I recently transitioned from serving as the vice president of communications for our local American Marketing Association chapter, a position that oversaw volunteers, to a vice president at large position, which does not have supervisory responsibilities. As I’ve made this transition, I’ve reflected on what I learned about management from supervising volunteers that I may never have learned in my paid leadership positions:
- Show gratitude. You aren’t authorizing a paycheck every month for your volunteers, so you’d better find another way to keep them engaged. One of the strongest tools is to simply recognize them for their hard work and accomplishments. A combination of regular appreciation for specific things with the occasional go-out-of-your-way act can do a lot to aid retention.
- Be responsive. If a volunteer reaches out to you, respond as quickly as possible. Even if you don’t know the answer to a question right away, at least acknowledge that you’ve seen the query and provide a timeframe when you expect to respond. It will make the volunteer feel valued and establish you as a responsive leader.
- Value their time. Set agendas for meetings and manage the discussion so that you end on time. Just like you, your volunteers are helping the organization on top of everything else they have going in their lives. If you respect their time, they’ll be grateful and also see you as an effective leader.
- Protect them. Anyone who recruits volunteers knows how difficult they are to come by, and values those who do engage with the organization. One of your roles is to protect those volunteers from unprofessional interactions. You never know where these are going to come from, but it’s your responsibility to intervene when you see them happening.
These lessons can and should be carried into regular leadership positions—they make you a better manager and show anyone you are supervising that you respect them.
About the Author
Tom Hinds is a vice president at large for the American Marketing Association Sacramento Valley and the director of marketing and branding for UC Davis.