Volunteers Are Partners Too

I am preparing to launch my book Partnership or Partnersh*t: You Decide. How to Build Your Business Partnership from the Strongest Foundation There Is—A Human Foundation [launch date October 16, 2012]. It’s about how to create a great partnership. After failing dismally at mine, just about everything I experience is now viewed through the partnership prism. And writing this book got me thinking about how volunteers are partners too.

We believe giving back is of vital importance and have been seriously committed volunteers for a local nonprofit arts charity. I watched this organization experience the same painful things all for-profit businesses experience, and that’s when it hit me that  volunteers are partners.

Some people think that being a volunteer comes with its own set of rules, but from experience I can tell you it doesn’t really work. Volunteers are entering into a partnership, and with that comes all the requirements of being a good partner.

Volunteers change the world. Volunteers bring a staggering breadth of experience and connections from multiple industries, making the whole better than its parts. You don’t get that in your average for-profit business.

And yes, bumps happen. When they do, I can promise you it’s because something is out of alignment in the volunteer partnership.

All partnerships start with partners. It’s all about people first. To be a good partner, you have to know yourself very well and be honest about your motivation, temperament, skills, weaknesses and ability to commit. And you must become accountable for all that you do.

Volunteering is that second job, but it needs the same commitment you give the first. As with any job, you must be in the right position and doing what you do best. So be very honest with yourself and the other volunteers. Tell them how you can best serve and say no to a position in which you know you will fail or be unhappy.

Here are a few questions you will want to ask yourself before you make a commitment to volunteer. Because once you commit, others will count on you. They must also be supportive and allow you to do the job you signed up to do.

Remember: any business, nonprofit or for, is like a building: It’s all about the foundation. A crack in that foundation can bring the whole building down.

  1. Why do you want to volunteer?
  2. Why do you want to volunteer with ________ ?
  3. What are you good at?
  4. What are you bad at?
  5. What feeds you?
  6. What limits you?
  7. What is your best quality?
  8. What is your worst quality?
  9. What will you absolutely not tolerate under any circumstances?
  10. What do you absolutely refuse to do?
  11. What do you value?
  12. Where / how do you get energy?
  13. Does this organization/volunteer partnership position feed that?
  14. What skills do you bring to the organization?
  15. What does commitment to this volunteer partnership mean to you? (Full-time, part-time, all-in, finance only, team player, must be boss, whatever it takes etc.)
  16. What irks you?
  17. How do you express that?
  18. What is your communication style? (passive/active/electronic/emotional/straightforward/practical/ long-winded/direct/with humor/polite/loud/quiet etc)
  19. What is your personal style? (freespirited, anchored, butterfly, tortoise, structured, chaotic, calm, serious, loose etc)
  20. How do you behave under stress or in a crisis? (calm, analytical, emotional etc)
  21. How do you solve day-to-day problems? (negotiate/settle/fight/go silent etc)