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Staff & Volunteer Development

In a time like this, we all need a bit of encouragement, and a reminder of why we’ve chosen to serve in our respective nonprofit workplaces.

I’ll share a personal story as to why Staff & Volunteer Development is so important to me. When I was relatively new in my nonprofit career, I worked in an administrative position for WestCoast Children’s Clinic in Oakland, CA. My supervisor who hired me knew that I was overqualified for the position, and intentionally looked for opportunities to keep me engaged and satisfied in my job. He consistently checked in on me to see how I was doing, and he also gave me numerous opportunities to develop my desired skills and talents within the organization, even if that meant doing things that were outside the scope of my job description or role. And it was those “extracurricular” experiences that served as the foundation of the Consultant that I am today!! He literally became the most Impactful & influential Supervisor that I’ve ever had- so much so that I invited him to my graduation dinner when I completed my Doctorate years later.

The bottom line is that rarely does an employee or volunteer come to work with you, with your agency being the intended “end” of their career journey or development. Our workplaces and job roles are typically stepping stones that build towards our BIG Career Dreams over time, as we continue to grow personally and professionally..

And as nonprofit leaders, we have both the Privilege and the Responsibility to empower our staff and volunteers to make the MOST of their time with us, whether that be a few months, or 25 years.

Oh, and since we’re on the topic, this is how you sustainably promote Intrinsic Motivation, Engagement, Retention, and high- quality Performance also!! This is an extremely mutually beneficial approach :)

To begin this conversation, we need to establish a baseline for what’s working and not working for our People.

Here are a few questions that can help us:


Does your agency value growth or getting it right? Open dialog or being agreeable? Sameness or change? Teamwork or individual success? What other characteristics of the agency culture stand out? How do you feel the atmosphere is or is not a good fit for you?


Do you feel that you fit in well with your colleagues? Does your agency

encourage or discourage connection and personal relationships with colleagues? Do you feel challenged and inspired by your colleagues? Do you feel disappointed by your colleagues or in competition with them? What else stands out about your experience with co-workers?


How is your relationship with your direct supervisor? Do managers in your organization support you in your position or feel more like a barrier? Do you see the right people getting the right positions and a clear path to move your way up or does it feel like a “good-old-boy’s network” with favoritism? Are upper management accessible to the workers and engaged in daily operations or does it feel like decisions are made without regard to the input of the workers? What else do you observe about leadership?


What responsibility do you have that you love to do? What do you hate to do? Do you feel overwhelmed by your workload? Do you feel under-worked and bored? Or, does it feel just right? Do you feel challenged by what you do and that you are growing in your position? Would you like to be more challenged? How do you feel about the base of your work?

Too fast, too slow, just right? What types of responsibilities would you want to be doing in your daily work that are not part of your current position?


How do you feel about the schedule you work in your current position? What would make it better?


How do you feel about the nature of what you do? Do you feel like you contribute to your organization in a meaningful way? How do you feel about what your organization does in the world and the service they provide? Do you feel aligned with their mission? Do you feel that your unique talents are being used in your position? Do you feel like your job is helping you reach your potential?

These are all great questions to ask yourself, your staff and volunteers, to get a feel for what’s REALLY happening. And the funny thing is that people talk about this stuff ALL the time, but unless we as Leaders open the door and ask them directly, we may not truly know how they feel.

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