Are Volunteers actually Mythical Creatures?

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Sep 20, 2012 | Blog

As we write (and rewrite!) our upcoming book, we’re thinking a lot about how current beliefs conflict with the cultural norms required to integrate volunteers and salaried employees into one team.

In fact, we’ve focused one full chapter on how to “Create a People Culture.”

There are a lot of “old” myths about volunteers that keep us from leveraging a huge pool of available talent. To combat these myths, and begin to create new ones, we’ve started using alternate language like “external talent” and “knowledge philanthropist.”

Are the following two BIG myths alive and well in your organization?

Myth #1 – Volunteers are not accountable

We often hear statements like, “If a volunteer is doing the work, they don’t really have to do it. After all, they volunteered.”

In North America, we’ve allowed that myth to infiltrate organizations. It is difficult to work productively with people if they are not accountable, and leaders and managers often feel they cannot ask the volunteer to be accountable. Therefore, many leaders are reluctant to work with volunteers.

In fact, today’s knowledge philanthropist wants to be engaged in work that is mission-critical and requires a high level of accountability. This makes their contribution meaningful. They will rise to the occasion when we give them tremendous responsibility. In our experience, leaders and managers are much more successful engaging highly skilled people when they expect a high level of accountability.

Myth #2 – Volunteers are amateurs; the work they do is substandard

A second (widely accepted) myth is if a volunteer is doing a task, it will not be as well done as if a salaried employee did it.

In fact, by recruiting and hiring only the best and the most talented people (salaried staff and volunteers) with unique skills and expertise, we can build a team that performs with excellence. Everyone is passionate about and dedicated to the cause; and works together, valuing each other’s unique talents, to deliver the mission.

Let’s start debunking these myths by having conversations about them, and creating space for people to voice their concerns.

How does your organization perpetuate these myths? How does/will your organization deal with these myths? Or ARE they myths?

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Vantage Point

Our mission is to transform not-for-profit organizations by convening, connecting, and equipping leaders to lift organizational capacity. Every client leaves our programs with resources to excel in their role and grow the impact of their organization.

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