BY MARY T. MARKOVICH
Associations need volunteers. In fact, they wouldn’t exist without them, as volunteer leaders are needed to drive associations’ missions forward and to prepare new lead- ers to take office.
Of course, volunteers are just as diverse as they are necessary, which poses a unique challenge for association professionals, who must adapt every year to new volunteers with varying
leadership styles. Even with an official process in place, preparing new leaders for service isn’t easy. Successful association
professionals must be able to expertly manage their expectations, goals, styles and strategies, which requires understanding
who volunteers are, what motivates them and what skills they
need in order to be effective.
Ensure that your volunteer leaders understand your organization’s mission and vision, and that they’re willing to work
cooperatively with staff in order to successfully execute your
organization’s goals by considering the following insights about
volunteer behavior, which may help you more effectively manage these important relationships.
WHAT MOTIVATES VOLUNTEERS
Although volunteers and staff alike have a vested interest in
their association’s success, each group has different motivations and different skill sets, which can often cause conflict.
Because they have a limited term in office, but want to “have
an impact,” some volunteers, for instance, are aggressive
and overbearing. Others, meanwhile, are timid about taking
on responsibility and resist making timely decisions. Both
approaches can wreak havoc on associations when they try to
plan and implement programs.
After years of working with and observing these types of
volunteers and others — both leaders and followers — Jonathan Wallace, Ph.D., of The Wallace Group identified several
motivational continuums upon which volunteer leaders operate. The first ranges from the pure benevolence of helping the
organization on one extreme to a self-serving agenda on the
other. The other scale is based on volunteers’ focus, from getting the job done to serving those they lead.
So, if we view these scales as a matrix, it would look something like what you see in Figure 1. All volunteer leaders will fall
somewhere on this simple grid. There are benevolent, people-focused leaders, for instance, and self-serving, mission-driven
The goal for association professionals should be to understand
where on the matrix their volunteer leaders fall. While it would
be nice if they all fell in quadrant one, that would overlook the
importance of diversity — in motivation, as well as skills.
It could be easy to discount the leaders in quadrant three as
being only driven to help themselves. Even these folks, however,
have something to contribute, so long as you’re able to harness
their energy in a way that will benefit both them and the organization. There are times and tasks, for example, that call for a
self-motivated, no-nonsense, get-the-job-done leader. As long as
they do it to the mutual benefit of themselves and the association, quadrant-three leaders may be the best volunteers for the job.
DIFFERENT STYLES, DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS
Volunteers have a variety of approaches to leadership. Being able
to manage these styles effectively will determine your effectiveness as a staff leader.