You can measure some pretty high expectations from volunteers – IF you market to the ones who will deliver

Twenty Hats - Volunteer ExpectationsI hear a lot about how the paradigm is shifting within volunteerism: volunteers are busier than ever, and many organizations are looking to engage volunteers differently. The trend is towards micro-volunteerism and short term assignments.

Does this trend mean that we need to expect less from volunteers overall?

Absolutely not.

Opening up to new volunteer positions does not mean we need to expect less from volunteers. It means we need to reframe the discussion and ask ourselves what is most needed to meet the mission of the organization.

Take my former program, Fairfax CASA. CASA volunteers are appointed by a judge to advocate for the best interests of an abused or neglected child. Volunteers must make an extensive commitment because to do any less means that an abused or neglected child goes unserved. To advocate properly, every volunteer must remain on a case until it is closed by the court – and many cases last two years or longer.

That’s a huge commitment. And yet, there are people out there who are willing to take on the responsibility.  I think about what’s required of volunteers at Fairfax CASA and it’s astounding.

  • Remain on a case until it’s closed by the court
  • Contact all the case professionals on a monthly basis
  • Visit the child twice a month
  • Write court reports whenever there is a hearing
  • Complete 12 hours or continuing education each year
  • Cover all court hearings on the case
  • Submit monthly reports to their supervisor

Why do they do this? Because they are believers in the program’s mission and invested as much in the outcome as the staff. If they are stepping up, that means we have done a great job of communicating the program’s mission and shown them how they will be rewarded for their efforts. As one of my former volunteers used to say, the “psychic income” received from being a CASA volunteer outweighed the extensive commitment.

Finding committed volunteers takes proper screening. It also requires you to promote your program so that you are reaching out to the volunteers most likely to deliver.

So perhaps the reframe is not even about what your program needs – it’s about marketing to engage volunteers who meet your needs. It’s a big world out there. I would argue there’s a volunteer perfect for any volunteer position – IF you know how to reach her.


Need to bring co-workers on board with raising volunteer expectations? My Six Principles of Buy-In will help. Email me to receive a handout about the principles and a next steps worksheet – and I’ll add you to the Twenty Hats mailing list.