Some volunteer managers might fall into the trap of viewing their position as a mere job, instead of a profession.


Why is this a problem?


Volunteerism expert Susan J. Ellis explains this well in her article, “Pride in the Volunteer Management Profession”:


“If you see it only as a job, then your main criteria for success is pleasing your employer. If you are a professional, then you have cultivated a basic knowledge base that can be transferred from setting to setting. It’s knowledge expressed both in skill and in conviction. You can articulate why you do something as well as how to do it best.”


Treating your role as a profession is important because it positions you as a key player in the organization’s operations as well as in its future. Let’s take a look at four ways you do this.


Maintain Integrity of Your Volunteer Program

No nonprofit organization wants their volunteer program to feel broken, lagging or second-rate. That’s why many put volunteer managers in charge. As the volunteer manager, you exercise your professional skills to ensure that your volunteer program onboards and trains high-quality volunteers, who are both equipped to perform their duties and well matched with their positions.


Because your role focuses on maintaining your program’s integrity, you stay up-to-date on laws and best practices, especially as they pertain to background screening. You are skilled in tracking your volunteers’ hours and accomplishments, which is crucial information to share in your organization’s annual reports. Asking another staff member to perform these tasks as a “job” here and there, instead of filling the role with a professional, would clearly undermine the strength and effectiveness of the volunteer program as a whole.


Identify New Ways to Grow Your Volunteer Program

As your organization evolves, your volunteers will be needed in new ways: your beneficiaries will need support from volunteers with different skills; your organization’s staff will need skilled volunteers to assist them in developing or advancing in-house capabilities; your organization might develop new programs altogether, requiring a brand-new recruitment campaign.


As the volunteer manager, your professional prowess makes you skilled in coming up with new ways to utilize volunteer support for the advancement of your organization. Not only are you skilled in creating new positions, but you know how to recruit volunteers from the right places – such as from corporations, or from virtual volunteering sources. Without your professional knowledge, your volunteer program wouldn’t grow nearly as smoothly.


Plan Strategically for Your Volunteer Program

A common misconception in the nonprofit world is that volunteer programs need little funding. You know better, though! Because you’re a professional, you understand that a volunteer program must be properly funded in order for its integrity to be protected. You know that adequate funding is needed to cover background screening, training, tracking, appreciation and more.


If you approached this as just a job, you might not know or care about this. You might treat your volunteers as unpaid staff and focus on your other duties. But your volunteer program would suffer as a result. Since you focus solely on your volunteers and the program, you are able to identify and request necessary funds, explain why they are necessary, and plan in advance for future needs.


Nurture Volunteers to Keep them Happy

Just as board members are valued for their ability to nurture relationships with big donors, so should volunteer managers be valued for their ability to nurture relationships with volunteers. Volunteers are a key factor in the organization’s ability to accomplish its mission. Donations are important, too, but without volunteers putting in the time and sweat, that money wouldn’t go too far.


So, part of your skill set absolutely rests in volunteer appreciation. This part of your position can hardly be described as something anyone can do, because volunteers can sniff out half-hearted appreciation easily. As the volunteer manager, you operate, as Ellis says, with conviction; as a result, your volunteers feel truly valued, and they are more likely to continue volunteering.



As a professional volunteer manager, you are empowered to take action in helping your organization fulfill its strategic goals. You aren’t merely a cog in the wheel; you’re part of the engine. Take pride in your position, as Ellis says, and assume the role of professional.


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