Go to Amazon and search “Leadership” you will find over 180,000 books on this topic. Google lists 809 million entries covering almost every dimension of leadership you could think of; the qualities and characteristics that make up a good leader, the most appropriate style of leadership for a given situation, the common traits and consistent habits of successful leaders, the importance of EQ, of IQ, of self awareness the list and perspectives seems endless.

Even a search on just the definition of leadership lists over 100 million entries; it would seem that there are almost as many perspectives on leadership as people willing to share their views.

I hesitate to add to the plethora of wise or perhaps not so wise commentary on this issue. But a commitment is a commitment, and so I put pen to paper (so to speak) and given the majority of my professional life has been within the voluntary sector I will attempt to focus my commentary on leadership in the voluntary sector.  Besides, Google lists only 3.2 million entries for this field.

What is leadership in the voluntary sector?

Probably, the first characteristic of leadership that most people identify as unique to the voluntary sector is the absence of financial incentive.

There is no “I pay you therefore ….”, volunteers by definition do not work for financial reward. However in today’s world I am not so sure that a lack of financial incentive is so unique to the voluntary sector.  The choice, skill transference and mobility of our modern workforce mean that people today rarely work for a given entity for the sole purpose of financial gain.

Financial reward is very rarely a motivation for performance. Hertzberg (Work and the Nature of Man) recognised this in describing financial reward as a hygiene factor, meaning that an inadequate salary might sometimes act as a de-motivator but rarely does one’s pay act as a motivator. Volunteers understand this implicitly, what drives them is not the money, but some intrinsic value that their time spent volunteering is part of a larger contribution making our world a better and or safer place.

In my experience, what makes the voluntary sector unique is the reason people choose to volunteer in the first place – their “BELIEF”.  What is common to all volunteers is that “people simply don’t volunteer for something they don’t believe in”.  However, with belief comes ownership and with ownership comes interest.

Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your perspective), as humans we don’t all believe in the same thing in the same way, our expectations and perspectives differ, our opinions clash and our visions don’t always align, and when we mix that with the passion, commitment and fervour of the individuals making up the voluntary sector, it can at times seem like Parliament on steroids!

The ability to harness that combined energy, commitment and passion is one of the most important facets of Leadership in the voluntary sector and understanding the expectations of the volunteer membership is one of the keys to achieving this.

Vroom’s Expectancy Motivation Theory (Work and Motivation) holds that people are motivated when their expectations of performance achieve their expectations of outcomes.

Having in place clear role descriptions and performance requirements at every level of the organisation is an important aspect of managing expectations and therefore maintaining motivation and enthusiasm in the volunteer workforce.

Another important facet of leadership in the voluntary sector is the ability to facilitate agreement, build consensus and focus the collective efforts of all members toward the achievement of the organisation’s purpose.

The active and vigilant management of Interests is a vital component of this. If the membership is to retain confidence in the leadership of the organisation, it must have confidence that the important decisions affecting the future of the organisation are being made in a professional, objective and impartial manner for the betterment of all, and not captured by single or personal interests.

Holding the moral compass and gaining agreement on the ground rules is arguably the most important factor of leadership in the voluntary sector as without it there is no leadership.

What is leadership in the voluntary sector?

by Steve Caldwell, Chief Executive, New Zealand Land Search and Rescue Inc

New Zealand Land Search and Rescue Inc is the national volunteer organisation within New Zealand providing land search and rescue services to the Police and public of New Zealand.

Texts referenced in this post include:

*F.I. Hertzberg. Work and the Nature of Man (Cleveland, Ohio: World 1966)

**V. H. Vroom, Work and Motivation (New York: Wiley 1964)