It doesn’t have to be volunteer vs. volunteer

Nonprofits are nonprofits, volunteers are volunteers, all is well, right?

Well, maybe not.

As Susan J. Ellis, a nonprofit consultant who specializes in volunteer management has noted, there can be a difference between volunteer-involving organizations (VIO), which utilize both paid staff and volunteers, and all-volunteer organizations (AVO), which are just what the name implies.

In an ideal world, such differing organizations would be able to work together seamlessly and painlessly for a common goal. As anyone who has been paying attention might have noticed, we live in something other than a perfect world. That is why, Ellis says, VIOs and AVOs can sometimes have trouble when trying to collaborate.

Ellis explains the challenges to collaboration thusly:

  • The thorny problem of ownership and who gets credit are always at play in any collaboration.
  • AVOs desire independent visibility. To begin with, many nonprofits are not necessarily collaborating with each other, and it is possible for a feeling of competitiveness to exist all around.
  • Many AVOs do not have a physical base of operations, as VIOs always do. A lack of continuity can make it hard to maintain communication.
  • The officers of AVOs do not identify with volunteer management itself, and their skills can be overlooked by managers of VIOs.
  • Most volunteers who lead other volunteers rarely think about their work in this context. They have primary careers in different fields and do voluntary leadership in their discretionary time.