All-volunteer organizations are an important part of the nonprofit world. They are groups of committed volunteer who are busy serving their missions and usually don’t get a lot of credit for the wonderful work that they do.
There can be paid staff in an all-volunteer organization. For example, in the case of a soccer league paying referees for Saturday games or perhaps historical societies may pay gardeners or other maintenance staff. However, the big difference is that all-volunteer organizations do not pay people to manage each other or the organization. Management tasks are usually undertaken by a volunteer board.
There are many types of all-volunteer organizations and there are many types of boards. Sometimes an organization has not gone through the application to become a recognized nonprofit or 501(c)(3) and in this case, there may not be a legal board of directors. Some have elected officials and may refer to the leadership as the steering committee while others simply accept volunteers into their core group of managers.
When to Change Status
Sometimes an all-volunteer organization may make the choice to evolve into a staffed organization. There are many large nationally-affiliated organizations who began as all-volunteer and have grown into powerful nonprofit organizations. The Sierra Club, NAACP and others have begun in this way and continue to do work through local all-volunteer divisions.
The transition can be difficult for a board who has historically had all management and governance responsibilities. For example, it can be a challenge for boards to be supportive of paid staff while providing appropriate oversight and governance.
When Not to Change
For some groups having volunteer, the status may be at the heart of their mission. This may be the case for church groups, parent teacher associations and pet rescue teams. Not all groups want to grow and many don’t even need that change. If a group feels that a paid staff would hurt, rather than help, then a group should remain committed to being an all-volunteer organization.
Recruiting and Promoting
There is an important aspect in recruiting and promoting new leadership within an all-volunteer organization. Many leaders may find it difficult to transition off the board or in other positions of leadership if they have been invested for a long period of time. On the other hand, a dedicated volunteer may be reluctant to accept a leadership post within the group and may feel like they don’t have adequate skills to “serve on the board.” It’s important for current board members to support each other whether that is through a transition of leadership or encouraging new members to stretch and grow.
When there is a change in leadership it can be a challenge to change over all documentation and paperwork. Consequently, certain passwords, account information and other important items may get lost. In this case, it is a good practice to have a large sturdy box for all documents odds and ends. You may even have a box for each position like President, Treasurer and Secretary.
All-volunteer organizations are an important part of the nonprofit community. They do incredible jobs while fostering a grass roots spirit and ethic of hard work.