guiding leaders of volunteers to feed the passion of those who choose to serve


Leaders of volunteers carry the additional responsibility of caring for their own engagement.  Tending to one’s own passions is critical when serving others as a leader. 

Why is it so important for a leader of volunteers to stay attuned to their own engagement levels?  A reminder of the importance of self-monitoring engagement is stressed every time preflight announcements are made aboard a commercial airliner.  The flight attendant first demonstrates the seatbelt clasp, and then points to the nearest exits.  The next instruction is on the use of the oxygen mask: 

“If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.” 

What a great reminder!  Those who require our help will best receive it only after we have taken care of ourselves.  The oxygen mask analogy prompts the leader of volunteers to maintain their own engagement level first.  Self-monitoring is a precursor to inspiring engagement in other volunteers.  In a seemingly puzzling paradox, addressing the needs in the leader’s heart is a prerequisite to Otherliness.   

Volunteers deserve the best from their leaders every day.  Especially on the tough days.  Sometimes leaders can fake it until they make it on the challenging days.  That is acceptable.  Every leader has those days.  They put on the face and push through the rough patch with hope that tomorrow will be a new and better day.  When a leader finds they are faking it more than feeling authentic inspiration for the meaningful impact they make, the message is clear:  it may be another’s turn to Equip, Guide, Support and Inspire those who choose to serve. 

How do leaders of volunteers sustain their own engagement?  A simple, four-step guide of Discover, Share, Speak Up and Serve supports preserving their passion.  


Look within to self-assess the needs, wants and desires that keep one’s own passion-fires burning.  Pay close attention to the triggers that inspire feelings of elation, excitement, joy, relief, satisfaction and fulfillment in the leader role.  Tune in to the causes of deflation, concern and frustration.  Emotional responses reflect the leader’s engagement drivers and inhibitors.  

Leaders serve themselves by logging these emotional triggers as they occur.  Devise a handwritten or digital tracker to note when the highs and lows happen.  Collecting data on our own emotional reactions allows for more holistic assessment of themes while avoiding knee-jerk reactions to isolated situations.  Discover the feelings that continue to arise over time.  The recurring scenarios define the engagement inhibitors worthy of addressing.  


Openly, regularly communicate intrinsic motivators with others.  Leaders of volunteers often work on teams or within a leadership structure.  Leaders can build dedicated time into team meetings or use some other creative platform to express the factors that maintain their enthusiasm for what they do.    

By visiting internal drivers frequently, leaders have the opportunity to share how their passion points evolve over time.  What got a leader into the role may not be what keeps them there.  Through sharing, their engagement evolution becomes transparent to others.

When a team of leaders is aware of the needs, wants and desires of their peers, they may foster each other’s engagement.  More and less desirable duties can be shifted.  Ideas can be supported.  Preferences can be considered.  Engagement contributors and detractors can be aligned. 

Speak Up

Tactfully address situations where misalignment between a leader’s efforts and their intrinsic motivators occurs.  Leaders are bound to encounter this.  Tasks land with a leader that do not excite them.  Some will silently trudge through the distraction.  Over time, not speaking up about agitants may seriously compromise a leader’s passion for their work.  The “this is not what I signed up for” feeling can become overwhelming.       

Leadership teams may consider creating a safe zone for bringing engagement red flags forward.  In an environment of trust, leaders can work together to steer major engagement inhibitors away from those negatively affected.  The give-and-take within the leadership ranks strengthens the team.  Leadership team collaboration also results in the individual’s preferences considered in their assignments.  Speaking up creates a win for the team and each leader.           


What can leaders of volunteers do to further sustain their own engagement?  How about taking a break from serving to serve.  A best practice for sustaining leader engagement is shared by A Gift for Teaching (AGFT),a nonprofit organization based in Florida that provides free, donated classroom supplies to teachers in high-need schools.  Manager of Volunteer Services and Store Operations Morgan Riley describes their staff engagement team, nicknamed the Funky Bunch: 

“This bunch of three to four revolving people is responsible for staff birthday and anniversary recognition and coordinating teambuilding activities and volunteer projects outside our organization.  The best days are when we get to remove ourselves from the office setting and do something non-work-related together.  We typically call these Fun Fridays, and we shoot to have them several times each year. 

Recently as a staff we chose to volunteer at the local nonprofit Clean the World.  The whole team met at their facility and we took part in two hours of service, sorting recycled hygiene items that are cleaned and redistributed to those in need around the globe.  This is a partner agency of AGFT . . . we offer their recycled soap in our Free Store. 

As an organization heavily dependent on volunteers, we understand the power of giving your time and the impact it can make.  We find it important to support the community in more ways than just the services we offer as a [nonprofit] business.”                

Morgan, serving together in another capacity is a brilliant recommendation that can be replicated in volunteer-supported organizations everywhere! 

Look within to discover intrinsic motivation.  Share it freely with others.  Find the courage to speak up when circumstances are not aligned.  Consider taking a break from leading to volunteer.  Take care of self.  A leader must sustain their own passion first.

sustaining your own engagement