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The Inner Volunteer

Do the words, skilled volunteers make you shudder?

One day Marcel reported his recruitment efforts to the executive action committee. “I had just reported on the addition of several new corporate groups when the executive director stopped me and asked why I couldn’t just get public school teachers to come in on Saturdays and read to the children at our shelters.”

The CEO asked, “wouldn’t it be a lot easier because teachers already have the skill set?”

Marcel continued, “In my head I wanted to ask her if, after a hectic week directing a charity organization, why didn’t she go on her day off and volunteer to run a startup charity organization. I mean, yes, I’m recruiting teachers because of their skill sets, but so many other types of volunteers passionately want to read to our clients’ children. To me, passion is what makes for a great volunteer.”

Skilled volunteers are often equated with perfect volunteers. Often, the term skilled volunteer becomes synonymous with the notion that volunteers are easy to recruit. Why not just get a lawyer, or a carpenter or an IT technician? But we know it isn’t so simple. Does a person with a certain desirable credential want to use that credential in volunteering? Sometimes, but of course, not always.

We’ve all had volunteers who wanted to forgo their professional skill set. We’ve seen them unlock their inner volunteer and utilize a side that would never appear on paper, but one that excites them and ultimately serves us so well. For example:

The FBI agent that becomes a hand holder for older male clients, This agent’s inner skill set came from having to listen carefully when interviewing suspects. Now he uses that skill in a new and gentle way.

The IT professional that creates an art therapy program. While her left digital brain is writing code, her right analog brain thirsts for the inner creativity she passionately exercises while volunteering. Ironically this volunteering outlet makes her better at her IT job.

The Stay at Home Mom who takes charge of a new program and excels at giving direction and getting results. At home, her inner manager directs her family’s activities, finances, and schedules with a precision borne out of love and necessity. She brings these honed skills to the program and treats her fellow volunteers as beloved family. They flourish under her direction.

And on the flip side, what about the skilled volunteer who taps into their inner director or educator and looks for more ways to help? What if they offer their expert advice and opinion on the workings of our organizations? Are our organizations prepared to accept this advice? For instance:

  • The teacher who wants to replace the reading program at the shelter because it is outdated and insensitive.
  • The carpenter who advises that the repairs on a project are unsafe and non-compliant with code.
  • The attorney who suggests that policies and procedures are antiquated, potentially a risk management nightmare and need a complete overhaul.
  • The marketing expert who points out that the latest campaign is fraught with errors and tired themes.

This begs these questions:

  • How does an organization define a skilled volunteer?
  • Are organizations willing to accept the advice that comes with experienced and accomplished people?  
  • Do organizations view skilled volunteers as peers, useful tools or something else?

This is why clarification is so important. When an organization asks for skilled volunteers, we need to ask these questions:

  • Do we value skill over passion and commitment?
  • Who is responsible for a skilled volunteers’ mistakes? Are these volunteers’ licenses or credentials at risk?
  • What are the legal ramifications of utilizing volunteers in a professional capacity?
  • Who is going to field expert questions from skilled volunteers? The CEO?

As organizations ask volunteer managers to recruit skilled volunteers for expert help, clarification is essential. Clarification goes far beyond a simple job description. It goes to the very core of the inner volunteer. Passion vs. skill. Sideline expertise vs. full skill set participation. Legal consideration vs. a laissez-faire attitude. Hands on vs. hands off risk management.

With skill there is ramification. Are we prepared legally to engage volunteers with licenses and certifications?

With skill comes expert advice. How much skilled advice are we willing to accept?

Or, are we just throwing out a poorly defined concept?


For a great article on skilled volunteering, please see Rob Jackson’s post on this subject.