The Importance of Volunteer Leadership
In the United States, the nonprofit sector is the third largest workforce of any U.S. industry, with 12.3 million paid employees across 1.5 million IRS-registered nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits have a remarkable impact on communities and are headed by a multitude of leaders. Some of these leaders work solely in the nonprofit sector; others are corporate professionals who also serve in leadership roles with charities and activism groups. In fact, many C-suite executives (CEOs, CFOs, etc.) are nonprofit advisory board members, Directors and Trustees. Regardless of their specific title, all nonprofit organizations need volunteer leaders who will use their expertise to further their organization’s mission and enact positive change.
Operational and Social Necessity
Volunteer leaders are essential to the operation of a nonprofit. They oversee organization-wide operations, help manage budgets and implement long-term strategies. Leaders can draw from their corporate expertise to guide their organization through the nonprofit world which may have less legal framework or controllable variables than the for-profit sector.
Socially, volunteer leaders serve as advocates for the organization’s mission. They may make speeches at charity events as the organization’s ambassador or be the public face of volunteering events. They foster relationships with other nonprofits for cross-community work, and they build organic connections with potential supporters, civic leaders and and corporate partners. Within their organization, they set the tone for company culture—a team environment where everyone is part of a movement. Overall, they work to gain and sustain people’s engagement to make a difference.
Volunteer leaders are also directly involved in the fundraising process. They reach out to personal and business connections to secure individual donations, sponsors and/or to make introductions to foundations. These ambassadors readily convey the financial benefits and social value of giving. Many nonprofits require a financial commitment from their board and/or event committees.
C-suite executives who choose to be volunteer leaders can kickstart or increase corporate social responsibility within their own business, a current necessity for economic success and an action which several executives have described to have a slew of benefits for their corporation.
Benefits of Volunteer Leadership
The importance of volunteer leadership is supplemented by its numerous benefits, ranging from professional to personal development. The possible ways an individual can benefit from volunteer leadership include, but are not limited to:
- Explore new career options and interests
- Build resume/CV to show greater diversity and experience
- Network with other volunteer leaders (who may be corporate leaders themselves)
- Hone current hard and soft skills with a different audience and mission
- Increase creativity and cross-cultural cooperation skills
- Inspire corporate employees to volunteer themselves, making them more connected to their coworkers, satisfied, productive and engaged
- Learn different perspectives and increase cultural awareness
- Build personal relationships with like-minded leaders
- Heighten connection with the local community
- Improve mental, emotional and physical health
- Make an impact on the community/environment
Before joining an organization as a volunteer leader, professionals may have concerns about the requirements to join and the possible impact on their full-time work. Some may worry about the additional time commitment, which they will have to juggle with professional and personal responsibilities. Will volunteer leadership put them in a financial negative? They may worry that they do not have enough experience or knowledge about the nonprofit’s mission to be an effective leader. Others’ negative impressions of volunteer leadership may also be of concern.
These are answers to each of these questions. While leaders who are board members are expected to attend board meetings and important events, their average time commitment is only 5 to 10 hours per month. And although many leaders aren’t paid salaries or compensated for those hours, as with the majority of board directors in California, nonprofits do follow guidelines to reimburse volunteer leaders for business-related expenses. Also, nonprofits seek and thrive with leaders who demonstrate flexibility, engagement and the willingness to learn—leaders can always increase their cause-specific expertise with the aid of these essential skills. If C-suite executives do choose to be a volunteer leader, they can work to dismantle negative stereotypes about nonprofit work: they can point to the nonprofit sector’s financial contribution of nearly $1 trillion USD to the US economy in 2015, or they can implement clearer metrics within their own organization.
Ultimately, these are valid and significant concerns, and potential volunteer leaders should consider them in the context of their personal life, work and values. They should also evaluate their responsibilities and experiences regarding their future schedule and goals.
Those who are involved in volunteer leadership should research causes and organizations that align with their interests or values carefully (one resource for discovering organizations is GreatNonprofits). The first step to get involved can be volunteering at a charity event, and if the organizations appears to be a good fit, volunteer leadership may be next.
Current volunteer leaders always have opportunities to get further involved. They should keep an eye out for potential leaders who would bolster the organization’s leadership team, sharing their experiences and encouraging interested individuals. They should also help develop a long-term recruitment strategy that attracts future leaders that are aligned with the organization’s mission and vision.
Volunteer leadership is essential for the nonprofit world that presents tremendous opportunity for personal and professional development. It may be hard work (perhaps more than expected) but leading a cause and making a difference is worth every minute.
“I support Children’s Bureau because I’ve seen first-hand the results of the great work this nonprofit does. And I see the team of dedicated professionals who do their jobs with a smile – time after time. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, when they’re working from home, the staff at Children’s Bureau is working diligently to keep our community safe and healthy,” says Children’s Bureau Director Stephanie Campbell.
Katie is a Marketing & Communications intern at Children’s Bureau. She joined Children’s Bureau in 2020. She is currently earning her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Southern California.