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  • Writer's pictureJessica

Employee Partners: It's Time to Level Up

Updated: May 3

Employee Partner: a paid staff member who works with volunteers throughout the volunteer engagement cycle, to enable success for a particular function or project of a non-profit organization. Ideally, employee partners are supported by leaders of volunteers who are also paid staff members at the same non-profit organization.
Leader of Volunteers: a paid staff member who supports employee partners by sharing best practice and subject matter expertise, creating specialized resources, and training and coaching colleagues to drive impact in partnership with volunteers.

In general, larger non-profits employ staff in both types of roles. Employee partners focus on their function (e.g. finance, fundraising, program execution) while training and supervising volunteers to support specific tasks. Leaders of volunteers act as internal consultants, continuously adjusting their strategies according to the organization's goals and how volunteers can donate their time to make the biggest impact.

Employee partners and leaders of volunteers must work together to (at minimum):

- create role descriptions

- develop strategic recruitment plans

- assess volunteer candidate fit

- develop/ update/ improve training and orientation materials

- solicit and gather volunteer feedback

- measure and report volunteer impact

- develop strategic recognition plans

- execute recognition activities

- track volunteer preferences

- engage volunteer alumni with other ways of supporting

Leaders of volunteers, you can stop reading here. Susan J. Ellis wrote about how you can best function as the intermediary between employee partners and volunteers in August 2015. If you're looking for the latest and greatest on how you can level up as a leader of volunteers, check out the "Resources I Love" and subscribe to this blog!

This article is for the employee partners (especially those in larger organizations): the early childhood educators who partner with volunteer classroom assistants, the office managers who partner with administrative volunteers, the major gift directors who partner with campaign cabinet volunteers, the pet care coordinators who partner with volunteer fosters... I'm talking to you! Ready Player 1?

Press Start:

If you aren't reaching out to the leaders of volunteers in your organization regularly to keep them up to date with your business cycle, ask for advice to better steward existing volunteers, and plan for opportunities to engage new volunteers, start now. Set up a chat, write down some questions, bring a copy of the list above! When you have a positive and collegial relationship with leaders of volunteers, they can better support you and your team in meeting your goals.

Level 1:

Review the existing volunteer engagement policies, procedures, and resources that are readily available from your organization. Set aside uninterrupted time for this and ask the leaders of volunteers you're working with to recommend specific information to focus on. If they know your business needs, they'll be able to point you in the right direction for resources that will help your team work with volunteers more efficiently. From there, if you need something more specialized, they may be able to help you customize resources.

You could try to customize resources on your own, but working with a leader of volunteers would help you get the work done faster. Working them also ensures that any volunteer or volunteer candidate-facing information has the right tone and manages risks that you may not have thought about.

Level 2:

Volunteer at an organization that is not the one you work for. The executive director of the American Ballet Theatre and the CEO of Life Biosciences have smashed this level with "The Strategic Side Gig". Beyond the benefits of recharging your energy, new knowledge and skills, and broader perspectives that will help you develop as a leader, you will get to understand volunteer engagement from the other side.

As you search for a volunteer role take note of what appeals to you as a volunteer candidate and tuck that information away for the next time you'd like to engage a new volunteer. During your volunteer journey, notice how this organization's policies and procedures differ from the one you work for and think about why that is (e.g. different populations served, different missions). Notice what types of communication and recognition from the organization are meaningful to you, and how other volunteers may be more receptive to other means. In short, reflect often on your volunteer work.

Level 3:

Influence other employee partners to level up. Use your clout to move your organization's volunteer engagement activities forward. You benefit because you're showing at least three of seven of the qualities of Covey's principle-centered leadership: continual learning, service orientation, and belief in others. Your organization benefits because they will have more employees (and not just those in fundraising functions) who can take a donor-centric approach. After all, volunteers are donors. As Erin Spink says, "they give their only non-renewable resource, time."


"Levelling up" as an employee partner does not necessarily mean you are ready to take on a leader of volunteers role. Volunteer engagement professionals come into their roles with years of experience as employee partners and a deep understanding of best practices and trends in the sector. Some of us are certified, and many of us continue professional development in this sector with local, regional, and national professional associations.

If you've worked as an employee partner for many years, and are interested in making the jump to a leader of volunteers role, please reach out! I'd be happy to share information and resources.

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