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Volunteer Power!
Volunteer Power News - Number 87
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

2010 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers-those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

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In This Issue
  1. Featured Article: People Don't Quit Volunteering Because They Are Too Busy. They Quit Because ...
  2. Volunteer Power Leadership: Volunteer Power on YouTube: Unleash the Power of Volunteers.
Featured Article: Why People Quit
People Don't Quit Volunteering Because they are Too Busy.
They Quit Because ...

The Top Seven Reasons Volunteers Quit

What is the number one reason people give for not volunteering? We have all heard it and probably used it ourselves. But is it the real reason?

The excuse: "I've just got too much on my plate. I've got to cut back."

There is a problem with this reason. It just isn't the truth. It is an excuse.

Let's look at the stats:

Those who don't volunteer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 74.2% of the U.S. population did not volunteer last year. About 63.4 million people, or 26.8 percent of the population, volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2008 and September 2009.

Why do you think that three-quarters of the U.S. population did not volunteer last year? Most of them would probably say, "I'm just too busy to volunteer."

Those volunteers who quit

And how many volunteers have resigned in the past year for the same reason-I'm just too busy.

But is that the real reason? I don't think so.

When I hear people complain about how busy they are and in the same breath talk about all of the T.V. programs they watch (Lost, American Idol, Glee, the NBA playoffs, the World Cup, 24, etc.), I wonder just how busy they really are. In addition to T.V., according to Luis von Ahn, a researcher at Carnegie Melon University, humans spend nine billion hours playing solitaire every year. PC gamers spend an average of 18.5 hours per week playing games. That's a third of a work week. When I read these stats, I begin to question, "Are we really that busy?"

So I began to do my own research, and I confirmed my suspicions that busyness is not the real reason that volunteers don't volunteer. This year I will have logged over 30,000 airline miles plus driven up and down the coast of California working with volunteer organizations in the following states: Washington, Iowa, Alabama, California, Arkansas, Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, South Carolina, Kansas and Georgia. In each place I often ask several questions to see what volunteer managers are facing.

  1. What are your volunteers doing that is creative and exciting?
  2. What changes are impacting your work with volunteers?
  3. What are the reasons that volunteer quit your organization?
It is not always easy to get an honest answer to this third question. The answers compare to an exit interview in corporate America where employees tend to hide the truth. Volunteers often give a lame excuse like, "I've just got too much on my plate right now, so I'm going to have to back out for a while." That statement could be called a euphemism for one of the top seven reasons that I have discovered from my interaction with volunteer leaders. Although they are anecdotal, here are the top seven reasons that people quit-according to my experience.

Number 7: No flexibility in volunteer opportunities or scheduling
Number 6: Too much wasted time in useless or unproductive meetings
Number 5: Lack of communication
Number 4: Lack of professionalism
Number 3: The feeling that the volunteer is not really making a difference
Number 2: No feedback from leadership about how the volunteer is doing

And the Number 1 reason: The volunteer leader who doesn't know how to lead

As you look at the list of 2-6-they all relate to the first one-which is the most important. The number one reason people quit is the same reason that most people quit their jobs-the unprofessional boss who doesn't know how to lead.

So what? What can we do about this?

Before you react to my answer-hear me out. When I mention the next words, some of you are going to be turned off because of a bad experience. Some are going to think that I'm crazy.

My answer? Volunteer managers need to work more like a Human Resources (HR) manager. Whenever I mention this in a workshop, eyes roll and people begin to tell me experiences of rule-driven, paper-pushing HR managers. I understand your concern. I have met some of these HR managers in my 20 years working as a leadership consultant in the private and public sector. But most of the HR people I have worked with are fantastic. Great HR directors are very intentional about how they recruit, train and lead paid and non-paid employees.

I recently was interviewed for an article about volunteerism in HR Magazine (The Society for Human Resource Management Magazine). One of the other persons interviewed for the article was Kevin Horan, vice president of HR at TechnoServe. As you read the following paragraph from the article, "Pave the Way for Volunteers" by Adrianne Fox, notice how Kevin treats both paid staff and non-paid staff (volunteers) professionally and his emphasis on training (I highlighted the training emphasis).

Kevin spends much of his time in the field on training (emphasis mine). The Washington, D.C.- based nongovernmental organization helps entrepreneurs build their businesses. Operating in more than 30 countries, the organization has 725 paid employees, including 40 in the United States and 45 expatriates. The remaining workforce is made up of local nationals. TechnoServe brings on about 125 volunteer consultants, called "volcons," each year for three-month assignments. When Horan conducts training in field offices, volunteer consultants and locals attend sessions together and are treated the same.... "When I walk into a training session in Rwanda for communication skills training, they are so eager and excited to learn," Horan says... Volcons receive an orientation from the country director as well. "We also have an HR contact for each volcon in case problems arise," Horan says. "Sometimes, two weeks into an assignment in Tanzania and a 12-hour drive from civilization, the volcon starts wondering what the heck he just did. We have had rare occasions where we had to bring someone home early, but our recruitment process is usually thorough enough ("Pave the Way for Volunteers," Adrianne Fox, HR Magazine, June 2010).

In the article, Adrianne Fox quoted Susan Ellis, CEO of Energize, Inc; John L Lipp, CEO of PAWS (Pets are Wonderful Support; Christine Nardecchia, volunteer services administrator for the city of Dublin, Ohio; and Kate Gaffney, deputy director of talent management at New York University in New York City. Although each of us represented different roles in the volunteer leadership field, we all kept repeating the same theme: "Non-paid employees (volunteers) need to be treated professionally in the same way that managers lead, encourage, train and hold accountable their employees." (Try Googling "Pave the Way for Volunteers" if you want to see the article).

A confession Why I Quit

If I had been honest, I would not have said, "I've got too much on my plate right now." If I had told the truth, I would have said, "I'm too frustrated in my volunteer role because of the unprofessional, untrained, leadership we have on our team." But I didn't say that because, well, I'm just too nice-or am I?

But I am guilty of joining the ranks of the volunteer quitter. I can't believe I just wrote that, but I was a quitter. In my defense, I did finish my three-year commitment (and was an active volunteer in two other organizations), but when I was asked to be on the committee for another three years, I declined. The reason I quit? It wasn't because I was so busy (and I really was busy). It was because I was so frustrated with the meetings that took so long. The person who led the committee was a wonderful person, passionate about our mission, and a hard worker; however, that manager just couldn't lead meetings. A meeting that should have lasted about two-hours lasted four or five hours, and I would get home at midnight. Then I would complain to my wife another hour after I got home-not great for building a healthy marriage. When I was asked to continue, Susie answered for me, "No way." The sad thing is that I would love to have served on the committee and offer my expertise. But I didn't. I quit.

Leadership Feature: Volunteer Power on YouTube - Unleash the Power of Volunteers
In my introduction to this key-note presentation, I claim that that the passion of volunteers is their greatest asset, but also one of their greatest challenges. Listen to the eight-minute intro of this presentation: Unleash the Power of Volunteers (8 minutes)

Volunteer Power Workshop: Reenergize Your Volunteer Leaders with a Half-Day, Full-Day or Two-Day Volunteer Power Workshop.
The New Breed of Volunteer
A Volunteer Power Workshop
Thomas McKee
Recruiting and managing the 21st Century volunteers who want to do it their way

Looking for a keynote for your annual convention, or a motivational session for your volunteer leaders, or a workshop to help your volunteer leaders recruit and keep their volunteers? Many of the private sector organizations that have sponsored our presentations for conventions are not able to sponsor these events during these hard times. I know many of you are feeling these cuts.

I would love to help. I will work with your organization to make our fees affordable for you by trying to arrange engagements in the same area to cut travel costs.

If you are interested, send me the contact form with your budget and I'll see what I can do.

Tom McKee
Volunteer Power

Workshop Content


The 21st century volunteer culture is very different because of seismic shifts that have changed volunteer management. These shifts have impacted the volunteer organization; therefore how we recruit and manage the new breed of volunteer is a whole new game. The seismic shifts include the following:
  • Generations - Gen Y and retiring boomers-the new frontier of volunteers
  • Technology - The addition of the virtual volunteer to the face-to-face volunteer.
  • Empowerment - The knowledge worker demands to be led- not managed

The Two Leadership Factors: Guidance and Trust
  • Guidance - How much hands-on direction do I give?
  • Trust - How much confidence do I have that I can depend on the volunteer?
The Volunteer Power Management Strategy
  • Stage I - Awaken the Passion - The Pre-Volunteer - (Low Trust-Low Guidance)
    • The three levels of motivation
    • The deadly sins of recruiting volunteers
    • The dating process of recruiting
    • The "big idea" method of presenting your passion

  • Stage II - Channel the Passion -- The Passionate Beginner (Low Trust - High Guidance)
    • Communicate expectations five ways
    • Train

  • Stage III - Manage the Passion -- The Talented but often Fragile Veteran (High Trust, High Guidance)
    • Affirm the passionate who are the core of your volunteer team (recognize and reward)
    • Awaken the passion of the veteran volunteer
      • Reframe
      • Refresh
      • Re-assign
      • Re-train
      • Or - if all else fails--Retire

  • Stage IV - Empower the Passion -- The Empowered Volunteer (High Trust, Low Guidance)
    • Delegation vs. empowerment
    • How to empower the volunteer without dropping the ball

Tom's Books: The New Breed and/or They Don't Play My Music Anymore
The New Breed


Here's a glimpse of the Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Common Predicament
Where It All Begins

Chapter 1: Who Is the New Breed of Volunteer?
   A Profile of the 21st Century Volunteer

Chapter 2: Recruiting the New Breed of Volunteers
   The "Courting" Relationship

Chapter 3: Finding the New Breed of Volunteers (Not Scaring Them Away)
   The Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting Volunteers

Chapter 4: Tapping into Two New Breeds of Volunteers
   Retiring "Boomers" and "Generation @"

Chapter 5: Motivating the New Breed of Volunteers
   Discover Three Levels of Motivation

Chapter 6: Empowering Volunteers to Do It Their Way
   Move from Delegation to Empowerment

Chapter 7: Managing the Virtual Volunteer
   Virtual Volunteers and Using Technology

Chapter 8: Managing High Maintenance Volunteers
   Performance Coaching the Volunteer from Hell

Chapter 9: Leading the Successful Volunteer Organization
   Mobilize the Collective Power of Volunteers

Chapter 10: A Leadership Case Study
   A Fable of How to Do It Right

  • Sample Position Charter
  • Sample Project Charter
  • Interview Guide for Hiring a Paid "Volunteer Manager"
  • Sample Questionnaire for Virtual Volunteers
  • Sample Board Code of Conduct
  • Strategic Planning Retreat - Agenda of Questions
  • SWOT Analysis Form
  • Ice-Breakers and Openers
  • Team Building Activities
  • Sample Training Exercise-A Case Study:


Plan Your Future
When the World
Keeps Changing

Get Tom's Inspiring Book

As we try to navigate the 21st Century in this increasingly fast-paced and technology-driven world, many people are drowning in our culture of unremitting change. In the innovative book, They Don't Play My Music Anymore, Thomas McKee presents a creative approach to facing personal and professional change. He offers eight essential principles that can help you gain the confidence to face an unknown future. Using these techniques, you will develop a new thinking frame by which to approach your future with hope and confidence as you learn to embrace change instead of merely reacting to it.


Tom's Eight Principles
Will Help You Gain the Confidence
To Face an Unknown Future

"In a world where change seems to be happening faster than the five miles every second the Space Shuttle travels, They Don't Play My Music Anymore offers a practical, common sense approach to not only surviving this frenetic pace of change, but building and growing from it. Incorporating Tom's methodology as I chose to make a change in my profession has helped me map out and launch into new adventures in many ways as exciting as the three space missions I flew. I very highly recommend applying these principles!"
Rick Searfoss, NASA Astronaut
and Space Shuttle Commander

Hear Tom McKee Live: Listen to an MP3 of a ten-minute sample keynote presentation by Tom McKee, The Power of Volunteer Passion
Thomas McKee
Who Takes the Fall When Your
Keynote Speaker is Just

You Do!

You can count on Thomas McKee for any size group. He has spoken to over one half million people in Europe, Africa and the United States over the past 35 years and has worked with some of America's top corporations, organizations and associations.
(More info about Tom here)


Click here to listen

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@volunteerpower.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com

For more articles by Thomas McKee, visit the Articles section on our website.

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