Volunteer teams depend on capable leadership to be effective, to thrive rather than survive. In my experience, three keys are valuable to successfully leading volunteers:
1. Care – you have to care and show it or they’ll know it.
You can’t fake this. If you’re just trying to use people to get things done, they can tell. If you don’t care, you should re-think your role. If you do care, but find yourself too busy to show it or don’t know how, you should work on that.
Most volunteers want to be part of a team when they choose to serve, even if it’s just a team of two. That often includes desiring a connection to you if you brought them in to the team. You either have to be upfront that this isn’t going to happen or figure out how to deliver.
2. Communication – working with volunteers requires good communication skills, both talking and listening.
Volunteers need you to figure out how to connect in conversation with them regarding the tasks ahead. You have to keep in touch as decisions are made which will shape the effort and their involvement. Method is also important here; you have to talk and listen in ways that work for them. Phone, email, text, face to face, social media. What works for you may not be what works for them and it is your job as the leader to either bring them to your preferred method OR to do it their way. Even if it means multiple ways for one team. For a busy leader, this can be especially challenging, but it is important.Don’t forget that communication is two way here. If you’re only announcing and never taking time to listen, it will feel like you don’t care how they feel or what they think. You can lose valuable information if you fail on this one, or worse, lose the volunteer.
3. Coordination – getting and staying organized.
This is a pet peeve for me because some leaders talk about administration like it is a four letter word or like it is all paper pushing (which of course they don’t care for). Leading volunteers requires getting organized, even if you’re not good at that.
You have to help everyone find their place on the team, keep up with who is doing what so you can follow up, and schedule and coordinate team meetings in ways that help the team move forward on purposes and objectives. By the way, you can delegate responsibility for coordinating your team to a capable team member. But you still have to work with them in an organized way for their benefit and for the rest of the team.