JLBC Leadership for Volunteers:

JLBC Leadership for Volunteers:


1. Define the term "intrinsic."

2. Define the term "extrinsic."

3. Identify four assumptions that can hinder the success of volunteers in an organization.

4. List four arts that can contribute to the success of volunteer organizations.


The failure of volunteer organizations is commonly attributed to a lack of leadership. The failure problem may be more closely related to unrealistic assumptions rather than the lack of leadership. Identifying common assumptions about organizational goals, volunteer roles, information flow, and feedback is crucial. Address- ing those assumptions by learning the arts of active listening, mentoring, public dialogue, and evaluation and reflection are critical to the success of an organization.

For some time, questions have been asked about why some volunteer organizations are more successful than others. By and large, the problem is not with the organization's leadership. Many talented volunteers bring substantial leadership experience from the private or public sectors. The problem may be more closely re- late to unrealistic assumptions regarding the implementation of leadership for organizations.

Through personal experience, four common assumptions regarding leadership for volunteers have emerged. These benchmarks were more a result of armchair observations and hard knocks than the result of research. Research indicates these heuristics, however commonly accepted when working with volunteers, may cause more problems than they cure.

Volunteers are attracted to organizations for a variety of reasons. Generally, the motivations for aligning with others in a voluntary effort can be classified either as intrinsic, that is, doing something for the sake of the activity, or extrinsic, or doing something for an expected payoff. Whichever the case, the volunteer wishes to do something. The following generally accepted assumptions may be a source of problems for volunteers willing to work.

Assumption One: Everyone knows what the organization stands for and represents. Volunteers select organizations because of the vision and mission of the organization. To fulfill an organization's mission, the volunteers must articulate goals. Volunteers want to do something to help reach the goals and vision of the organization. With the increasing mobility of volunteers, the makeup of an organization will change rapidly, and the assumption that everyone knows the organization's mission is risky. The only way to ensure common goals is to share those goals frequently.

Assumption Two: Everyone knows their role. In the work world, employees are usually provided a listing of expectations for their job, such as work standards, appropriate time schedules, authorization capabilities, oversight responsibilities, and reporting protocol. Volunteers have different motivations for voluntary work than paid employees; however, specific guidelines are required to have a smooth functioning organization. Role clarification cannot be over-emphasized in volunteer organizations.

Assumption Three: Everyone knows where to get the needed information. Volunteers need to know and understand how different project parts fit together. Newsletters may give general comments and updates about a project but are usually inadequate regarding specifics about project progress. In addition to the informal lines of communication that develop, a specific reporting mechanism should be established and implemented. Many problems can be avoided when the information flow is unimpeded.

Assumption Four: Everyone gets feedback. It has been said that in Vietnam, the U.S. military did not fight a nine-year war; rather, because of frequent troop changes with no input or institutional memory, the U.S. military fought the first year of war nine times in succession. Volunteers cycle through organizations similarly, and new recruits are often unaware of previous efforts. Providing feedback to volunteers is critical at all levels of the organization.

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