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(c) McDonald’s

Most of these “Leadership Proverbs” I’ve just picked up, absorbed and imbibed by some process of osmosis along the way and don’t know exactly whom they originated from. But when I know I’ll make reference, and when I don’t it’s not that I’m ungrateful or that I want to appear like a genius. It’s genuinely that I can’t remember. So if I’ve flogged something from you let me know and I’ll happily acknowledge it.

Free Volunteers Aren’t Cheap

Volunteers are very different than staff. They are often working for different reasons with different motivations and the influence you have over them is of a different kind – that is it’s often less institutional and structural and yet because of that it can also be more powerful. For all these reasons and many others we treat volunteers differently than we treat paid staff.

We don’t pay volunteers, that’s part of what makes them volunteers. Volunteers work for free, employees work for a wage or salary. But just because volunteers work for free doesn’t mean that they’re cheap. The fact that they work for free can sometimes trick us into thinking that they don’t cost any money. But that’s, at best, a half truth.

It is true that you can have a team of volunteers and have the whole thing cost you absolutely nothing. But as a general rule these teams of volunteers won’t stick around long and they won’t develop into what they are fully capable of. This will be a team of volunteers that you will use to achieve your purpose or to fulfil your ministry. But using people is always a dangerous thing, and is always only effective in the short-term but is disastrous in the long-term.

Free volunteers aren’t cheap.

They will need resources poured into them. They will need time and they will need resources, which will cost money.

Someone will need to invest time in them, genuinely caring about them, catching up with how they’re going as a person with a life and as a person with this particular responsibility. They’ll need time invested in them to train them how to be more effective in their area and to encourage and inspire them that what they are doing is worth doing.

And in order to help develop them to be the best that they can be will often, though not always, require resources. You may buy books and read them together. You may help them get to training and conferences that will equip and inspire them. You may throw parties to celebrate milestones or the completion of big events or the achievement of success of some description. As the leader your trying to constantly be thinking of how you can grow the people in your team, and some of those things will cost money.

When you invest time and money into your people, particularly into your volunteers, it communicates to them that you value them and that you really believe in what they’re doing and you really do want to see them develop. It’s not the only way that you communicate those things, but it is one way. And for some people on your team it will be the main way that they feel that from you.

The other side of this to remember is that for the volunteers themselves, volunteering isn’t cheap. It also costs the volunteer. It costs them time, time that they may spend with friends or family, time that they may spend refreshing and recouping especially if they use annual leave in order to volunteer. It may cost them money in missed opportunities for work, or if they take time off work in order to volunteer.

Volunteering may very likely be costly to the volunteer and if you are committed to equipping and developing your volunteers and if you’re committed to investing in them as people it will be costly to you also.

Free volunteers aren’t cheap.