to consistently is really important. I have a monthly meeting where I present a volunteer service recap. This meeting is very well received and well attended. When the meeting is over people always say, “Wow, I had no idea our volunteers did all this” and I feel so accomplished because that’s the point of the meeting, to show impact. I also keep a spreadsheet on the network for all to access so people can see all the partnership meetings, interviews, events, etc. and remind folks that volunteers don’t just hang out under my desk waiting to be summonsed but they have to be scouted, cultivated and retained to get the impact results I present. Basically we have to toot our own horn to remind people of our value and be the volunteer engagement champions.

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