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Starting The Conversation With Leadership About Volunteer Impact

Posted By Sammy Feilchenfeld, Training Coordinator, February 25, 2016
Updated: February 25, 2016

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The impact of volunteering can easily be overlooked by executives and senior managers who aren’t directly involved in the organization’s volunteer program. However, volunteer involvement is crucial in the functioning of non-profits in at least two ways: governance and strategy.

First of all, it’s important to remember that the governance of your organization relies exclusively on volunteer engagement: your Board of Directors is made up of volunteers! This team of high-skilled, high-level volunteers have a huge influence on your organization’s functioning, from its image to its strategic direction to its finances. The type of work they do for your organization, their motivations for volunteering, and the way they’re supervised may be very different from those of your other volunteers, but it’s still important to consider best practices in volunteer management when working with your Board volunteers.

Take volunteer recognition, for example. You may think that your Board members aren’t interested in the volunteer socials you hold for your program volunteers and the thank you gifts you give them each year (and you may be right). But that doesn’t mean you should forego recognition. Volunteer management best practice tells us that recognition should be meaningful to the volunteer, and that the most common way volunteers want to be recognized is by knowing the impact of their work. So if you can, take some time to get to know the motivations of your Board members and to find a type of recognition that would match those motivations, including letting them know their impact. Becoming familiar with volunteer management best practices, from recruitment to retention, can help you find ways to engage your Board more effectively.

Second, program volunteers may be responsible for a larger proportion of your organization’s direct impact on clients than you’re aware of. How many of your services would be unsustainable without volunteer involvement? What is the value added that volunteers bring to your programs? If you aren’t sure about some of these questions, it may be time to evaluate your volunteer program to get a better sense of its outcomes and impact. Through this program evaluation, you can showcase to your senior managers and executives the direct impact your volunteer program has on the community you serve, and more importantly how volunteers help you achieve your mission. This can have a huge influence on strategic planning and decisions being made about program growth or service changes.

While convincing leadership to appreciate the values and impact of the volunteer program can be a challenge, there are a few ways to start the conversation:

  • Introduce – and even adopt – the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement, a guiding document on the value, principles and standards of engaging volunteers adopted by hundreds of organizations
  • Re-evaluate what you report to your executives and Board on volunteer involvement; how you report it can also have an impact, as volunteer stories can go a long way
  • Encourage senior managers to meet and learn more about your volunteers, from Board members to occasional volunteers

At the VECTor Conference on March 9, we’re inviting Executive Directors, senior managers and Board members to explore the impact of volunteer programs on their communities in the Leadership Stream. This specialized program stream will explore governance and strategy in a collaborative way to improve organization-wide (and top-down) support of volunteer programs. While your executives and senior managers may not have a chance to attend, you can always remind them of the great work, value and impact of your volunteer program that informs how successful your organization is at striving toward your mission.


As Volunteer Toronto's Training Coordinator, Sammy Feilchenfeld develops and delivers in-person, online and on-demand training in order to support managers and coordinators of volunteers in Toronto’s non-profit and charitable organizations.

Tags:  Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement  Executive Directors  governance strategy  Leadership stream  Non-profit board of directors  Non-profit leadership  volunteer recognition 

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