How talent (not money) will transform your organization

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People are abandoning community.

Today’s generation is apathetic.

Volunteerism is dead.

There. We said it. Now do we have your attention?

We’ve all heard the same news: Charities are in trouble. People are disengaged. Volunteering is on the decline. Sponsorship and grant money is disappearing. Bowling alleys are empty.

We don’t agree. Well, at least on the people part. And people are our thing.

Here’s a thought: What if we told you it isn’t that people are abandoning community? It’s that community is abandoning people.

There are indicators all around us that the thirst for community connection is on the rise. Visit any online or social media group and you’ll see hundreds – even thousands – of people are craving connection. Go to any religious service and you’ll see people are hungry for meaning.

The world is full of educated, experienced, talented people who care about community. They are passionate about causes. And they are willing – even yearning – to contribute strategy, expertise and skills to your organization. They are looking for meaningful, time-specific projects. They crave opportunities to act as project managers, legal advisors, financial strategists, online marketing gurus, business coaches, HR consultants (the list is endless).

Sadly, nonprofit organizations are not yet stepping up to offer the opportunities these talented people desire. There are very few opportunities designed with these people in mind. It’s time for nonprofitleaders to begin to think differently. It’s time to embrace the competitive advantage of our sector: our ability to engage talented people and pay them with meaning.

It’s time to redefine volunteerism.

The Abundant Not-for-Profit

Last week, we released a new book, titled The Abundant Not-for-Profit. A decade in the making, it infuses theory with tips, case studies and practical tools to offer nonprofit leaders a new road map to transform their organizations with talent, not money.

The Abundant Not-for-Profit invites leaders to examine and transform the current culture around volunteers. It describes the vital role of the executive director and board of directors in building an organizational culture that welcomes and engages all the available talent. Conventional wisdom tells not-for-profit leaders to look at the budget and say “we have this much money, so we can do this much mission.” In this new culture, leaders instead say, “we have big goals, and we know we can engage many talented people to deliver our mission.”

This shift in culture allows leaders to begin to engage many new people in creative and often short-term ways. It then becomes difficult to discern who is paid with money and who is paid with meaning. The deliberate creation of a fully integrated talent team challenges the traditional notion that some roles are for salaried employees and other roles are for volunteers. Rather, volunteer roles are fully integrated into each level, function and activity of the organization.

This approach recognizes the abundance of available talent, and enables leaders to create and grow values-based, effective, sustainable and dynamic organizations.

Debunk the Myths

The current reality is that myths about volunteers are alive and well in many organizations, and present a significant challenge. To begin to build a culture that welcomes people and their talent, the executive director must walk away from many common tacit assumptions. These include:

  • Volunteers are less accountable
  • Salaried employees are automatically more qualified
  • People are motivated primarily by money
  • Volunteers don’t really understand what we do
  • We take advantage of people when we don’t pay them

Do these ideas sound familiar to you? Are they at play in your organization? At Vantage Point, we hold an alternative view. Instead, we believe:

Volunteers are accountable

To build an abundant not-for-profit, volunteers must be accountable. It is possible to build a culture of accountability by setting clear expectations from the very beginning. We have created a number of parameter setting documents in this area, which are available on our website. These documents create a contract with the volunteer, laying out expectations and check in times just as would exist with a paid consultant.

Salaried employees and volunteers are equally qualified

It is possible for volunteers to contribute skills and expertise that do not exist in your current team of salaried employees. In an abundant not-for-profit, leaders hire salaried employees who can successfully engage many people from the community. Salaried employees are strong and capable and not threatened by the talented people they engage as they do their job. They thrive on the opportunity to meet and learn from many skilled individuals.

People are motivated by knowing they made a difference

Everyone requires enough money to live. Yes, we get that. And, many talented people are motivated by exactly what we can give them: a connection to a cause, a chance to make a difference, an opportunity to learn, grow and meet new people, and a venue to use their skills. The key is to identify clearly what each person’s motivation is, and then create an opportunity that provides what they are looking for.

Volunteers have all the information they require

In an abundant not-for-profit, clear and consistent onboarding processes orient each volunteer to the organization’s values and unique work. Leaders understand and practice accountability as a two way street. Salaried employees make time to promptly answer questions and provide all the information volunteers require to deliver with excellence. All roles are embedded within the cause and everyone knows how their contribution connects with the larger mission. This is possible because the organization has a strong foundation with a clear vision and mission.

We offer volunteers a valuable opportunity

In an abundant not-for-profit, volunteer opportunities are understood and intentionally designed as a win-win. This means moving away from being second class citizens, the poor-cousins, the entities that have to look after everyone and be all things to all people in all ways. Many people in our communities are yearning for a significant connection to a cause. We can provide exactly what these talented people are seeking, by paying them in non-traditional ways. We can pay them with meaning.

Where you can start

A good place for leaders to begin to debunk these myths is to create the space for people to talk about their past experiences and voice their concerns. Through open, honest conversation you can discover what people in your organization believe about volunteers. You might also choose to engage a volunteer in one role you hadn’t previously considered voluntary. Successfully demonstrating an alternative reality can be an ideal place to begin to debunk the myths – and overcome them.

Suggested questions

Here are some questions you can ask to kick start the discussion at your organization:

Myth 1: Volunteers are less accountable
  • Do you believe volunteers are as reliable as salaried employees? Why or why not?
  • What do you do if a volunteer doesn’t show up or deliver with excellence?
Myth 2: Salaried employees are more qualified
  • Does your organizational culture acknowledge volunteers offer as much expertise as salaried employees? If so, how?
  • Do you expect a volunteer to deliver as well or better than a salaried employee would? Why or why not?
Myth 3: People are motivated primarily by money
  • Is money the most powerful motivator for people? If not, what are some other reasons someone might want to work with your organization?
  • Have you ever been a volunteer? Why did you do it? What did you gain from the experience?
Myth 4: Volunteers really don’t understand what we do
  • Do all your volunteers clearly understand how their work is linked to your cause?
  • What processes do you have to orient volunteers to your culture and values? How could you improve in this area?
Myth 5: We take advantage of people when we don’t pay them
  • Why do you love working with your organization? Why might other people be eager to become involved?
  • Can you remember a time when a volunteer has thanked you for the opportunity?


It’s time to challenge conventional thinking in our sector.

Let’s stop bemoaning our lack of resources and start thinking about how to ignite the passion and talent in our communities – and harness it towards our causes. Let’s engage the abundance of talented people that are yearning to work with our organizations.

Together, let’s replace scarcity with possibility.

Are you ready to join us?

By the Vantage Point team, led by Colleen Kelly and Lynda Gerty. Colleen and Lynda have been experimenting, studying and writing The Abundant Not-for-Profit for the past five years. They were excited to unveil their learning to the world at the book launch in Vancouver, BC on Wednesday, February 13, 2013.

If you’re ready to start building an abundant not-for-profit, they invite you to register for their blog or purchase an e-copy of the book.

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