If you want more buy-in for your volunteer program, start with a reframe of those limiting beliefs.

Myths reframed - twenty HatsThe more I coach volunteer managers, the more convinced I become that the pride and satisfaction we gain from running a high impact volunteer program hinges around one thing.


When we’ve got the buy-in of our leadership and co-workers to engage volunteers effectively, we can move mountains.  When we don’t, the lack of buy-in IS the mountain that gets in the way of progress.

The whole buy-in question has been top of mind for me since last week, when the subject came up in my Leadership Circle and at my one-day retreat.  Just about every participant had a buy-in challenge that they wanted to overcome  ̶  bringing staff on board with engaging more volunteers, helping a supervisor see the commitment required for an effective program, showing development staff the resource-building potential of a strong volunteer base.

These issues really weigh on us. I see how discouraged my colleagues become when they can’t figure out how to turn things around. And I see how motivated they feel when they learn strategies that help them reach their buy-in goals.

But sometimes it’s our own limiting beliefs around buy-in that stand in our way – beliefs that take on myth-like proportions.  Here are three buy-in myths that deserve to be debunked and reframed:

Myth # 1 – All I need is a persuasive case

Persuasive caseThe first myth is that all we need to get buy-in is a persuasive case.  In other words, if we assemble all of our facts and all of the reasons why our project deserves the green light and then share them with the person we want to persuade, then we are bound to get agreement.  Because we’ve put together such a compelling argument.

I know this was a big one for me.  I went into my boss’ office more than once with a script in my head of all the reasons why my idea made the most sense, and then I rattled off my script – only to end up feeling confused and disappointed when I did not get the approval that I anticipated.

The Reframe: The more effective way to make your case is to get into the head of the person you want to reach. Describe the situation from their point of view, stressing their needs, goals, and priorities– not yours.


Myth #2 – I have no power

No powerThis second myth is one that I have blogged about before. We often believe that are just too far down the hierarchy to effect the kind of change we want to see.

In other words, we see ourselves as valuable to our supervisors only for our ability to implement their ideas rather than influence higher ups with our own input.

This is a dangerous line of thinking.  It discourages our desire to innovate and inhibits our ability to advance professionally.  It ultimately leads to despair if we feel we have no ability to affect real change.

The reframe: If you find yourself concerned that there is very little you can do to influence a situation, read my post about volunteer management super powers, identify which types of power you possess, and start to reflect on how your power is already helping you on the job.


Myth #3 – My nonprofit is too dysfunctional

Nave Concordia affondataThis third myth may be the most common one of all. It’s the belief that we work with people or in an environment that is just too dysfunctional to appreciate our ideas or take a risk on the kind of buy-in we hope to achieve.  It’s the myth that we work on a sinking ship.

I have worked for a number of nonprofits over the last 20 years and I can tell you that if you label your organization as dysfunctional, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – because you start to give up.

And that’s not to say that your workplace is actually 100% functional and that somehow you just don’t see it.  Just about every system has some dysfunction in it.

The reframe: Unless you are working in an abusive environment where you find yourself belittled and exploited – it IS possible to figure out how to work together and get your professional needs met.  I have seen clients clean up some very entrenched and complicated office dynamics to achieve their goals. You may need to prioritize and pick your battles, but it’s possible.

The bottom line from all this? Take heart: when we learn to see a situation from all points of view, leverage the strengths we already have, and get strategic about our action, making the changes we need for our volunteer programs is not just possible – it’s probable.