volunteer leadership

Volunteer Leadership: An Effective Model You Need to Know

Now, more than ever, volunteer administrators are called upon to strengthen their volunteer leadership skills. The ability to inspire and influence is critical to a volunteer coordinator’s success on the job. Whether they work with volunteers, community partners, executive management, or colleagues, a coordinator must have skills in place that will inspire action.

The typical information and training’s you will find for volunteer coordinators focuses on developing management skills. What volunteer leaders truly need are actionable steps they can take to strengthen leadership competencies. Fortunately, there is plenty of evidence about what makes a good leader and, research shows that leadership across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors doesn’t differ that much.

Great Leadership Makes a Difference

In their influential book, The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, James Kouzes & Barry Posner offer a well-researched model for five practices and ten commitments of exemplary leadership. Findings show leaders who exhibited these traits were able to bring about notable changes in their organizations through inspirational leadership.

They found that leadership wasn’t just a nice, feel-good concept. Leadership, when exercised with value-driven commitment, actually makes a positive difference. Below are some of the concrete ways better leadership made an impact across a wide variety of contexts.  Most noteworthy, they are also often-cited challenges volunteer managers work hard to overcome.

  • Created higher-performing teams
  • Fostered loyalty and greater commitment
  • Increased fundraising results and gift levels
  • Increased retention and reduced and turnover
  • Positively influenced recruitment

Volunteer Leadership: An Evidence-based Model in Practice

Below are Kouzes and Posner’s five practices and ten commitments that promise improved performance and more impactful results. Consequently, this model is highly in the nonprofit realm, and I’ve suggested some ways they might be adapted for practical use in volunteer leadership.

  1. Model the Way
    • Clarify values by finding your voice & affirming shared values
      • Action Item for Volunteer Coordinators: Develop a Philosophy of Volunteer Engagement that describes how and why volunteers are involved and share it with management and staff.
    • Set the example by aligning actions with shared values
      • Action Item for Volunteer Coordinators: Walk the talk by working alongside volunteers from time to time, to better understand their experiences and needs.
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision
    • Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities
      • Action Item for Volunteer Coordinators: Imagine and describe to other ways volunteers can lead versus follow at your organization.
    • Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations
      • Action Item for Volunteer Coordinators: Involve volunteers in their future with the organization, and brainstorm with them new and exciting ways they can volunteer.
  3. Challenge the Process
    • Search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve
      • Action Item for Volunteer Coordinators: Seek out cross-disciplinary and cross-sector collaborations (with business, academia, etc.) to unearth new discoveries and approaches.
    • Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience
      • Action Item for Volunteer Coordinators: Test new ideas and work towards improvement by guiding volunteers through developing small, self-reflective “growth pilot projects”.
  4. Enable Others to Act
    • Foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships
      • Action Item for Volunteer Coordinators: Actively assist volunteers in developing deep-rooted relationships by infusing trust- and teambuilding activities in meetings and trainings.
    • Strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence
      • Action Item for Volunteer Coordinators: Develop a leadership pathway and training that volunteers can use to develop their leadership skills and assume greater responsibility.
  5. Encourage the Heart
    • Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence
      • Action Item for Volunteer Coordinators: On a regular basis, recognize individual volunteers for personal improvements and successes, both in partnership with the organization and outside it.
    • Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community
      • Action Item for Volunteer Coordinators: Share and archive photographs and stories that document the “living history” of volunteer achievements at your organization.

What Do You Think?

Does Kouzes and Posner’s model make sense for nonprofit and civic leaders? Which volunteer leadership skills are missing that you would add to this list? Furthermore, are there other leadership models that work well in our context? Share your thoughts and comments below.

Want to Grow Your Volunteer Leadership Skills?

Consider joining our online professional development community, VolunteerPro.  If you’re curious about what we offer, reach out to us at wecare@volpro.net.