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


For paid professionals, few who carry that title enjoy independent wealth.  A small percentage have the luxury of performing in their paid, professional capacity for the sheer joy it brings.  Most work out of necessity.  For a paid professional, a leader can expect the individual to place the needs of the organization ahead of their personal needs.  The organization, regardless of its size, is part of a transactional relationship with the individual—the person performs the work, the organization pays them.  The transactional nature of paid, professional work is the difference.  This transaction cues leaders to place the vision, mission, values, competencies, goals and objectives of the organization ahead of the
individual’s needs. 

That prioritization doesn’t suggest that the paid professional’s needs, desires and passions are not important.  The ideal situation for many is that their work also feeds their soul while paying the bills.  What if a professional achieves the one-two punch of serving their organization’s needs first while also meeting their own intrinsic drivers through their compensated work?  Enviable!  Their leader is still commissioned to rank the needs of the organization above the needs of the individual.    

In a volunteer role, the individual is performing by choice.  There is no tangible compensation for their work, by the definition.  The passions that stir in the heart of the volunteer are paramount.  Leaders of volunteers place individual needs ahead of the organizational needs to most effectively engage a volunteer. 

This priority order may seem contradictory to some leaders who are accustomed to trumpeting the organization, the cause, and its beneficiaries above all else.  The model does not imply that the organization’s reason to be is not important; the leader does not cast aside the organizational vision to meet only the selfish, petulant desires of each volunteer.  The model merely proposes that there is a prioritization that should occur.  Cater first to the individual and their choice to serve.

Where does the organization, the cause and the beneficiaries fit in the volunteer engagement equation? 

The recommended prioritization places the organization’s reason for existence a close second below the individual’s passions.  The suggested order produces the greatest potential for elevated results for the organization—long-term, sustainable results through the committed heads, hearts and hands of its volunteers.  When the passions of individuals are lifted up, they serve at their full capacity.  Volunteers deeply engage with their time and talents.  When volunteers serve at their best, the organization, the cause and the beneficiaries all reap optimal benefit.  Amazing results are achieved through people—people whose passions have been discovered, their hearts have been touched, and their gifts are being applied.         

Leaders may recognize that the needs, passions and desires that stir inside volunteers are important.  Why should leaders give more attention to intrinsic motivators in the volunteer environment?  What makes a volunteer’s internal drivers as or more important than the drivers for paid professionals? 
The difference becomes clear when comparing why people engage in their compensated work and why volunteers serve. 

First, clarification on the words paid professional.  The term paid professional is defined as any person who is tangibly compensated for performing work.  The paid professional term does not distinguish between highly specialized or common labor pursuits.  The words simply mean that the person performing the job is being paid. 

the difference in engaging volunteers