Increasing Performance in Not-for-profit organisations

Hi everyone,

This is my first time posting on this forum, though I've been listening to manager-tools for a while now and have found it really helpful in increasing my understanding.

I have a question for anyone who may be able to help me:

Currently, I'm a manager of a volunteer organisation and lead a group of 20 volunteers in my branch. I seem to have trouble pushing people to do things and so it always falls down to the same few core group to do the main bulk of the work, while others seem unwilling to do much.

Is there any advice you can give me on how to deal with such a situation and encourage better performance from my people?

Thank you in advance for your help.

Previous thread...


Not my field of expertise;  there was a thread previously on this topic:

John Hack

John, Thanks for your help.


Thanks for your help. The link you posted includes elements of what I'm looking for (especially the comment near the end on giving positive encouragement and recognition). Do you feel thats the way to get people to buy in and take on the work?

Any other help would be much appreciated.



You can't 'push' volunteers.

You can't 'push' volunteers. Try pulling rather than pushing?

Pull v. Push?

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. What does "pulling" look like? By that, I mean "what behaviors do you engage in to 'pull' your volunteers?"

- BJ


Sorry, should have been more expansive with that. What I meant by 'pulling' is something akin to leading by example. What you're trying to engage in is (metaphorically) a big game of 'follow my leader' so to start off you have to be at the head of the conga line, and persuade others to join in the game, once they are all behind you and enjoying the game, then you can peel off and let someone else take the lead. 

Volunteer versus nonprofit

It feels like this thread got mis-named.  I work in a nonprofit, and it is decidedly not a volunteer organization.  While some people here would volunteer, most of them get compensated at levels comparable to their for-profit peers.  We have, for example, video producers who do the same kind of work a producer at a local TV station or an ad agency would do, and they are paid salaries similar to producers in those organizations.

With nonprofits, the hard part (as is mentioned in the thread John linked to above) is getting managers to behave like managers.  In some cases, it may also be hard to know what to measure, since you may not have an obvious bottom line.  The big challenge for us is that it takes a while (sometimes two years) to see the impact of a decision we make on the community we serve.  This, combined with a culture that doesn't like to think about "bottom line" means pay-for-performance is essentially impossible.

Apart from that, the tools work just fine.  O3s are probably more important, because people often are motivated by personal commitment to the work, and it helps to know more about individual motivation.  Feedback is still important, and coaching can be easier because people are used to self-development. 

I also am a leader in a volunteer organization, and while the principles still apply, I haven't found the specific tools to be very effective.  I can't do weekly one-on-ones with people I only see a few days a month, but I do take time to meet with committee chairs individually to go over their progress, work plans, and what activities their kids are involved in.  I give feedback, but it's always on the peer feedback model.  (In fact, I'm better at giving feedback to my volunteers than to my directs.)  I do limited coaching, and that is mostly recommending which volunteer training would help with their goals and work plan for the current year.

The one thing I find works very well, and also motivates people to improve their work, is delegation.  Set an objective and delegate.  Don’t try to manage committee work, but be available to add resources or counsel the committee chair if you think things are off track. That is something we’re pretty good at, and it makes us more effective.  We do talk about possible approaches, but we’re usually happy to let the committee do it’s own planning and execution.  Sometimes a committee chair fails, and then we spend some time getting that chair to recognize failure and either reboot or step down.

Volunteer leadership is different because the premise is different.  As a volunteer leader, you don't control their addiction to food, clothing and shelter, and you may not even control their access to the work that they find satisfying.  It may be that the only way to make them more productive is to figure out which work they find most motivating, and match the volunteer to the work.  You certainly can't push them, and you may not be able to pull them if they aren't matched to the work they want to do.



Where do I begin?

Hi folks,

This is my very first comment on Manager Tools (MT), even though I have been sitting in the balcony of MT since 2007 and listened to every podcast, sometimes two or three times! Man, I love these tools!

I have worked for the same volunteer organisation since 1997. Our volunteers are multi-cultural, mostly in their twenties, sometimes immature, have little or no experience in their field of work, and have an average commitment of 1-3 years.

My first big question: Where the heck do I begin?