Can We All Just Get Along For The Greater Good?

Lori Halley 21 August 2013 0 comments


Have you ever experienced volunteer shock syndrome or seen someone’s altruistic passion suffer a knock-out punch?

This month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival host, Kivi Leroux Miller (Kivi’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog), asked for “advice, stories and lessons learned on “playing nice with others” so you can get more work done, and done effectively, in a nonprofit setting.”

If you’ve volunteered or worked for a nonprofit, you’re probably smiling knowingly right now (as I did when I saw this month’s carnival topic). There are so many unique relationships at work within a non-profit. The interplay between volunteers and staff (and even volunteer to volunteer), can either inspire our best efforts or deflate our altruistic spirit. But the success of many non-profits depends on effective volunteer and staff partnerships - so can’t we all just get along for the greater good?

The problem is that we may all agree on the vision and mission, but we don’t always share the same values or perspective as our fellow volunteers or staff. As someone who’s been on both sides of the volunteer-staff equation, I’ve seen or heard about the good, the bad and the ugly - from volunteer power struggles, to staff edicts that prevent well-meaning volunteers from doing their jobs. So how can non-profits improve the volunteer-staff partnership and prevent the possible personal and organizational heartache?

Both sides now - and the 3 R’s

There are two-sides to every story or situation. So perhaps the solution can start by having folks flip the coin over to try to understand and empathize with their counterparts. It’s been said so many times, but it’s worth repeating, that you gain a whole lot of perspective when you walk in someone else’s shoes. Non-profit staff need to step back and try to see things from a volunteer’s perspective (better yet - volunteer for another organization for a first-hand viewpoint). Volunteers need to imagine that they are in their own workplace, and asked to supervise or orient a new intern or consultant that the CEO has parachuted in.

In addition, it’s always good to ensure you are applying the 3 R’s.  Not the old-school kind, but three R’s that are fundamental to healthy volunteer-staff (or really any co-worker) relationships: Respect, Relate, and Recognition.

Here are some examples of how these 3 R’s apply to both sides of the volunteer-staff relationship:

  • Respect: mutual respect is the foundation of any relationship, especially the volunteer-staff partnership

    • Non-profit staff need to respect the personal commitment that each volunteer is making and treat them as important partners in meeting your mission. It’s also important to listen and respect their opinions and value their contributions.

    • Volunteers need to respect the important role that each staff member has in moving the organization forward.

  • Relate: communication and personal interaction is key

    • Non-profit staff should remember that while this is their job, it is personal for volunteers! Taking the time to welcome and get to know volunteers can make all the difference. The bottom line: the manner in which non-profit staff relate to volunteers will have a huge impact on productivity and volunteer retention.

    • On the flip-side, volunteers should also recognize that they also need to build relationships with their non-profit staff team. That means that effective, inter-personal communications are required volunteering skills. Volunteers should also remember that their status - either based on their workplace role, or on the board or as chair of a committee - does not provide licence to make non-profit staff feel small or insignificant.

  • Recognition: the efforts of both volunteers and staff should be appreciated and celebrated

    • Non-profit staff should continually say thanks and recognize the efforts of their volunteers. (For ideas, you can check out our Volunteer Appreciation Guide)

    • Volunteers - from the board through to the program or event helper - also need to appreciate and recognize the efforts of their non-profit staff team.  After all, even though they may receive a paycheck, I’m sure they are working many hours (if not days) of overtime and going above and beyond the call of duty to meet your non-profit’s mission.

If both sides can practice the 3 R’s and leave the petty squabbles, volunteer and staff power struggles and generally ineffective interpersonal skills behind - we can all get along for the greater good.

Image source:  Community Support Concept - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 21 August 2013 at 8:30 AM

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