Every organization has those ultra-dedicated volunteers that can always be counted on.  They’re the people who are ready to dedicate a significant portion of their lives because they believe so strongly in the organization and its mission. They are the mainstay of a lot of organizations, taking on so much that it’s hard to imagine the work getting done without them.  I call these “super-volunteers”.  Along with their many positives, super-volunteers create one problem for many organizations – They set the bar impossibly high for all other volunteers.  They create an expectation that every volunteer is going to seek out responsibility, make substantial time commitments, and will not require management or training.  It’s great to have high expectations because people tend to rise to them.  However, we just have to make sure they are not unrealistically high.  

Recently I visited a non-profit, and while I was there the staff sat around a table complaining that nobody would come help them; That it was up to the same, few dedicated volunteers to do everything that needed to be done.   As I listened to the staff complain about the lack of volunteers, what I really heard were unreasonable expectations. Not everyone can be a super-volunteer, and those involved with a non-profit or charity need to recognize that there are only so many of these types in the world.  Maybe 1 out of your 10 volunteers are going to be super-volunteers.  But we should resist the temptation to devalue what the other 9 out of 10 volunteers have to contribute..

In the past, organizations opted to rely on a smaller set of super-volunteers rather than a larger number of average volunteers because the overhead involved with managing 100 volunteers versus 10 was overwhelming.  The downside to relying on fewer people is that we tend to overburden our super-volunteers, burning them out.  Additionally, it eliminates the possibility of nurturing a pool of average volunteers from which super volunteers may emerge.  Today, with the availability of volunteer management software, we can manage 100 volunteers just as easily as it did managing 10 just a few years ago.

Our average volunteers have different needs than our super-volunteers.  With the right systems, we can all position the average volunteer to have a huge impact on your mission without creating more strain on the organization.  It’s the old adage of working smarter rather than harder.  Volunteer software can automate:

  • Volunteer applications
  • Background check processing
  • Volunteer scheduling
  • Email volunteer invitations and regrets
  • Volunteer sign-ups and withdrawals 
  • Changes in volunteer availability
  • Reminder emails
  • Volunteer sign-in and sign-out
  • Volunteer reporting
  • Volunteer training 

Volunteer management systems like VolunteerMatters  can liberate your super-volunteers, giving them the support they need and elevating them to more strategic roles within the organization.  

The first step to liberating your super-volunteers is to ask their help in defining your volunteering needs. After all, who’s going to be better qualified to define the needs for a job/task/event than the people who have done it again and again? Many organizations find identifying their needed skill sets the hardest part of creating a quality volunteer program. So, talk to your super-volunteers. Involve them in defining the roles and skills you need and when and where you need them. Once you’ve done that, your organization will be ready to tell your large pool of average volunteers how they can make an  a immediate impact on your mission.

But you can call on your super-volunteers for more than information; you can call on them for leadership. Put your super-volunteers in charge; make them mentors in order to guarantee that the new volunteers make an impact. The average volunteers can take on jobs that make an immediate impact but require less time and training while super-volunteers will become free to make an impact commensurate with their experience and dedication.

All organizations need super-volunteers, but we can’t always wait around for them to swoop in and save the day.  Instead, we need to leverage good systems to free super-volunteers to become even more effective. And once so empowered, you’ll find your super-volunteers accomplishing the biggest task of all: they’ll turn today’s average volunteers into the next generation of super-volunteers.