Ombudsman BlogMany of us have volunteered countless hours of our time for causes related to children’s activities, church activities, work sponsored activities, not to mention Girl Scout cookies and volunteer boards of directors.

We, Conflict Transformation Associates (CTA), have spent a great deal of time working with leaders of non-profit boards over the last few years.   We have discovered that folks join boards for a variety of reasons:

  • Support a cause that matters to us
  • Add a bullet item to a resume/vitae
  • Create visibility for your business or personal brand at public events

As one may guess, the first category is truly the reason for volunteering and we have found the greatest percentage of our clients’ members are in this category.  One important consideration-all of these board members work full time and have families, too, they are very busy people.   There are three major factors for success that we have discovered while coaching and training our clients. Excellent volunteer leaders will use these three factors as they lead their teams to success:

  • Accountability
  • Reward
  • Gratitude

Accountability

Let’s start with the one that can be most challenging – accountability.  Accountability is defined as doing what one said they would do in the timeframe that one committed to complete the activity/activities.

Often, board leaders come from a place of ‘needing volunteers’ vs., a mindset of ‘this is the best board and we want the brightest and the best on our team. We have great work to do for the cause!’  This change in mindset separates the true and committed talent from the tagalongs. Committed and talented individuals appreciate the challenge of accountability and truly desire to add value, accomplish the outlined goals and create success for the team. The tagalongs, on the other hand, can drag down the team, not accomplish objectives in a timely manner, and provide a variety of excuses.  The tagalongs will most likely eliminate themselves or the leaders will weed them out due to the leaders requiring accountability.

Reward

It is important to recognize the value of your volunteers, especially those who go above and beyond the call of duty.  Often, non-profit organizations have limited budgets so rewards are often overlooked. That being said, simple ideas go a long way. For example: We held a leadership training class recently.  Megan’s first comment was:  “Wow, I cannot wait to hang my completion certificate!”

Certificates can be awarded for accomplishments other than training. For example, a successful project completion, an anniversary for a full year(s) of serving as a volunteer, and for recruiting new and excited members.  All it takes is a printer and some nice paper!

Other rewards may include custom tee shirts for special event participation, gadgets for computers, or coffee mugs.

Gratitude

We have all experienced a heartfelt thank you for something we have done for someone else.  Often times though, in our busyness we do not remember to thank those who do so much, especially volunteers.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. - Cicero

Gratitude for volunteers can take the form of a formal thank you during a conference call or event; it can take the form of an email or a hand written note.  Gratitude is front and center as a component of positive psychology, a psychology that we (CTA) embrace. It is proven that when we embrace gratitude, we increase our well-being and our happiness. Cultivating this with volunteers will improve their lives as well!!

We encourage you to remember these three factors as you lead volunteer teams to success:   Hold yourself and others accountable in measurable ways, reward yourself and others often, and most important – be grateful for the team and show your gratitude to all.  Good luck!