Can Volunteers be Accountable?

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Nov 28, 2012 | Blog

In my experience, absolutely.

In the recent post Are Volunteers actually Mythical Creatures? Colleen Kelly debunks the myth that volunteers are not accountable. In Monday’s Abundant Not-for-Profit webinar we raised this myth again, and 38% of participants said in their experience volunteers are not accountable. One webinar participant who did not buy into this myth shared this insight: “I believe that volunteers are accountable, but in my experience they are not held accountable”.

I lead a team of more than 40 volunteers (knowledge philanthropists) who each hold significant responsibility. If they do not deliver, it means our programs and services do not happen. I cannot step in to replace them because they have skills that I don’t.

As with any team, I ensure deliverables are met by:

  1. Setting clear expectations and deliverables up front –who is accountable for what?
  2. Holding people accountable to those agreed upon expectations and deliverables
  3. Terminating (kindly and gracefully) a volunteer when they do not deliver

Project plans, role descriptions, and letters of agreement are all tools your salaried employees can use to set clear expectations for each volunteer they engage. These documents also identify how salaried employees will provide volunteers with the information and support required to get the job done.

So what about #2 and #3? Do your salaried employees have the skills to hold people accountable? Are they good at providing feedback? Do they have the authority to terminate a volunteer if required? If not, do you coach them or provide support to develop their abilities in these areas?

By holding volunteers accountable, you open the doors to exponential growth of your organization’s people resources!


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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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