Following — or Leading?

In many traditional volunteer settings, volunteers are the followers. They show up for their volunteer shift, are given their assignment, and carry it out. But, I wonder, are some great opportunities being left on the table? What if some of these followers were transformed into leaders? How many of your volunteers are already in a management position at their “day job?” Why not use them in the same capacity, if they are willing, at your organization?

With funding being tighter than ever, imagine what could be done if more of your staff time could be shifted to volunteers in leadership roles. That new program you’ve been wanting to start might have a chance at getting implemented this way, too.

For advice on this topic, we cite literature developed by the HandsOn Network entitled “Volunteers as Leaders.” Here are some highlights:

Rationale and Logistics

  • The first piece of the puzzle is to provide an infrastructure for volunteer leadership.
  • Determine how the new initiative fits with your organization’s current mission.
  • Plan how you will manage and support volunteer leaders.
  • Pinpoint specific ways in which these new leaders can be utilized, whether it is to enhance existing programs or to establish new ones.

Job Descriptions

Be clear and specific about each position you create. Outline what is asked of the volunteer and what your organization will provide. This includes a job title, the purpose, location, responsibilities, qualifications, time requirements, support and training given by your agency, benefits to the volunteer, and a supervisor’s contact information. Once these details are in place, these document can be used as fodder for recruitment tools and as the basis of “contracts” between your agency and volunteers.

Along these same lines, draft a volunteer application. This should contain the following components: contact information, volunteer history, and an interest survey. You may also opt to require references, background checks, etc.


Especially in this case, it makes sense to aim your volunteer recruitment efforts toward those you feel will be best qualified for these positions. Personally ask those you would like to see involved, and then widen your net using your usual advertising channels. HandsOn Network also suggests involving current volunteer leaders in the search for new recruits, as well as developing a “benefits package” for exceptional leaders (including items such as free workouts and/or meals, etc.)

Additionally, the HandsOn Network information encourages agencies to look at their current recruitment tools. In short, are your flyers and brochures informative and attractive — and getting the job done? PR recruitment pieces should be conveying “the need, how the volunteer can help and the impact that individuals can have on the issue.” HandsOn goes further to point out, “Keep the message short but meaningful, and dont be afraid to appeal to peoples emotions and the things that motivate them to volunteer.”


After you have screened and selected volunteers based on your recruiting campaign, it’s time for or ientation and training. Because of their greater responsibility, this process should be even more in-depth than that of other volunteers. Be sure to clearly communicate your agency’s mission and goals, as well as the specific details and objectives of their project(s). Provide support and guidance for recruiting other volunteers and garnering donations from community businesses, if necessary. Don’t forget to agree on a means of evaluating the program at its completion.


One of the most-overlooked aspects of volunteer programs is recognition. Don’t forget to informally and formally give credit to and appreciate the efforts of your volunteers. It can be as simple as a thank you note or as elaborate as a banquet. See HandsOn Network’s “Volunteers as Leaders” information for many terrific ideas.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

If you’re interested in creating more volunteer leadership positions in your organization, HandsOn Network also offers a:

  • Volunteer Leader Needs Assessment Worksheet
  • Volunteer Position Description Worksheet
  • Volunteer Leader Application
  • Volunteer Leader Recruitment Worksheet
  • Leadership Diversity Activity

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