Sometimes we get stuck on our perceived limitations. Here’s how to climb out of that thinking.

It’s no surprise that last week’s post, which was all about the disparity between a volunteer manager’s value and her salary, generated a lot of comments.

The salary question seems to be something that’s always operating in the back of our minds, even when we don’t discuss it openly.

The volunteer managers who commented on the post made some really important points, including the need for an academic degree track for our profession, and the importance of making our accomplishments known to decision-makers on a regular and quite visible basis.

Please do take a look at the comments – and leave your own, if something you read sparks your thinking.

There is another dimension to the value/salary question, though, and that’s what receiving a lower salary does to our personal sense of value.

I’m not just talking about our value on the job – I’m talking about what we fundamentally think and feel about ourselves.

When we work in an environment that does not correspond with our value – because salaries are low, or working conditions are shabby, or long hours for little compensation are the norm – we begin to internalize our experience as proof that we are “not enough.”

As volunteer managers, we may be especially prone to this mindset, because oftentimes we are also addressing the perception that volunteers are “free,” and it’s harder to measure the value of something without a dollar sign attached.

The problem with “I’m not enough” is that it affects the decisions we make for our programs and for ourselves as professionals.

Here are some examples:

  • You see yourself as someone who can only operate within a less significant supporting role, because others are in a better position to make important decisions
  • You believe that your skills count for less than co-workers who provide direct service, and so you downplay the need for a competitive salary
  • You hesitate to ask for support from program staff when you need it – because you see your role as less important

All of these statements fall into the category of limiting beliefs, meaning things that we tell ourselves are true, but which on closer reflection are not true at all.

If you find that any part of this argument resonates for you, and you want to turn your situation around, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Observe the value messages that you send to yourself on the job. Be on the lookout for those moments when you find yourself making do with something that is not serving you very well. Have you convinced yourself, one way or the other, that a better outcome is unlikely for you?
  2. When you pick up on one of those messages, observe how it makes you feel. If you notice your energy sinking or even find your gut tightening up, those are signs that you are telling yourself a limiting belief.
  3. Intentionally reframe those beliefs into a positive statement that is motivating.

For example:

  • “I’m better at supporting that leading” might be reframed as “Maybe it’s time to see where my skills will take me.”
  • “I have to accept a low salary” might shift to “I will start at this salary, advocate for the compensation I deserve, and know that other options are out there for me.”
  • “Shabby working conditions are a part of nonprofit life” may become “I choose to remain in this job to learn new skills, but in time I will find a nonprofit that offers better working conditions – I know they are out there.”

I blog a lot about the need for volunteer managers to advocate for themselves and advance their programs. I train a lot on how to achieve buy-in and exert greater influence. But we cannot take advantage of any leadership training until we examine the messages we tell ourselves about our abilities.

As with most things in life, the change begins within us – not in our surroundings.


Volunteer Managers: shift into a leadership mindset! My September 12 webinar shows you how to bring others on board with your important ideas.

Check out ‘Achieving Buy-In for Your Volunteer Program’ at