The Risk of the Volunteer Model

OP Village Hall 1We are fortunate that volunteering is part of our culture.  People are generous with their time and expertise.  Volunteers cheerfully spend countless hours in the schools, nonprofits, business community and even government contributing to the greater good.

It all works just fine until volunteers become essential to core operations. When the unpaid help becomes a mission-critical resource, the business model changes. Keen management is necessary to recruit, nurture and train new volunteers.  Without that in place, reliance on volunteers presents sustainability risk that can jeopardize the organization.

At the Chamber, we ask volunteers to run our special events but expect staff to manage core operations and mission critical services.  Our volunteers are dedicated, generous people.  But we know that life gets in the way.  It is difficult to build a sustainable organization when your key resources have other priorities.

Our government model essentially comprises “elected volunteers.”  We rely on trustees to set policy, vision and direction.  Paid staff manages the organization and delivers core services.  Or at least that is how it is supposed to work.

The uproar over Mayor Village President Local Entrepreneur Anan Abu-Taleb’s comment about compensation obscures the real point.  I did not hear him say we pay him personally (and I was there).  Rather, I heard him say that we need to realize that the transformation underway in our community, is, in part, powered by volunteers.  And, that volunteer time has a value, which we do not pay for.

Both David Pope and Anan AbuTaleb (and trustees) have given our community eleven years of free expertise and time. Sure, they gave more than we asked, but we benefited.  Have we come to rely upon it?  And will the next “elected volunteer” provide the same level of unpaid help?

This is a good time to review our governing business model.  I heard Anan say that the current model is not sustainable because the village president job takes more time than a volunteer has to give.  That’s all.  It is worth taking that comment at face value and looking into why.  To me, this has become a risky business model.


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