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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

The voice and vision of the volunteer

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The lifeline of all mission-driven organizations is the volunteer. According to the Independent Sector, a national advocate for the nonprofit sector, “A volunteer can impact the quality of services in charities and congregations while reducing costs.” Everyone loves to save money, but when is saving money more important than taking care of the people that help implement and accomplish the ever-changing objectives and strategic plans?

I enrolled in the Nonprofit Leadership and Management Program at ASU to gain an expanded view on the sector. It is clear that the manner in which an organization provides goods, services and outreach can be determined by human capital. Not being able to fully deliver these services can be attributed to the constraints on budget, staff and lack of resources. These limitations can be decreased if nonprofits embrace the voice and vision of the volunteer. 

CEOs in the nonprofit sector are often considered visionaries who chart the voyage of the organization. We are familiar with the marketing video of the visionary speaking to a group of volunteers and encouraging them to donate time or make a financial contribution, but what about championing the volunteer experience? When will nonprofits actually welcome volunteers as people who can also be a part of charting the voyage? Being able to fully utilize volunteers and truly benefit from their skill sets can be addressed with the help of a volunteer manager.

This can be easily addressed by insuring that each person’s skills are utilized to his or her utmost ability. A full-time volunteer manager can be just as important as the traditional leadership team that many nationally recognized nonprofits have in place. According to The Urban Institute Volunteer Management Capacity in America’s Charities and Congregations briefing report, of charities with a paid staff volunteer manager, only one in eight has someone who devotes 100 percent of his or her time to volunteer management. 

Before this deep dive into the volunteer management arena, I viewed nonprofit and for-profit organizations differently. The main distinction was that nonprofits existed not to make money and for-profits existed to make money and as much of it as possible. However, as with any successful endeavor, it takes formal training to advance potential and the social sector is no different. By investing in resources, such as workshops, conferences and online courses from accredited colleges and universities, nonprofits have benefited from their improvement of incorporating volunteers into nonprofit organizations. Standardization of who manages volunteers is the next step in maximizing the effect of volunteer management. A manager with excitement for his role and who does not do it out of obligation crafts the vision of a well functioning program. When personnel with a skill set dedicated to advance the mission of the organization are given the added responsibility to work with, the organization is failing to demonstrate a commitment to the volunteers.
What is the answer? Follow the leader. Well, who is the leader? Is it the CEO of the organization, the board that serves as gatekeepers or the staff that executes the day-to-day operations? All are leaders to a certain degree, but someone is missing in that equation – the volunteer.

Trehon Cockrell-Coleman is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State UniversityCockrell Coleman is the pioneer of an effort started in his hometown (Nashville, TN) 10 years ago called The Beginners Leadership Achievement Awards. After years of acknowledging and working with more than capable school-aged youth while juggling a career as a test engineer in Tucson, Arizona, he is now a proud graduate of the MNLM Class of 2019! His plan is to combine the awards into a high-quality community mentoring resource in one of Nashville’s least developed communities.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog