8 Things My Volunteers Do Better Than Me

Volunteers are essential to any nonprofit. They are the lifebloood. Relationships with volunteers are what keep me going during the ups and downs of work and life.

Sometimes it is hard to know what to give to volunteers. There is definitely a range of gifts when it comes to volunteers. You don’t want to hand the keys to the car over to everyone.

Perhaps you have struggled with whether or not to give certain responsibilities to volunteers. You may have even experienced volunteers who said they would do something and then didn’t follow through. That can make it difficult to trust again. I want to encourage you to do so though.

I have actually found that some of my volunteers do a better job than I can do at many things. Here are 8 such examples:

    1. Promotion – There is nothing better than a volunteer who is excited about the mission of your nonprofit. They will tell the world, and others will come alongside of them (and you!) to make the vision a reality.
    2. Retreats – At one point I was running a retreat twice a year for 40 college students. The quality of the retreat skyrocketed when I got out of the way and allowed volunteers to run with their ideas.
    3. Creative Ideas – No matter how creative you think you are, a group of dedicated volunteers can come up with some amazing ideas. Your job as the leader is to facilitate discussion and encourage them to dream.
    4. Cook – Yes, volunteers can cook for small dinners, group meetings, etc. At Crescent City Cafe, however, we have volunteers cooking twice a month for 70 plus guests  and 30 volunteers. I’m the director but have never done any of the food planning or cooking. If it isn’t broke…stay out of the way.
    5. Administration – It is difficult to be the person casting vision and the one doing the detail work. As a leader, you do have some administration you must do. However, you should consider delegating, when possible, to volunteers. Whether it be finances, checking email or running other administrative tasks, chances are you can find a volunteer who is better at it than you, anyways.
    6. Blog – I had a volunteer set up this blog for me. I do all the writing here, but have had volunteers blogging and running social media on other sites.
    7. Cast Vision – As the director for my nonprofit, my main role is to cast vision. There is nothing that makes me happier, though, than when a volunteer can clearly and concisely articulate our vision. For this to happen, you have to give them the opportunity to do so. Let go and see what happens.
    8. Fundraisers – One time a group of volunteers came to me and said they wanted to do a Pampered Chef Fundraiser at their church for Crescent City Cafe. I didn’t know what that was and didn’t expect them to really follow through (not because of them, but because people often have great intentions. Then life happens). I said, “sure.” A few weeks later they let me know that the fundraiser was planned and that I was welcome to attend if I wanted to. Awesome!

Yes, volunteers are going to disappoint you. They are people. But you will also run into volunteers that will blow you away. The key is being willing to let go, to give them responsibility and authority.  You and your nonprofit will reap the benefits.

Do you have some awesome volunteers too? Tell me about them in the comments section. 

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  1. Chris Paulk

    Great post! As a volunteer at my church, I’ve seen volunteers build amazing relationships with each other & customers/parishoners/attendees. Since we volunteers are there because we want to be there, the oppotuntiy to build lasting friendships is great.
    I also think that your stories are an example of John Maxwell’s Law of the Lid – since you set a very high standard, your volunteers have plenty of altitude! 🙂

    September 11, 2014
    • adamsuter

      Cool. Thanks Chris! I like that.

      September 13, 2014
  2. Pamela Legge

    Adam, this may sound radical, but I believe you have just described a model that could easily be put to use in the for-profit sector. Granted, it would require a leader comfortable enough to “let go” and not let his/her ego get in the way. Imagine, letting the folks that are on the “front line” have a major stake in how things are done, based on what they know works. Imagine the pride and investment they would feel, especially knowing that what they do is not only noticed, but valued. I pride myself for the assets I believe I bring to any job I do, whether paid or volunteer, and I do it because it’s the right thing (for me) to do. Oh, if more people in charge thought like you!

    September 25, 2014
    • adamsuter

      Thanks Ms. Pam. I think it is a leadership thing, not just a nonprofit leadership perspective. Thanks for the comment.

      September 25, 2014