What’s Behind the Why of Working with Volunteers

When you nurture what’s best in your volunteers, you hold some powerful change agents in your hands

What and Why of VolunteeringHave you ever had a conversation so thought-provoking that you reflected on it for a good long while afterwards?  I felt that way last week, when I held the first meeting of my Leadership Circle.

The Circle is a group of experienced and dedicated volunteer engagement professionals who are invested in their work and have chosen to meet each month to share advice, support one another, and refine their leadership skills.

We kicked off our first meeting by talking about why we work with volunteers in the first place.

What is it exactly about this work that we find so compelling and rewarding?

I thought the conversation might focus on what volunteers do for our nonprofits because that’s what we’re hired to do – help expand our organizations to meet their missions.  And while that piece was acknowledged as essential, it’s not what these pros shared as their greatest satisfaction. This group receives their energy and inspiration from the transformation within the volunteer.

These were the comments I heard:

I love to teach volunteers about our cause and watch as they come to see our clients in a new light.

I enjoy watching volunteers master a skill they never knew they had.

I’m excited to see volunteers achieve a greater purpose in their lives.

One of the Circle members summed it all up in a very simple mission statement:

I show volunteers how they can help someone by doing very simple and easy things each day. The result is kindness in my corner of the world.

These responses tell me that we are the intermediaries between two important elements for social change; the nonprofits that exist to improve our communities – and the volunteers who effect that change.

We manage a resource that has a direct and often immediate positive impact on our clients – and we elevate community members to the role of change agents when they volunteer.  On top of that, we educate those change agents about what’s possible for our clients.  We offer a new perspective, open points of view, and inspire people to become their higher, better selves.

Our role in the nonprofit world is HUGE.

I sometimes wonder, even when we stumble into these positions because working with volunteers sounds like “a nice thing to do,” if we subconsciously realize that we are tapping into something that meets our desire for purpose-driven work in the most powerful way possible.

It turns out that our role is not just heart-centered, it’s ethical.  If you take a look at the CCVA Ethics Statement, you will see that volunteer managers have a responsibility to “promote the understanding and actualization of mutual benefits inherent in any act of volunteer service.”

The next time you feel frustrated, marginalized, or just plain tired of your job, remember: our desire to nurture and cultivate what is best in others is essential to improving our communities. Trust your instincts, hone your professional skills, and watch what happens.

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4 thoughts on “What’s Behind the Why of Working with Volunteers

    1. Elisa Kosarin Post author

      You’re welcome, Nikki. Your work IS important – you manage a powerful force for transforming our communities!

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