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5 steps to lead volunteers through change

Posted By Melinda Starkweather, Monday, November 16, 2015
Updated: Thursday, November 12, 2015


The field of change management is revitalizing the way organizations manage change. If you’ve never heard of it, change management is “the people side of change”. Using specific tools to address predictable human behaviors, along with psychology and strategy, change management helps move reluctant team members along the path to embracing new technology or whatever the change might be. Rishad Tobaccowala says it best: “The world may be digital, but people are analogue.” He goes on, “To change they need not just facts but meaning, stories, emotions and inspiration.”


What are your options if you don’t manage employees, but volunteers? They may not feel the same compulsion to follow a change in technology or strategy if they aren’t paid. Volunteers may feel as though they do enough, and aren’t paid to deal with the headaches that come with learning something new. They’re complaining and threatening to stop much-needed change.


What do you do?


ACKNOWLEDGE    Change is hard. Let your volunteers know that you get that. Don’t minimize    it, but describe the exciting reasons why that change is worth the effort. Explain why this difficulty is worth their while.


DETERMINE   Who is impacted by the change—can they undermine the change or can they
lead it? Select a team of change agents who understand the vision of the future. Train and prepare them to lead others. Manage the volunteers who are resisting the process. They may battle change for many reasons. If they feel like they are losing some authority, address that. If they feel like this change destroys their past work, acknowledge their contributions and let them know you are eager to see what they can do with new technology.

Involve volunteers in the change planning—both the change team and the resistors. Get their feedback and determine how to best pace and communicate the change. Let everyone know that the change process involves trying things, getting feedback, and then refining. The system will continue to change and evolve.


INSPIRE    Create a vision for your volunteers that’s so inspiring it will motivate them to work through the disruption. We too often glorify the past. Take a moment to glorify the future and its promise. Remind your team of the reason they volunteered and the benefits the organization provides. Show them how this change will further the mission and how similar groups have already gone in this direction. Inspire your team by celebrating quick wins to mark their progress.

CREATE    Create all new incentives, new manuals and new metrics to connect volunteers to your new system. Anything old will keep them anchored to the past. Create opportunities to celebrate your volunteers and their support of the new initiatives.


Continual appreciation and communication are the keys to keeping your valuable volunteers happy, engaged and moving forward.


Melinda Starkweather, CMP and co-founder of Starkweather Association Services brings big change management ideas to smaller organizations

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