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  • Stanley Romanstein

Making a successful organizational transition from all-volunteer to volunteer + paid staff

Many non-profits first open their doors as volunteer-run organizations. They are energized by passion for their mission, and they move forward on the available time and energy of enthusiastic volunteers.

At some point in its growth cycle the organization naturally begins to bump up against the limits of its volunteers’ availability. These are, after all, people with “other lives”: businesses to run, families to raise, other community organizations to support. In confronting the need to give the organization the additional dedicated time and attention it needs to thrive, many non-profits make the decision to hire one or more paid staff members to supplement the work of its volunteers.

The transition from “all-volunteer” to “mostly volunteer, with some paid staff” is difficult for most organizations. While they might recognize the need, the decision to add paid staff doesn’t always sit well with the volunteers who’ve built an organization through sweat equity and dogged determination.

Some typical responses:

“I’ve worked for this organization for years and never gotten a dime! Why are we paying him/her to do what the rest of us have always done for free?”

“Great! Now that we have someone on the payroll, I can get back to my day job and let someone else do all the work. They won’t need me.”

“Obviously, we failed. If we had been better as volunteers, the organization wouldn’t need to hire anyone.”

Successfully incorporating paid staff into a previously all-volunteer organization requires careful planning. When adding paid leadership:

Good boards affirm their volunteer leaders and assure them that they still have a place, a voice and a valuable role within the institution.

Good boards articulate the results they want to see from paid staff and the timeframe for getting the work done.

Good boards avoid micromanaging staff and prescribing how results are to be obtained. Micromanagement is often a strong temptation when making the transition to include paid staff. Resist that temptation!

Understand that the transition from all-volunteer to volunteer+paid staff can be a difficult transitional moment for most non-profits. Communicate openly, plan carefully, and focus the board’s role on setting clear goals and establishing helpful policies.

Stanley Romanstein


BLJackson Associates

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