leading volunteers

Leading Volunteers: Don't Let Them Fade Away


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.

Leading Volunteers: How To Treat Them With Dignity


"None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." (Bukhārī)

Building loyalty within a team at work, a place where people's livelihoods depend on the job, is already difficult enough. So how about when that team consists of volunteers who are only there out of their own free will?

This, like many other issues, is a leadership issue. Volunteers are reporting to a board or committee. The board and committee are often reporting back to a president or amīr of some sort. Even with small and loose volunteer groups, there is still some level of hierarchy and leaders are responsible for those volunteers 'under' them.

Even if you're not in leadership, these are still important tips to help those who are volunteering - and building loyalty within your community or organization.

The rules for this are simple, and don't require much elaboration.

People are humans. They have dreams, fears, and families. They have jobs, they have responsibilities, and they have life in general to deal with. Stop treating them like units of production. Treat them with dignity by showing them that you care. Know their names, know about their families and their kids. Ask about them (sincerely). If you can't show them that you actually care about them - as a person - then don't expect any loyalty from your volunteers.

When you see someone do something you would expect praise for, then praise your volunteers.

Whoever does not thank people (for their favors) has not thanked Allah (properly). [Ahmad]

When you make a mistake, you would expect people to overlook and pardon you. Do the same with your volunteers. The second you get up and berate or rip a volunteer is the same second that they will make the decision to never come back.

So when it comes time for reprimanding someone for making a mistake, give proper naṣīḥah. It needs to be prompt and private. And it needs to be done with mercy - hoping for rectification and hoping for the best for your brother or sister.

When you know you are competent enough to do a task, you usually hate it when someone micromanages you. Leave your volunteers alone. Let them work.

Above all, put yourself in their shoes. Treat them the way you want to be treated.