Demand Excellence

By Dr. Bill Wittich
From Keep Those Volunteers Around, Knowledge Transfer Publishing, 2002, pp. 43-44

The leader finds the dream and then the people.
The people find the leader and then the dream.
— John Maxwell

Somehow people think of volunteers as people who care but really can’t get the job done. The whole concept that we hear so often that they are “only volunteers” says it all. Even volunteers have been heard saying that they are only volunteers, therefore don’t expect too much of them. Or the attitude that the volunteer is not getting paid, so don’t expect a professional attitude or performance.

This is absolutely silly.

Look at college sports players. They don’t get paid, but they still play their hearts out on the football field or basketball court. Why doesn’t the college player say, “Well I am just a College player, don’t expect too much from me until I get a big salary in the pros”? You and I know that this attitude would never get them to the professional ranks. Also, the Fans don't pay high dollars for college stadium fifty-yard seats and then say, “Don’t expect too much because they are only beginners.” So why do we allow this minimal expectation from our volunteers?

It’s our job to raise the bar and begin to expect excellence, to commit to excellence. Lou Holtz in his book, Winning Every Day, gives it to us directly when he says, “Leaders must challenge and inspire. I know that many people today believe that demanding excellence is politically incorrect. We are supposed to accept whatever an individual gives us as the natural expression of his ability and not pressure him or her by asking for anything more. Nonsense.”11 Our job as volunteer coordinators is just like the college coach, that is, to find and develop the best volunteers we can. Our job is to encourage our players and help them reach their goals. Every volunteer arrives at your front door fired up to perform a job that will make a difference. They have a burning desire to create change for people. Read the mission statement for your agency. Isn’t that what it says it will accomplish? And those volunteers come in to do these tasks that will make that difference.

So what happens? Many times it is the lack of leadership on the part of the manager and their staff that deflates that excitement. Holtz uses the example of General Patton who, when quizzed about the ability of his army to finish one battle, march one hundred miles and then fight another encounter in less than forty-eight hours, said, “That’s what we’re in business for.” Every leader must think that way.

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