Preventing the Disappearing Volunteer

Laura has experience with big four consulting organizations; was a managing director at a start-up international technology consulting organization that provided off-shore services; and currently is the owner of LAD Enterprizes, a management and information technology company. She provides project management services and training to assist organizations in realizing their goals through projects.

While presenting “Ensure the Success of Your Next Project” at a nonprofit conference, an attendee asked, “We assign our volunteers work, but they miss the deadlines. We also struggle to retain them once the project is complete. Any suggestions?” A lively conversation ensued prompting me to write this article.

No project manager assigns project work to a volunteer hoping that the volunteer becomes so dissatisfied and disillusioned that he or she does not complete the assigned project work or--worse yet--disappears, no longer supporting the organization. Nonprofit organizations want the volunteer experience to be satisfying, but very few project managers have been trained to manage and lead volunteers. Project management methodologies do not discuss the relationship between project management and volunteer management. Books written about building teams rarely discuss volunteers.

To enhance your management and leadership skills as a nonprofit project manager, take the time to understand the reasons that can affect a person's volunteer behavior or cause dissatisfaction and disillusionment before assigning volunteers project work.

The Volunteer’s Motive
The key difference between volunteers and staff is the volunteers “voluntarily” perform a service. Staff are paid and obligated to perform the work; they are motivated by…

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"No opera plot can be sensible, for in sensible situations people do not sing."

- W.H. Auden