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Volunteer Leadership: Is it really different?

One of the many rewards in one’s life can be the time spent dedicated to volunteering – often times it is the only real reward that we reap. Everyone is passionate about something and to bring that passion to help out a cause, a child or an association is a gift that is priceless.

I have volunteered in various organizations over the years that range from charity events, associations, local schools and community outreach. And, I have held many positions within these groups from a simple registration check-in volunteer to actually being the leader of the organization.

I have always found it interesting to observe the leadership styles in volunteer organizations and the passion they can bring.  How does a person who doesn’t get paid to spend countless hours raising money for an event, or working the phones to bring in registrations stay so motivated? What drives them?

Well, I have a theory and it’s not really scientific. People by nature look for a leader to follow and will often times go to the ends of the earth to support a cause and to be a part of something greater then themselves.

Are the volunteer leaders we so love to work with the same dynamic leaders at their companies?  Does being a volunteer leader have something more rewarding than leading a team or project at your organization? All good questions that have led to my own personal thoughts on this. While I don’t think these are the only reasons people volunteer and leaders lead, I do think they are a few determining factors:

Filling the Gap
There are those leaders who find that being a volunteer leader fills a gap that has been left by either a void in their personal life or because of a need to be part of something larger than themselves. Despite responsibilities at home or at work, there is a fundamental need to give back to the community or industry that supports them. These leaders work out of gratitude to what has been bestowed upon them or often times there has been a connection either through work or their personal lives that can fill a gap in their life.

Bringing Passion and Reaping Rewards
Let’s face it, not all of us have jobs that we are passionate about. I know there are those people out there that would say, well, change jobs. That is not always a reality for some, so volunteering for organizations where they can bring their passion is very important to a work/life balance, i.e. like working in an animal shelter, or volunteering at a hospice organization – this can serve as an outlet for that. Leaders in these areas are driven by an internal motivation that speaks to a strong desire to make a difference is a life or process.

Control of the Outcome
There is often a need for people to feel more in control of their environment and/or outcome of a process.  Often times our work can be mundane or the day-to-day seems monotonous. Leaders who come from this type of workplace/environment can bring an intensity not often seen by the “appointed” United Way representative, for example. To be able to break out of that daily grind and really make an impact on an event or to change the outcome for the better is a huge driving factor for this leader.  The successful outcome and the many accolades can bring a strong sense of satisfaction and confidence to that leader(s) and of course, the actual cause and/or event they are working with benefits immensely.

Volunteer leaders are a dynamic group of people who for whatever the reason, garner great satisfaction in being part of something bigger then themselves or their own jobs. They lead with passion and a strong desire for successful outcomes and to fill a need that may be missing.

Can that translate to their workplace or culture? Are their unique volunteer skills overlooked at their workplace?

Take a good look at the attributes your employees have when it comes to volunteering and the passion they show to make a difference. Is there a way to bring that back to your organization’s mission?


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