The tension between voluntary offices and professionalism — success factors and stumbling blocks
The right combination of professionalism and volunteer work is decisive for the success of any non-profit (NPO) organisation.
Volunteers on boards of directors or trustees contribute their time, knowledge and networks for the benefit of the organisation. Demotivating experiences and time sinks should therefore be avoided, if possible; instead, it is important to ensure that meetings are efficient and conflicts are dealt with at an early stage.
Modern leadership successfully balances expectations, motivation and economic requirements. It maintains a focus on core tasks and is built on trust, the principle of delegation and the right degrees of monitoring and risk management. Volunteers should be able to focus on essential matters and work with the operational level to develop fundamental principles for the organisation. Clear organisational instruments, such as competency regulations and functional specifications, facilitate cooperation, create clarity around roles and contribute to the success of the organisation. A simple function chart ensures clarity for all parties involved.
Governance as a key task
Governance is possibly the most important task performed by an NPO’s management body. This requires the organisation to take a closer look at its environment, face the future and determine long-term goals. Although the latter is important in terms of governance, it is also essential to plan specific measures and the required means and resources. The art of goal setting lies in breaking down the goals at a strategic level to the operational level — down to objectives for the employees. Governance means that goals, once set, are also reviewed to determine whether they have been attained.
Cooperating with operational employees
When strategic governing bodies and salaried employees or volunteers work together, conflicts may arise. The voluntary management committee is assigned a high level of decision-making authority, while employees have a knowledge advantage over members of boards of directors or trustees, due to their more intensive work in terms of time and content. The roles of voluntary bodies and salaried management are usually differentiated by the terms ‘operational’ and ‘strategic’. Members of the management body limit their efforts to reviewing, defining and adjusting the framework conditions, while operational employees implement decisions efficiently and strive to attain strategic goals. This requires both levels to interact in balance.
Active conflict management
Conflict management is one of the responsibilities of managers, particularly in voluntary committees, where the president is assigned a key role. Avoiding conflict helps employees fulfil their tasks more efficiently. Recognising emerging conflicts and intervening correctly is an obligation. Delayed conflicts often lead to situations that can be resolved only by a change in personnel