Mills: Should volunteers be managed differently?

It’s safe to say that not-for-profit organizations would not function well at all without volunteers.

With limited budgets for hiring paid staff, volunteerism is a key resource.

We’re talking here about long term volunteerism and the question I’m posing here is this: Should the performance of volunteers be managed differently than that of regular staff?

In my opinion, the answer is no and yes.

Just as with paid staff, managing volunteers is about keeping them happy, motivated and loyal.

If they’re good it is worth the extra effort to keep them engaged and productive.

Some cynical types might argue that volunteers have a bit of an upper hand because certain employers need them more than they need the work.

People who give their time freely definitely do have a unique power base and they will walk away if they are unhappy with the way they are treated. And you know what? That is as it should be.

On the other hand, not all volunteers are assets to an organization.

There are some difficult personalities out there and whether they get paid to work or not, their behaviour can be highly disruptive to a workplace.

In extreme cases managers overlook errors in work or poor communication skills in volunteers because they believe they can’t afford to lose them.

This is problematic. It is the manager’s responsibility to deal with those issues when they arise just as they would with a regular employee. It is rare to hear about volunteers being “fired,” however, there are circumstances when the working relationship needs to be terminated.

If this happens, managers need to be clear on the reasons and ensure that the individual is being treated fairly during that process.

Finding—and keeping—volunteers who fit with the work culture and mandate is important to both their success and the organization’s as a whole. While it may require a more delicate approach, manager’s still have a responsibility to ensure that volunteers are meeting performance expectations and working cooperatively with others.

It’s simply a matter of using valuable human resources wisely.

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