Why We’re All Working With Volunteers

and why that's a good thing

I can’t remember the first time I led a team, but I know I was leading volunteers.

It’s one of the extraordinary things about volunteering in community organisations and churches – you get all kinds of opportunities you might not otherwise get to learn skills, including leadership skills. I led volunteers, followed volunteers and worked as a volunteer, for years, before I ever led in a professional setting.

But I would argue that even when everyone is getting paid, there’s a degree to which we’re all working with volunteers, whatever our roles.

1 – There is more job mobility than ever before

I attended a seminar recently led by Ashley Fell of McCrindle Research on changing trends in the workforce. The data indicates that the average Gen Z employee entering the workforce today will have 18 jobs across six careers. With average tenure within an organisation down to about three years, gone are the days when people joined an organisation, toughed it out for years under bosses they didn’t respect, and made their way up the ladder. Now, they are more likely to just move on.

If you’re leading people, it’s because they’re letting you. They’re voluntarily choosing to stay and invest in that project, team or organisation.


2 – Types of employment are more fluid than ever

Maybe today that team member is reporting to you, but then they go into part-time freelancing during a different life season, and could be a great pick to add capacity to that new initiative. Later, when they’ve joined a consultancy, who better to provide insights than someone who really understands your organisation from the inside? In a few years they might have moved to a different but similar organisation you want to partner with to create a collaborative project.

But none of that will happen unless they volunteer to keep your working relationship alive.

If you treat people with entitlement, then as soon as they change roles (which won’t be too far away, if that’s how you’re treating them), you will miss out on all the future value the two of you could have found in your shared efforts.


3 – People are usually grappling with more demands and opportunities than time

Plug the keyword “priorities” into Amazon books and it will return more than 10,000 results.

Everyone is constantly wrestling with how to prioritise the avalanche of demands on their time and energy. If people are working with you on something, they’ve chosen to do that thing over the 100 other things on their list. Maybe there are a variety of pressures contributing to that decision, but ultimately, that’s how they’ve chosen to spend their time and energy.


Why it’s a good thing

If people are investing in work because they believe in it and are choosing to be there, then the odds are a lot better that you’re going to produce better outcomes and culture than if you’re all just phoning it in because you feel like you have to.

A volunteer mindset is exactly what you want from the people you’re following, working alongside and leading. You don’t want them just showing up in body (or email). You want them to show up with their whole selves – with their heart, their ideas and their passion.

That’s a volunteer – someone who brings more than they are technically obligated to give. And that’s a very good thing in the people you’re working with.