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.

Quali­ta­tive professionalisation

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

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