Why You Must Have Passion When Leading Volunteers

Leading volunteers is a unique deal. The leader has authority and influence over people without any real ability to enforce that authority or influence. Most volunteers arrive at a nonprofit organization in order to help, and if you are like me you have probably showed up a nonprofit organization and discovered that your passion for making a difference is not matched by the staff you interacted with. Like me, you probably felt discouraged and sensed a lack of passion from the nonprofit staff.

Why You Must Have Passion When Leading Volunteers

Photo Credit: Chris Lasher

In today’s post I show how nonprofit volunteer coordinators can show passion for what they do. And, more importantly, I am going to show how they can use their passion to lead others more effectively.

I. Sell yourself to the volunteers as a passionate leader for the work you do.

Volunteer leaders must first sell themselves to volunteers before presenting the message.
Jeffrey Chamlin, “Volunteers Leading Volunteers,” p. 40

When leading volunteers you must sell yourself to the volunteers as a passionate leader who wants to make a difference in the community. Volunteers came to your organization because they want to make a difference in the community and you need to show that you share that same passion that the volunteers have.

When you show passion for the work you are connecting the vision of your organization to the work actually being done. This is a good thing! You want volunteers to arrive at your organization and immediately begin to feel that they are making a difference and fulfilling the vision of your organization. The first and best way to do this is to sell yourself to the volunteers as someone passionate about the work being done.

To instill passion means we have to inspire them and challenge them with new thoughts
Japhet de Eloveira, “Motivation and Leading Volunteers,” p. 72

II. Match volunteers’ expectations and experience.

Predictably, volunteers reported greater satisfaction the more their experience matched their reasons for helping.
Marcia Finkelstein, “Volunteer Satisfaction and Action,” p. 14

A. Volunteers’ experiences are better if their expectations of the volunteering experience match what they thought it would be.

If you have done a good job of designing your volunteer positions and communicating that information to potential and new volunteers there should be no surprises. Volunteers should have an idea of what to expect when volunteering with your organizations and then have those expectations matched by their experiences when they actually come to serve.

Volunteers primarily derive their job satisfaction and intent to remain with the organization from their satisfaction of relatedness needs on the job.
Boezeman and Ellemers, “Volunteers’ Intrinsic Need Satisfaction,” p. 911

With that said, volunteers have specific needs and expectations that you need to ensure are met when they arrive. These are simple things that any volunteer coordinator can make happen.

1. Volunteers have needs:

A) to feel appreciated.
B) to know their time is valued.
C) to see a clear picture of the work they are supposed to do.

2. Volunteers have emotional expectations

A) to know that what they do makes a difference.
B) of clients who are being served to appreciate that service.
C) to see resources used ethically and efficiently.

Satisfaction of autonomy needs and relatedness needs are more relevant to volunteers’ job satisfaction and their intentions of remaining a volunteer with the organization than satisfaction of competence needs.
Boezeman and Ellemers, “Volunteers’ Intrinsic Need Satisfaction, p. 910

Prior to volunteering, factors such as personality, motivation, and demographics (e.g., gender, ethnicity) have been used to note how individual differences affect the decision to volunteer. These results suggest that expectations formed prior to volunteering may also carry into later stages of the volunteer process to affect volunteer outcomes.
Jorge Barraza, “Emotional Expectations for New Volunteers,” p. 217

B. Use what you know about motivations and generations to match that to each volunteer or group of volunteers.

The five motivations of volunteers:

1. to contribute to society
2. to contribute to an organization
3. clear instructions
4. communication that is clear
5. feeling supported

III. Share the passion you have for society and your cause

Use your passion to your advantage when working with volunteers.

Volunteer organizations have an advantage that no one else has. It’s called passion. Nothing is more effective than the passionate power of volunteers. When volunteers focus on their cause, they’re unstoppable.
MacKee, The New Breed, pp. 180-181

IV. Make Your Personal Passion Clear and Direct

A. Tell volunteers directly about your passion.

“I am passionate about this work because. . . .”

B. Tell volunteers about why their work is so important.

Always remember the two main motivators for any volunteer:

1. contribute to society
2. contribute to the organization

C. Tell them about how their work helps clients.

“When you answer the phone and give instructions to people about registering for our cooking class, that helps them eat healthier, live longer, and enjoy their lives more.”

“When you help us mail these donation letters it raises money for our work, allows clients to get their GED, and improves the quality life and education levels of children.”

D. Smile and be positive.

A) Be upbeat.

B) Be optimistic. 

E. Express thanks to volunteers for their service.

Tell them about why you began working at your organization.

F. Share why you still work there.

A) “I’ve worked here for 60 years because. . . .”

B) “I once had an offer to work somewhere else but I stayed. . . .”

C) “If I had this same job in the corporate world I could make a lot more money, but I work here because. . . .”

Telling people about how I could have made more money working in the corporate world was a way that I often told people about my passion for the work we did at United Way of Stanislaus County. As a Campaign Associate my job was to work with companies to raise funds for our work in the community. I had about 125 companies that I was responsible to raise $625,000 from every year. Regularly I would convey my passion for United Way’s work by telling people that I easily could find a job making a lot more money in the corporate world as an account manager (salesman) doing virtually the same thing I was doing for United Way. However, I stayed at United Way for six years because I was passionate about making a difference in the lives of other people.

H. In Scripture we see Paul exhibit passion for his work and how God’s grace appointed him for that work.

1. Observations about How Paul Saw God’s Grace in His Life Related to His Work

A) The appointment had nothing to do with Paul’s own work.
B) The appointment was from God.

C) The appointment was by God’s grace.
D) With the appointment there was work to be done.
E) The fact that God appointed Paul compelled him to constant humility in his work.
F) Paul was entrusted to do the work God gave him.
G) God gave Paul the opportunity and the ability to do the work he was appointed to do.

2. Transfer: Someone appointed a leader for his work. In a humble way he should remind himself and the people he leads about his appointment.

3. Application for the Leader of Volunteers: Regularly remind yourself and others that your work is a privilege because someone (which was not you) appointed you to do the work you do.

V. Make Your Personal Passion Transferable Indirectly

There are many ways that you can show the passion you have for your organization without having to say anything at all. Here are some ideas.

A. Books on your shelf

Sometimes the books that you have on your self express the passion you have. For example, as a leader of volunteers you should have some books on leadership, nonprofit management, how to make a difference in the community, etc.

B. Quotes on your wall

One of my past bosses was great at expressing her passion for her work simply by the quotes she displayed on her wall. She had lots of quotes about making a difference in the world and creating change in local communities.

C. Pictures on your desk

Of course you will have pictures of your friends and family on your desk, but how about pictures of your clients and coworkers? Displaying pictures of the clients you’ve served through your organization or of the volunteers you have led shows that you are passionate about the work you do and who you do that work with.

At United Way of Stanislaus County we had a large poster picture of a long-time volunteer displayed clearly in our front reception area. You couldn’t walk in and not notice the picture. That picture of the volunteer showed people who came through our doors that we appreciate our volunteers and donors who want to make an impact in the community.

VI. How You Can Write Out Your Personal Passion 

A. Your personal passion must be:

1. clear
2. direct
3. transferable

B. Some possible ways to start.

1. “I’m passionate about this community because. . . .”
2. “I’m passionate about the work of our organization because. . . .”
3. “I want to make a difference and I do that by. . . .”

Question: What are some ideas you have for expressing your passion to the people you lead?

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at