The Case for a Dedicated Leader of Volunteers

dedicated leader of volunteers

In many organisations, there is no dedicated leader of volunteers. The leader of volunteers is also something else. Program manager, admin assistant, even Executive Director. And that’s okay.

To an extent.

That extent ends when either the volunteer program or the leader’s other responsibilities – or both! – start to get short-changed. When best practices get set aside to save time. When effectiveness loses out to efficiency.

In order for volunteering to have the greatest impact on the mission, it must be well planned, adequately resourced and effectively managed. This cannot be done off the corner of someone’s desk. To be done well, it must be led by someone whose sole focus it is, and preferably someone trained in the profession.

But that costs money. As we know, money is in perennial short supply in most social impact agencies. How, then, do you convince your board of directors to fund a dedicated leader of volunteers?

Having served on several boards, I know that there are three main things that a board looks at when making any decision: cost, risk and impact. Here are some “talking points” in each that you can share with your board during negotiations.

Opportunity Costs

What financial gain is the organisation losing out on because of not having a dedicated leader? Set that against the cost of wages.

  • When a leader is running short on time, good impact reporting gets pushed to the side. However, more in-depth reporting (of hours and impact) will lead to more successful grant writing. How much grant money is being lost because of inaccurate or incomplete reporting?
  • Strong, consistent volunteer leadership leads to more satisfied and fulfilled volunteers. When volunteers are happy in their roles, they stay longer. Decreased turnover equals lower recruiting costs.
  • Well-led volunteers also lead to more informal advocacy for the organisation, as volunteers who are passionate about their role will talk about it with their networks. This can increase both volunteer recruitment and monetary donations.
  • Speaking of monetary donations, satisfied volunteers are more likely to donate money as well as time to the organisation.

Risk Management

Boards are notoriously risk-adverse. By showing them that they can actually decrease their risk, you strengthen your case dramatically.

  • When a person is swamped and pulled in two directions, things like remembering to request volunteers to renew their criminal record checks can fall through the cracks. Ensuring that screening of volunteers is up-to-date lowers organisational liability.
  • Improved communication with and training of volunteers can lead to fewer errors. When volunteers are in roles that involve people in fragile states of mind, errors can be catastrophic. Picture a poorly-trained volunteer talking to a suicidal child. A dedicated leader of volunteers has the time and expertise to recognise when more training is required.
  • A dedicated leader who is able to spend time with the volunteers is also better able to judge when a particular volunteer is causing conflict or is otherwise harming the program, and can remove them before the situation becomes public and damages the organisation’s reputation.

Impact

Having a positive impact in the world is the reason that the organisation exists. Show the board how your impact can be increased.

  • What could your organisation do if it had a veritable sea of volunteers? A dedicated leader of volunteers can take the time to dramatically increase the number of volunteers recruited. Increased numbers of volunteers equals more friendly visits, more meals served, more beaches cleaned, etc. More impact!
  • Increased numbers and quality of volunteers can also allow the organisation to expand into new program areas, and increase the reach of those that are already in place.
  • What about the person who originally ran two programs? What impact can they now have with the increased time at their disposal? When we focus on one area, we become more effective and creative. Both the volunteer program and the other area will benefit from dedicated leadership.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the benefits to having a dedicated leader of volunteers. Every individual organisation will have specific things that can be added to the list. Use the items above as a starting point for building your case.

Again, there are organisations that are fine with the leader having a second role. As soon as the impact in either of those roles starts to decrease, though, it’s time to start thinking about splitting them up.

Board members are passionate about the impact that your organisation is having. That’s why they serve! If you can show a substantial increase in impact, with improved risk management and a smaller than expected cost, putting a dedicated leader of volunteers into the budget shouldn’t be too hard of a sell. Good luck!

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