Many organizations benefit from the support of self-governing, all-volunteer groups. Often called auxiliaries or "friends of" groups, they are common in hospitals, cultural and performing arts institutions, libraries, parks and zoos, and government agencies needing an independent fundraising body. The officers of these associations, themselves volunteers, must coordinate the efforts of their members to accomplish goals. But many organizations also have paid managers of volunteer involvement recruiting a separate corps of volunteers for in-house activities.
Co-existence of two bodies of volunteers can create underlying tension. It is common to hear volunteer officers question the need for a paid coordinator, matched by paid managers bemoaning the challenge of dealing with volunteer leaders. And the volunteers (or "members") they lead are caught in the middle.
The Roots of Tension
With some exceptions, the traditional all-volunteer association is in trouble. Even if some groups are presently viable, their long-range future outlook is not rosy. Many are "aging in place" without attracting new or younger members, let alone any type of diversity. They are recycling officers because few members want to take leadership roles. Their projects and the amount of money raised are in a downward spiral. Understandably, volunteer leaders are defensive about this situation, especially if they cannot see alternatives to future survival.
Almost always the all-volunteer support group pre-dates the creation of the paid coordinator of volunteers position. The world has changed around the veteran volunteers, who do not necessarily feel inclined to change along with it. So, the paid volunteer resources manager and the group's volunteer officers are out of sync with each other from day one.
The seeds of discontent are further sown by unwitting executives who add the new staff position without any clear explanation of what will be expected in terms of coordination and cooperation between the new employee and the pre-existing volunteer leaders. All the options raise red flags. If the new in-house volunteer office is given no authority (or direction) to deal with the all-volunteer group, the two programs are left to their own devices to work out a relationship and bump against each other trying to co-exist. If the employee is suddenly put in charge of the formerly independent volunteers, it's easy to see the potential for resentment and resistance. If the all-volunteer group is asked to fund the paid position (which does still happen), questions arise about the chain of reporting and ultimate responsibility.
Someone has to define policy to eliminate assumptions. If volunteer association officers assume a hierarchy in which they are on top, they may view and treat the paid volunteer resources manager as administrative (largely clerical) staff at their beck and call. On the other hand, the volunteer resources manager, assuming a hierarchy in which s/he is on the top, may view and treat the volunteer association as an irrelevant (or irritating) appendage. If the person hired to fill the new employee role was previously an officer of the all-volunteer association, all sorts of additional friction emerges!
Finally, if a merger between two or more organizations forces the consolidation of previously operating volunteer groups - and possibly more than one paid volunteer management position - expect similar problems unless strategic planning prepares the way.
Apart from unpleasantness, tension between two sets of volunteers creates practical problems, both in handling daily work and in public perception. The division can confuse the community if each does separate publicity and recruitment, rarely mentioning the other or offering a prospective new volunteer the choice to become involved with the other or both groups.
Frequently the two volunteer corps compete, particularly for younger, more diverse new members. Association officers may request that all new volunteers be required to join the all-volunteer association or automatically be considered members. This is a non-starter, as someone interested in contributing time to a specific volunteer assignment or project rarely is also interested in the social and political infrastructure of a membership association focused on meetings and events. Despite this reality, some organizations acquiesce to making all volunteers titular members of the auxiliary simply to appease the veteran leadership. This only tends to draw out the slow death of the all-volunteer group by swelling their membership roster with people having no intent to participate in the planned activities. Worse, volunteers attracted to the new range of work under paid leadership might resent the unwanted added layer of group involvement.
The Way Forward
Neither the paid volunteer resources manager nor the officers of the all-volunteer group can solve their divisions on their own. If it is genuinely time to disband the long-standing volunteer group altogether or officially make it a project within the larger volunteer program, muster the courage to do so. This should be done with the members, not to them, and any volunteer who wishes to continue supporting the organization should be offered that chance. Some pomp and circumstance might be in order, to honor the long history of contributions by the friends group - maybe even a plaque on a wall visible to the public.
If the decision is made to continue having two distinct corps of volunteers, articulate the rationale and create policies for how the leadership will interact. This probably means an intentional separation of the roles each set of volunteers will fill and guaranteeing that all volunteer applicants will be able to choose whether to affiliate with one or both.
Co-existence is possible, but only if both groups of volunteers are valued by the institution and by each other. The paid volunteer resources manager and the officers of the all-volunteer group need to have open lines of communication and collaborate whenever possible. Each is a resource to the other; combining their perspectives can only lead to more opportunities.