Is it is easier to recruit a volunteer for front-line, hands-on work than for a leadership position such as team captain, advisory council, or committee chair (let alone serve on a board of directors)? How can you help volunteers to increase their involvement over time and grow comfortable taking on more responsibilities and even authority?
First, consider what may not be fun for volunteers in leadership roles:
- Attendance at meetings - maybe lots of long meetings, and not always productive ones.
- Willingness to stick their necks out and take risks on behalf of the project.
- Making difficult choices and then facing scrutiny (and maybe criticism) from their colleagues and friends about these decisions.
Maybe volunteers are right if they assume this is a major commitment! So the key is to articulate what the benefits of service at the leadership level are, and then to identify the type of people who would find satisfaction in those. For example:
- The intellectual challenge of developing strategies to help the community.
- Opportunity to interact with other organization leaders.
- Being at the forefront of positive change and action.
- Doing something with long-term implications.
Recruiting People Who Are Already Leaders
One misconception is that people in business, especially in big corporations, are always "leaders." Of course some corporate executives have strong leadership skills, but many have simply risen to a level of authority and are enforcing the decisions of a small circle of others at the very top. Also, community leadership requires consensus-building, diplomacy, and other characteristics that may not be as highly prized in the business world. So it's fine to look to successful business people as possible leadership volunteers, just be sure to double check your assumptions with each individual.
Developing New Leaders
Accept the challenge of "grooming" front-line volunteers into new leaders. This starts by noticing who has the potential to develop. Think of the process in the following stages:
1. The volunteer does an assignment well and you notice. S/he shows initiative, does something above and beyond what you expected, or seems able to help others do better or to work together as a team.
2. Genuinely praise the extra effort, so that the volunteer understands what you value and feels good about contributing in this way.
3. Invite the volunteer to do something specific requiring additional commitment but giving the opportunity to learn additional skills: acting as a team leader for a project, being a trainer of new volunteers, or writing a report about the project. Offer whatever support the person might need to succeed and then praise that accomplishment, too.
4. Ask the volunteer to participate in a planning or evaluation session - something that requires the person to speak out, share opinions, and interact with others. This might lead to service on a committee or task force - a group that meets for a short time with a specific purpose.
Talk honestly with the volunteer about your hopes for her or his development and longer term commitment to your cause. This isn't a secret process in which you manipulate someone into the trap of long-term service! If the person really is not comfortable - or simply prefers less demanding volunteering - that's OK. But sometimes all it takes is convincing a prospective leader that you really think she or he has the right stuff to do the job well.
By allowing each volunteer to take small steps towards involvement as a leader, and be reinforced with skill-building and success at each level, you will cultivate a pool of committed - and competent - individuals.