Leading Volunteers: Don't Let Them Fade Away

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The weird thing about losing volunteers is that you never really know you have lost them. They don't turn in a two week notice, nor do they even usually alert you. Most of the time you will just notice someone who was helping out is no longer there.

Most friendships don't end in a fight. ...

Instead, when one party feels underappreciated, or perhaps taken advantage of, she stops showing up as often. Stops investing. Begins to move on. .... [They'll] probably put [their] best efforts somewhere else.

Just because there are no firestorms on the porch doesn't mean you're doing okay. More likely, there are relationships out there that need more investment... (Seth Godin, Not Fade Away)

What I have noticed in many places is that the usual complaint - "We don't have enough volunteers" - is just simply not true. A more accurate description of the problem would be that there isn't a way to retain volunteers and keep them engaged.

As a leader, you need to make sure that you are nourishing a volunteer's passion. Someone giving up their time for a cause means they care deeply about it. When someone volunteers to make your organization a website, then don't redirect them into handing out fliers after Juma instead. Put them where they want to be.

This is a simple lesson, but most people miss out on it. Having a position of authority does not mean that you have a license to command volunteers like they are troops under your command. In fact, it is this very behavior that makes them feel under-appreciated and disrespected.

Part of the attitude adjustment in dealing with volunteers we have to make is realizing that volunteers are not doing us a favor. They are helping a cause, and that cause is bigger than us (no matter what our position of leadership).

Make sure to constantly thank your volunteers and show them that their efforts mattered. You also need to be constantly asking them how they are doing, how the project or work is going, and if they need anything from you.

You can't do that if you just consider them a 'warm body' or someone inferior to yourself. They're not just someone you're using to get a task done.

You must invest your personal time and commitment into these volunteers. The care and concern you show is what creates brotherhood and sisterhood in an Islamic organization.

It also gives you a heads up before a volunteer can fade away.